Where do vegans get protein from? Whats the importance of vitamin B12? All of your vegan nutrition questions answered, as well as important vegan nutrition tips.
Feel free to quick jump to each heading!
Plant Foods Are Dense With Nutrients
Some people think that protein and iron are only found in meat, and that calcium is only found in cow’s milk. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason why you shouldn’t be concerned about nutrient deficiencies on a vegan diet is because all unprocessed plant foods are dense with nutrients.
Where do you think farmed animals get their vitamins and minerals from? Their food is made from plants! Sure, if you’re living off pre-packed food and cakes, there may be cause for concern about your nutrient intake. However, using fresh ingredients in a balanced diet is an easy way to make sure you have all the nutrients you need.
Too Much Of Anything Is Bad
A warning about supplements – recent studies into vitamin and mineral supplements, has highlighted a danger with certain compounds.
Taking supplements if they are really needed is fine, but if you have a diet rich in say iron, DON’T take an iron supplement as well. Too much of anything is a bad thing, for example if you eat one thing all the time, you will overload your body with some compounds and some will inevitably be missing.
To avoid this, change the foods you eat regularly. It’s easy to swap ingredients around. It makes your meals more exciting too
Color Is Key
Especially when it comes to micro-nutrients, an easy way to assess the balance of a meal, is to look at the colors in it.
Choosing vegetables with the most intense color means they will have a higher concentration of nutrients. Then try to make sure each meal contains a variety of colours. Each colour will give a different nutritional input to the meal. The variety of colours will give you a variety of nutrients to help create a balanced meal.
Food Being Vegan Isn’t Always Healthy
Too much cake is too much cake, whether it is vegan or not. If you are making a conscious effort to pack in nutrient-dense plant food, you don’t need to obsess with over tracking nutrition as a vegan.
If however you are a new vegan, tracking your nutrients may be helpful at the beginning, but it’s not required long-term.
People ask many questions and I’ve listed a few below. I hope the answers help you. If you have any others, feel free to message me for answers.
Where Do Vegans Get Protein?
The common misconception is that you need meat to get enough protein. This is simply untrue. People will say, “But how do you get enough protein?” As a vegan, you will just have to get used to answering this question.
Protein Is Vital To Enable The Body To Repair Itself
Many countries associate protein with meat. We’ve been conditioned our whole lives that the best protein sources come from chicken, salmon, and other meat products.
So when someone says that they no longer eat these foods, questions will always be asked, as people try to figure out where you get protein without meat.
Where Does Protein Come From?
This may come as a huge surprise, but all protein comes from plants. Yes, that’s right. Every protein molecule ever produced, was made by a plant.
Only plants have the ability to take nitrogen from the air, break the molecules apart, and incorporate that nitrogen into amino acids to make protein. Any protein you get from an animal is simply recycled plant protein.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
When you realize how much protein you actually need per day, the idea of getting enough protein becomes easy. Modern society is obsessed by protein, but the reality is we don’t actually need that much.
You’ll soon realize that you don’t have to obsess, or consume massive amounts of protein at every meal. Meeting your daily protein requirements is easy.
Our Protein Requirements Are Way Lower Than You Think
The recommended daily amount (RDA), for protein is just 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements. In a sense, it’s the minimum amount you need to keep from getting sick.
We know that there’s no such thing as the average person. Here is a Protein RDA calculator to help find your own needs.
Based on these figures, a 50 year old, active, 6ft man may need about 80g of protein per day.
However, a 30 year old, active, 5ft 5” woman, weighing 100lbs will only need around 30-35g of protein per day.
So What Are The Best Vegan Protein Sources?
Tofu, tempeh, cashew nuts, beans, lentils, seeds, and chickpeas, are all great sources of protein. Beans of all kinds are packed with protein. Kidney Beans, Black Beans, Soybeans, Pinto Beans and Navy Beans will give you the highest concentrations available from the world of legumes.
Chickpeas are a great source of fibre and protein, and are a very versatile favourite of mine. Lentils work with anything – Use them to thicken soups, as an addition to mashed potatoes, or as a classic Dahl. Peas are another great source, and as well as enjoying them with a meal – Why not try a healthy snack of mushy peas with mint sauce? It’s an amazing low fat protein bomb of a snack. Cashew nuts are another versatile protein packed addition to stir fry’s or when used in a rut Roast.
Tofu is a traditional Chinese protein bomb. It can be added to an amazing array of meals. It will take on flavours in a truly unique way. Spices rubbed into the block will imbue it with their flavour, or marinate it in exactly the same way you would meat.
Where Do I Get Vitamin B12?
So where does vitamin B12 come from? Strangely enough, vitamin B12 occurs naturally in places where bacteria grow, in micro-organisms in dirt and soil.
