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A Vegan’s Guide to Good Nutrition

quinoaWe all know that vegan foods are far healthier than animal products. They’re cholesterol-free, and they’re more likely to be low in saturated fat and calories and high in fiber, complex carbohydrates, and cancer-fighting antioxidants. Of course, I’m not talking vegan cookies, candy or potato chips. If you want to reap the health benefits of a vegan diet—a slim waistline, normal blood pressure, lots of energy, and a reduced risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer—you should eat an array of fruits, veggies, beans, whole grains, and other wholesome plant-based foods. Big surprise, huh?

If you’re a vegan, everyone from your third cousin to your third-grade teacher has likely quizzed you about where you get your nutrients. They don’t need to worry. Plant-based foods can provide for all of your nutritional needs:

Protein-Packed Plant Foods Almost every food contains protein, so it’s nearly impossible not to get enough if you’re consuming an adequate amount of calories. Soybeans, a vegan super-food, are packed with protein and essential amino acids. Other beans as well as chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, broccoli, walnuts, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, and corn are also good protein sources.

Calcium Plus Compassion Cows don’t have to suffer in order for people to get calcium. It’s abundant in collard greens, kale, broccoli, beans, sesame tahini, and almonds. It can also be found in calcium-fortified soy or rice milk, orange juice, and some brands of tofu.

Fish-Free Omega-3s Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for heart, brain, skin, and joint health. Fortunately, you can get them without all the cholesterol and toxins found in fish. Flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil are good vegan sources of the omega-3 ALA. It’s also a good idea to take vegan DHA capsules, which contain omega-3s derived from algae (where the fish get it from!).

Make Popeye Proud Spinach is rich in iron, so eat it heartily to build strong muscles. Other iron-rich foods include beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, chickpeas, oatmeal, dried fruits, nuts, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, molasses, and grains such as quinoa and millet. Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, so for optimal health benefits, consume foods that are rich in both nutrients, such as dark-green, leafy vegetables. (Some springtime favorites fit this bill nicely. Check out our Vegetarian Living page for information on healthy seasonal fare.)

Vitamin B12 for Vegans Leading health experts encourage everyone to take a multivitamin or supplement to get ample amounts of vitamin B12. It’s also found in fortified nutritional yeast, some supermarket cereals, and fortified soy and rice milks as well as in some meat analogues. (Click here to learn more about vitamin B12.)

Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin Sunshine is one of the best sources of vitamin D. During warmer months, your skin should manufacture enough of the vitamin if your face and forearms are exposed without sunscreen to midday sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes per day. But many students and people who work indoors don’t get enough exposure. And in many areas, sunlight during colder and cloudier months isn’t strong enough to give you a sufficient dose of vitamin D.

Many brands of nondairy milks contain some calcium and vitamin D, as do some brands of fortified orange juice. But doctors increasingly say that no matter what you eat, it’s a good idea to take a vitamin D supplement of at least 1,000 IU on the days that you aren’t getting sufficient sunlight exposure.

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  • Lauren says:

    Hi Sean, try flaxseed capsules instead of fish oil. I know Fish oil is excellent for enhancing your memory, in its absence try lecithin granules or tablets.

  • Ross says:

    I would love to see PETA include hemp seed oil and hemp protein to the list. By the way, neither has Δ9-THC. Hemp seed oil has the most perfect proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (pufa). A balance of the two helps prevent a myriad of chronic diseases. Food preservatives are usually very high in omega-6, causing an imbalance. It is also the only plant with vitamin D, and is a source of ALA and GLA. Soy protein can have traces of hexane, an industrial solvent used to isolate the protein. Hemp protein is a complete and healthy protein source containing all 21 amino acids. It is also loaded with dietary fiber.

  • Ky Bug Horan says:

    Im a NEW VEGITARIAN AS OF TODAY AND I NEEDED HELP. thank you!!!

  • lauren mills says:

    Great tips, thanks PETA

  • Sean says:

    I’ve been told by my doctor that I’m to take fish oil capsules as a daily regimen (and have done so for over a year) but I wanted to know what the vegan/vegetarian equivalent is to taking fish oil. Also, will those alternatives have the same results as fish oil.

