No meat, no dairy, no problem.

Or at least that can be the case if you know what you’re doing, according to nutrition experts.

The vegan lifestyle requires people to avoid consuming animal products in their diets. That means no meat, no eggs, no cheese and no milk. For many vegans, it also means not using anything made with leather or other animal products.

With Vegan Awareness Month taking place through November, animal rights proponents and vegans around the country are campaigning on the positive aspects of a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, beans and grains.

Health and nutrition experts say it’s certainly possible to keep a proper diet and take in all the required nutrients and vitamins to stay healthy without eating meat or dairy. Studies show that vegetarians and vegans tend to have a lower-than-average risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other preventable conditions.

But it does take a little more work to keep a proper diet, especially in some specific areas.

“If someone is going to decide to be a vegan, it can’t just be taken lightly, that decision,” said Hannah Richter, a dietitian with Auburn Memorial Hospital. “One would hope they’re making it because they’re choosing a healthier lifestyle, and therefore making smart decisions about the foods they choose.”

Those two don’t inherently go hand-in-hand, Richter pointed out. Avoiding meat doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding processed and unhealthy food.

“In any eating plan, it’s important to choose and focus on whole foods,” Richter said. “You can be a vegan and still eat a lot of sugars and high-fat things that aren’t good for you.”

Priorities should include making sure you get enough calcium, iron and vitamins B-12 and D. Published reports on the subject also include proper protein and omega-3 fatty acids on the list of nutrients to remember.

Calcium and vitamin D are both often consumed in milk (which is fortified with the vitamin), and contribute to strong bones. You can buy orange juice and soy products fortified with calcium at the store, and vitamin D can be absorbed through sun exposure as well as supplements.

Vegans also need to remember to supplement their diets with vitamin B-12, and vegan-specific products can often be fortified with that as well. Richter said nutritional yeast is often a vegan’s best source for the nutrient.

As for omega-3 fats, most commonly consumed through fish, the vegan alternative can include flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, as well as walnuts, canola oil and soy nuts.

“If someone is generally healthy, I think a vegan diet can be healthy for all ages,” Richter said. “But you need to make food a priority in your life.”

Staff writer Christopher Caskey can be reached at 282-2282 or christopher.caskey@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenCaskey.

 

Vegan sources for essential nutrients

Vitamin B-12 — Red Star Vegetarian Support, nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, fortified soy or rice milk, fortified vegetarian meat analogs, fortified snack or energy bars, fortified powders or beverage mixes

Omega-3 fatty acids — Flaxseeds, Flaxseed oil, hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, canola oil, sea vegetables, walnuts, walnut oil, soybeans, leafy greens, wheat germ, fortified soy milk

Vitamin D — Some types of mushrooms, fortified margarine, fortified soy or rice milk, fortified soy yogurt, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified nutrition bars

— Source: “The Virtues of Vegan Nutrition ... and the Risks,” published February 2006 by Dina Aronson

(2) comments

All-Vegan

While I agree that Vegans need to pay attention to nutrition. The 500 pound guerrilla in the room is that Vegetarians/Carnivores need to pay even more attention than vegans. We have a health crisis in this country and it is a direct result of the miserable diet most people eat. Meat is not a healthy food for humans. Doctors and Nutritionists who study human nutrition and are not funded by the meat/dairy industry tell us that up to 1/2 pound of meat and dairy a week can be healthy. Any more than that and you are not getting enough nutrition from healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds.
The author also discusses B12, It is true that humans need a constant supply of B12 However it is not just Vegans who need it. B12 was available directly from our environment however modern sanitation has removed that source. If a person is eating enough meat to satisfy their RDA They are eating very unhealthy. It is better to eat healthy and take a B12 supplement instead.

Faith

This article isn't well-researched. People who consume/use animal products outside of their diet are not vegan. Not all nutritional yeast is fortified with B-12. Chia seeds are the best source of Omega-3s and they contain more calcium than cow's milk. Vegans AND omnivores who live in the Pacific Northwest should supplement with D.

Vegans who eat a decent variety of foods shouldn't have to worry about getting their nutritional requirements met any more than an omnivore. Making the decision to go vegan should be an easy one. It's better for your health, it's better for the animals, and it's better for the planet.

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