Over the years, vegan diet is growing in popularity because of its proven health benefits. The diet contains only plants, such as: vegetables; grains; nuts and fruits; and foods made from plants that have higher fiber content, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemicals and a fat content that is more unsaturated.
Vegan dieters tend to have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Several studies also prove that vegans live almost fifteen years longer than meat eaters.
Shifting into a vegan diet is said to be ethical because most of the animal slaughtered every day to produce meat are unnaturally raised, fed with abnormally fattening food, and hormonal stimulation effects.
However, the elimination of all the animal and dairy products in the diet is also linked to pose a risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Primary concern includes vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, long-chain n–3 fatty acids intake, iron and zinc because of the limited bioavailability in the diet.
To ensure the nutritional adequacy of vegan diet, one must first have an appropriate knowledge in planning a balanced meal by paying special attention to the following nutrients:
- Calcium helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Milk and dairy foods are highest in calcium. However, dark green vegetables, such as turnip and collard greens, kale and broccoli, are good plant sources when eaten in sufficient quantities. Calcium-enriched and fortified products, including juices, cereals, soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu, are other options.
- Iodine is a component in thyroid hormones, which help regulate metabolism, growth and function of key organs. Vegans may not get enough iodine and be at risk of deficiency and possibly even a goiter. In addition, foods such as soybeans, cruciferous vegetables and sweet potatoes may promote a goiter. However, just 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt provides a significant amount of iodine.
- Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruit are good sources of iron. Because iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended intake of iron for vegetarians is almost double that recommended for nonvegetarians. To help your body absorb iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli, at the same time as you’re eating iron-containing foods.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health. Diets that do not include fish and eggs are generally low in active forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed and soybeans are good sources of essential fatty acids. However, because conversion of plant-based omega-3 to the types used by humans is inefficient, you may want to consider fortified products or supplements, or both.
- Protein helps maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Eggs and dairy products are good sources, and you don’t need to eat large amounts to meet your protein needs. You can also get sufficient protein from plant-based foods if you eat a variety of them throughout the day. Plant sources include soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
- Vitamin B-12 is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. For this reason, it’s important for vegans to consider vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products.
- Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D is added to cow’s milk, some brands of soy and rice milk, and some cereals and margarines. Be sure to check food labels. If you don’t eat enough fortified foods and have limited sun exposure, you may need a vitamin D supplement (one derived from plants).
- Zinc is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in formation of proteins. Like iron, zinc is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal products. Cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts and wheat germ. source: mayoclinic
If the diet is not properly planned, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12. To avoid nutritional problems, it is more important to eat a variety of plant foods throughout the day that supply all the essential nutrients needed by the body.