Since modern cultures are obsessed with wiping out these bacteria, much of the vitamin B12 is stripped from the places where you would traditionally have found it. Many herbivorous mammals, including cattle and sheep, absorb B12 produced by the bacteria in their own digestive system.
To get an adequate amount of vitamin B12 is down to individual choice. Absorption of B12 varies from about 50%, if 1 microgram or less is consumed, to about 0.5% for doses of 1000 micrograms (1 milligram) or above. So, the less frequently you consume B12, the higher the total amount you will need to achieve the desired absorbed amount.
Just as meat is fortified with vitamin B12, so are many other vegan products. Most breakfast cereals are fortified, as is a lot of bread. If you are worried, these can give a boost without resorting to supplements. A lot of soya and almond milk alternatives are also fortified, just check the label for details.
There have been many claims about certain products over the years, but surprisingly little definitive scientific research has been done about them. It does seem that foods like tempeh, produced using a method like fermentation, which encourages the growth of healthy microorganisms within the food, often contain a certain amount of vitamin B12, but you should always check the label.
Do your own research too. New discoveries and old solutions come along fairly often.
The Best Source of Vitamin B12
The Best Source of vitamin B12 by far is yeast extract and nutritional yeast. There are many brands available; they provide a very concentrated dose of vitamin B12. Used in soups and casseroles they add a truly unique flavour.
Don’t use them to excess, or the flavour can become very dominant. You don’t want to over-power the other flavours in the meal
Where Do I Get Calcium From?
Too many people immediately think of cows milk when discussing sources of calcium. So where do we turn for calcium as vegans?
Green vegetables like broccoli and cabbage (not spinach), contain large doses of calcium. Sesame seeds are another great source, but there are others that you may be surprised by. Chia seeds, almonds and dried figs all contain high levels of calcium, so do many plants like parsley and watercress.
As long as you’re consuming a good selection of leafy greens, nuts, seeds and even fortified foods like plant milk and tofu, you really shouldn’t worry about getting enough calcium on a vegan diet.
How Can I Increase My Iron Intake?
When most people think of an iron source, they think of red meat first. We’re so accustomed to hearing that red meat is the best source of iron, that most people don’t look any further. As vegan’s, we have to. You might think it would be difficult, but there are so many good sources of Iron in the plant kingdom that reaching your RDA is easy.
You can get iron from a wide variety of plant foods. Green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach are renowned for their high levels of iron. Beans, grains, and seeds are some of the other common sources. Surprisingly, blackstrap molasses are also known as being an excellent source of iron.
Lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, potatoes, Swiss chard, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and spirulina all contain significant levels of iron. So, as you can see from this list, iron really isn’t one of the things you need to worry about if you are vegan – as long as you eat a balanced diet.
Ways Io Increase Absorption
Iron from plant foods can have a difficult time being absorbed by the body. Coffee and tea both slow down the absorption process, as do foods rich in calcium.
Vitamin C however, increases the rate of absorption of the iron. So, by combining foods rich in iron with those rich in vitamin C, you’ll turbocharge the levels of iron in your blood. Enabling your body to increase red blood cell production amongst many other benefits.
Some great iron and vitamin C rich food combinations include beans and salsa, fruit and nut mix, and tofu and broccoli. They can all be easily integrated into many meals.
Plant Sources Of Omega-3 Fatty Acid
Healthy fats are a really important part of any diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are a rare, but vital nutrient for a healthy body.
For some excellent vegan sources of omega-3 we don’t have to look far. My personal favourite are pumpkin seeds. Roasted slowly they have a wonderful flavour. The flesh of the seeds has an almost cheese like texture. They work in everything from stir-fry’s to soups, and are a great addition to many meals.
Avocado, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts and seaweed will all help towards reaching your RDA. Therefore, you really won’t get bored when searching for Omega 3 rich foods.
Vary Your Sources
One thing to note, the latest research seems to indicate that varying the source of Omega 3 fatty acids is the best solution.
It appears that different sources produce different versions of the Omega 3 molecule. By varying the source, you make sure everything is complete and balanced. Eating one source may leave you open to deficiency in one of the different forms of these compounds.
Where Does Vitamin D Come From
Vitamin D is easily misunderstood. Many people think it’s created by the Sun. However, while the Sun plays an integral role in the creation of this vitamin, it’s actually our bodies that create the vitamin D. We just need the Sun’s help to enable our bodies to do it.
A Problem For Everyone
Many of us spend too much time inside, and use sunscreen when we are outside. This has meant that vitamin D deficiency is now very common. An estimated 42% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. This applies equally to both vegans and non-vegans.