  • Nikita Blue says:

    RBR I have a tip for you – this is one easy way to begin. Choose one animal. Pig, Cow, Birds, or Fish. Cut that out for 30 days. For the next thirty days, choose another animal. Cut that out for 30 days. Next thing you know, it will be easy as pie. Delicious, vegan pie. :)

  • kristen says:

    It’s wonderful to see people taking health into their own hands and finding compassion for themselves and animals! Eating vegan whole foods is the easiest and best way to make a great change! If anyone has any questions or needs help please don’t hesitate to drop me an email. I am a vegan food educator – cooking instructor and coach. http://www.veggiecookingclasses.com peace to all of you! thanks PETA for all your work and resources..

  • RBR says:

    I may not stop eating meat all together but i do want to drastically reduce my meat intake to become healthier and out of compassion for animals. Anybody have tips for me?

  • sherlon says:

    I have been diagnosed with breast cancer twice.I had a full macetomy,hypertention,chronic pain,phybermyaligia,extended colon, epilepsy,and depression.I take a lot of medciations and want to get off the drugs totally. I have stoped eatting any meat for two months. I can see a change in my skin and hair already and weight is slowly going down.I need plenty of ideas how to eat healthy fruits and vegtables. I want to become a true vegatarian to help me to live longer HELP me Live.

  • CLAUDY ASSALIT says:

    I have been a vegetarian for 21 years and never felt better and i take suplements and i wish everyone would be that way as animals are suffuring so much , i pray for the world conscienness to evolved and stop eating meat .

  • AMC says:

    Great list :)
    I find that there is no need for B12 supplements because most non-dairy milks, cereals, and mock meats, are fortified :)

    http://www.MeatFreeAthlete.com
    Eat Kind. Be Strong.

  • Graciela de Sainz M. says:

    Its been 2 months since I became a vegan. I have lost weight and Im feeling great. PETA has a lot of great recipes and they are delicious. This is great info

  • J.A.C.E. says:

    Jess, Simply have the inquisitors watch Food Inc. The fact that you have decided to most likely live longer with a greater quality of life places you in the position of leadership and to provide them with sincere empathy for they know not what they do.

  • Desertray says:

    No one’s opinion matters more than yours. For some reason people LOVE to bash a Vegan lifestyle… it’s because you make THEM feel insecure about their choices… and the choices they are not making.
    I made an agreement with myself not to discuss it, and when people say that’s not healthy, I say ” O really ?” I pause and I let them follow up…. usually they can’t even tell you why they think that. It’s a non-discuss topic… what matters is how you FEEL :)

  • Karen M says:

    @Jess c.
    those people are just insecure about their diets, don’t worry

  • Jess Campbell says:

    I have just recently become a vegan, and although i’m personally loving the lifestyle and the new found energy, i’m getting sick of constantly having to defend myself to people. at least twice a day i have to defend myself to my family ior a friend.

  • Eric Roth says:

    Great info for vegans! We go through lots and lots of nutritional yeast which is fortified with lots of great B vitamins. Check out out website for lots of great recipes. http://www.livingrawandvegan.com

  • Mrs.Cervantes says:

    I have been a vegetarian for over 17 years and ready to make the leap to become vegan. This site is awsome. As for chia seeds, they are amazing….They have more Omega-3 then flaxseeds. :) RIP Cheese

  • Isabella Parker says:

    Hello
    I am the author of Best 50 Vegan, a recipe book of recipes from the best vegan serving restaurants in North America. I am wanting to include some nutrional advise in the book from a expert and am hoping you can dirrect me to one. I appriciate any help thanks!

  • MoMo Gagnon says:

    I had a dream that I was starting a small beanerie and I had many bean recipies to offer. I love beans.

  • Nancy H says:

    We just tried Chia seeds… I put them in my kids pancakes… as well as flax seeds.. we haven’t gone totally vegan… but are probably more flexatarian… with very little to no beef… minimal chicken and fish.. and lots of veggies… legumes… and nuts.

  • sourav says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Thanks for enlighting me on such important facets of life

  • Terri says:

    Besides flaxseed meal, another good option is Chia seeds and they don’t need to be ground like flaxseed. They have a lot of Omega 3′s. Then there is hemp seeds. So I think popping vitamins for Omega 3 is so not necessary.

  • ken says:

    Now the vegans also can enjoy the benefits of Omega3. I ahve been using this product for last couple of months & the results have been amazing. The product is called VMega3.

    V-mega3™ is a vegetarian alternative for Omega 3 DHA EPA, it is 100% derived from vegetarian microalgae. Normally fishes are known to have high amounts of Omega 3 but considering the risk of ocean borne contamination that fish’s carry, V-mega3™ offers you a great way to include Omega 3 DHA EPA in your diet.
    V-mega3™, which is derived from vegetarian softgels contain the power of DHA as well as EPA. DHA and EPA are helpful in reducing the risk of coronary heart diseases. Also Omega 3 fatty acids help lower triglycerides and apoprotiens and raise HDL, hence helping people with diabetes and cholesterol. Although more studies are required, but still there is significant evidence to prove that intake of Omega 3 key ingredient of V-mega3™ helps people suffering from Osteoporosis.
    Some of the other areas where benefits of V-mega3™ can be shown are Menstrual pain, Breast Cancer, Colon cancer etc*. Due to such benefits V-mega3™ is an ideal supplement for babies, prenatal mothers and adults. Also as it is a supplement it can be conveniently added to your daily diet without much fuss.
    For more information on our product, commitment and dedication to spread Healthy Living & Life Please log onto: http://www.v-mega3.com

  • Karli says:

    I’d like to add this:
    Instead of popping vitamins for Omega-3′s, just buy flaxseed meal and sprinkle in in your morning cereal, toast, sandwich, anything really. It adds a little crunch and tastes kind of like sprouts, but the taste isn’t very noticeable.

  • Elizabeth Adao says:

    I really like this article, it’s so true and healthy. One thing I don’t get from fellow vegans, though, is that they say to drink calcium-fortified orange juice because the calcium is vegan. But I can’t find ONE brand that doesn’t use vitamin D3!

  • Elaine Third says:

    Oh well it just goes to show that the next generation of people are becoming more wiser and educated about the health benefits regarding vegetarian food as opposed to the old traditional meat and dairy diet of the westerners who often die from degenerative diseases and live 10years less than we vegetarians.
    Its just like smoking. We have all the facts and know its unhealthy yet there are some people who want a death wish by continuing smoking anyway . Its the natural selection thing isnt it. ignorant people die out because of their lack of knowledge and awareness!!

  • mbt fuaba says:

    Of course, what a great site and informative posts, I will add backlink – bookmark this site? Regards, Reader.

  • Ashley says:

    I tried veganism and really wanted it to work out but living in a house where dairy and meat replacements are not available (my family adores meat) it got sort of expensive buying all the food until all i ate was just bread and noodles. needless to say i wasnt getting all the nutrition i needed and it was making me really weak. im just a vegetarian now but sometimes i wonder how i can make my family more supportive of my eating habits

  • Cynthia S says:

    Um I have no problem with people going vegan but im still really unsure about it. Because well im still a minor and I dont think my parents will allow me to. Ive tried going vegan before but it just didint work to well for me. Maybe its because I wasint getting the proper resourses to really try it.

  • Living // Thanks, ADA! I’ve Known It All Along! // PETA says:

    [...] The ADA also points out that well-planned (not just Oreos, pop tarts, and French fries, obviously) vegetarian diets can meet the recommendations for protein, n-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, and vitamins D and B12, as well as other essential nutrients. (If you want some basic healthy-eating tips, check out my blog, A Vegan’s Guide to Good Nutrition.) [...]

  • Adrienne says:

    The BEST source of omega3′s is Chia Seeds! Yeah, like the kind used in Chia pets!

  • Very Happy says:

    I’ve known this for awhile, but it’s nice to get reassured.
    Almost vegan for a year (June 15th), and I’m still loving every minute!

  • Christina says:

    I agree with all of this, except the vitamin D part. It’s not a good idea to go out in the sun without sunscreen, even in the winter. Supplements and fortified food are better options.