Vitamin D can be found in fortified foods like cereal and some juice. For non-vegans many dairy products like milk and yogurt are also fortified with vitamin D.
Since humans can get vitamin D from either sunlight or fortified foods, it doesn’t take much effort to achieve adequate levels. Leaving more skin open to the sun is an obvious solution. Short sleeves or shorts increase vitamin D production in the body dramatically. You should still be conscious of using sun screen when the sun is hot, or if you live in a sun drenched region of the world.
Give Yourself A Boost
Everyone can increase vitamin D levels easily by including certain foods in your diet. Soy milk, almond milk, mushrooms, tofu, cereals, orange juice and some oats are just a few examples of vegan foods to include in your diet for a vitamin D boost.
The Best Vegan Sources of Iodine
The sea is our best source of iodine, so many vegan iodine sources are sea vegetables. There’s iodine in many fruits and vegetables, but the amounts can be very small. Sea vegetables are by far the most reliable source of iodine for vegans.
Look To The Sea
Nori sheets, dulse flakes, kelp, seaweed, cranberries, potatoes, iodized salt, prunes and lima beans are all good sources of iodine.
Including sea vegetables into your diet several times per week is plenty to keep your levels topped up. You don’t have to eat them every meal or every day. Just be conscious of including them on a regular basis to avoid deficiency.
Most people don’t know much about nutrition, let alone vegan nutrition. Once you get past the topics of protein, iron, and vitamin B12, there may not be much to discuss as most people’s understanding is quite limited.
In case vegan nutrition is new to you, here are some useful tips that are important in understanding nutrition as a vegan.
Selenium To Help Fight Infection
Selenium is a mineral that can be difficult to get on a vegan diet. It increases the bodies ability to fight infection, is important for fertility and helps regulate the production of thyroid hormones.
The most potent vegan source of selenium is Brazil nuts. Try to consume a couple of these on a regular basis. Some oats, nutritional yeast, and quinoa are also great vegan sources of selenium.
Focus On Fibre
Modern cultures obsess about protein. Instead of focusing on protein, focus instead on fibre. The average modern diet leaves everyone short of fibre.
A good vegan diet should be high in fibre, as long as you avoid too much processed food. However, beans, grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can all help you make sure you reach your target. The fibre slows down the digestive process. This will allow your body time to extract as many nutrients as possible from each meal.
Don’t Go GMO!
Foods made from soya, like tofu, tempeh, and even vegan “meats”, can be part of a healthy vegan diet. Try to get organic, non-GMO soya when possible though. Soya is one of the largest GMO crops and I for one am not happy with the introduction of genetic modification of the food I eat.
Avoid Weakness & Fatigue
Potassium helps regulate muscle contractions. So, a deficiency can result in weakness and fatigue because it affects how your body uses nutrients. There is also evidence suggesting that a deficiency could impair insulin production, resulting in high blood sugar levels too.
One micronutrient that you should always be conscious of is potassium. Potassium deficiencies are all too common in modern societies. Vegan sources of potassium include lima beans, navy beans, potatoes, avocados, bananas, and leafy greens.
Don’t Worry, Just Eat Mindfully
Protein is the last nutrient you should worry about on a vegan diet because protein deficiency is extremely rare. There’s protein in ALL plant foods, even lettuce. Even the body building community is now moving towards healthy plant based protein sources rather than meat.
Vegan nutrition is a fascinating topic, because most of what we’re told about nutrition is exaggerated or even false. Try searching for the latest scientific papers, or for articles by recognised professionals. DON’T rely on every blogger who has an opinion as being well informed. We all know as well as the people who are, who research their subjects thoroughly, there are many who unfortunately don’t. There is too much presented as fact that is simply hearsay or anecdotal.
Balance Your Diet And Your Life
You don’t need meat or dairy products to achieve a healthy balanced diet. Hopefully discussing these vegan nutrition myths and facts has helped you to understand more about nutrition in general, but especially where it applies to a vegan diet. Balance is the key to any diet – that is what you should strive for.
Variety Is The Spice Of Life
Your most important step to avoid nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet is to eat a wide variety of foods. Variety really is the spice of life.
Many people, vegan or not, suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap. Eat consciously and mindfully
Unprocessed Is Best
Unprocessed whole foods are always best. Using them will minimise your reliance on supplements.
Yes, if it is really necessary, supplements can form a part of your regime. Personally, I like to avoid them. I would rather spend a little extra on a specific herb or vegetable and enjoy the taste, than spend the fortune people do on supplements that really aren’t necessary. So I work to include everything I need in the diet I choose.
Always eat plenty of leafy greens, include plant-based whole foods, use yeast extract regularly for vitamin B12 and spend time in the sunlight to avoid having to take vitamin D supplements.