  • Irene says:

    I like so much to read this kind of articles and see I’m keeping in the correct path. I’ve been vegetarian for ten years already and my last blood analysis were just perfect – the doctor commented they were the best results he had seen in a long time. Calcium, iron, cholesterol, everything was the best way it could be. I’m making my transition to veganism (I don’t have milk nor dairy, but I like to bake very much and in Spain it’s hard to find egg replacers – so I use organic eggs from hens living free) and I couldn’t feel better!
    Robin: I’m surprised to read in your comment that “In school, people would either be angry or stunned when they asked me to explain why I wasn’t eating this or that from the lunch selection”. The same has been happening to me all these ten years! Can anybody explain why people is so angry when I tell them I’m a vegetarian? Recently I went with a friend to a Chinese restaurant, and she was surprised to see that I removed shrimps from my fried rice. “Are you allergic to seafood?”, she asked. “No I’m not. I’m a vegeterian”, I answered. She looked very offended and said, almost sarcastically, “Well, excuse me, but I’m not stopping eating meat”. I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say. I met her not long ago and I’ve never asked her to stop eating meat… I’m not doing a bad thing so why people is rude towards me?

  • Magg says:

    Thanks for the info! Regards from Argentina

  • Akool says:

    A great article indeed, very educational and now I know what to say when someone asks me where I get my nutrition from.

  • Robin says:

    I wish I’d had this article when I was in high school (long ago, way back with the dinosaurs…) to have such a clear instruction on vegan food nutrition. In school, people would either be angry or stunned when they asked me to explain why I wasn’t eating this or that from the lunch selection. They would inevitably say something like…”WHAT do you EAT?!?” I’d usually wait for a good moment and then say, “What are YOU eating? Do you know?” If animal welfare issues didn’t phase them, the chemical-hormonal-foulness factor of meat usually caught their attention long enough to see that I had smart reasons for my food choices. But a better approach is to mention how all of the nutrition we need is covered by such and such natural, non animal foods. Thanks, Heather.

  • Maryam says:

    To Magg,

    A balanced vegan diet provides sufficient iron. If you eat legumes, raisins and dark leafy green vegetables (for example) you are getting iron. Remember that iron is absorbed best with the presence of Vitamin C, so if you’re eating the dark leafy greens both iron and C are present. Mother Nature knew what she was doing! As a vegan/vegetarian you probably need to take a basic multivitamin for the B12; read the labels – iron is present in most multivits but absent in those specifically formulated for men because men are rarely anemic. Too much iron can actually be harmful, so don’t overdo it either.

  • Heather Moore says:

    Thanks for all the nice comments about my blog. Magg, the information on iron is under the “Make Popeye Proud” section. You can also get more info on iron and other nutrients by clicking on the link at the end of the blog, or by visiting http://www.PCRM.org.

    –Heather

  • Mary says:

    I agree with most people here. This article is very helpful. Thank you so much. I really want to go vegan and this is helpful.

  • Magg says:

    How about iron?? I don’t want to be an anemic vegetarian….

  • Lauren says:

    I cant THANK You enough for writing these articles. They help me out so much when im walking Aimlessly in a grocery store. Now, whatever ile i am in, i can always find something for myself.

  • Soodle says:

    We Shouldn’t use animals in anyway and that includes for dairy prdocuts, they are just as cruel. GO VEAGN!!!

  • Jamie Rivet says:

    It is frustrating whenever Omega 3′s are mentioned in the news (and they are mentioned alot) and fish is given as the sole source. I’m always screaming at the TV. Then there is calcium. A friend of mine was told by his doctor to drink milk for calcium, despite the fact that he is lactate intolerant! Guess the doc thought he looked like a baby cow. Even if I wasn’t vegan and had no care for animals, I would avoid cow’s milk always. Simply not a healthy thing for humans.

  • Dani says:

    This is fantastic. Thank you so much. It’s overwhelming when one goes into a health food store and sees all of these supplements and other products. It helps to read what you wrote about DHA and Omega-3 info. I’m so glad this info is available! Thank you!

  • Liz says:

    Really what is used to fortify the cerals so they have enough B12 in them?

  • Holly says:

    Thanks for this article, just goes to show that Vegetarians/Vegans can get the proper nutrition…who ever said we needed animals for this anyway? Thanks again!

  • Serena says:

    This article is so helpful. Thank you so much!

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