I work with quite a few vegans and often hear the same complaints; especially from those who have recently adopted a vegan lifestyle. The biggest complaint I get is, “there are so few options when choosing what to eat. I can’t possible get the nutrients I need!” While it is harder to maintain a balanced diet when eating vegan; you can attain this goal and still get the nutrients you need. The first step is accepting that you can’t live based on the normal food pyramid. Instead you need a more vegan friendly guide to go by. The lower largest food group is now your fruits and vegetables. You should eat about 3-5 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit each day. The next level is whole grains with a recommended serving of 6-11 daily. Dairy substitutes and legumes and beans are towards the top with 2-3 servings of each recommended. By following this guide you should see a new healthier you in no time!
There are a variety of foods which can make the transition easier. Let’s start with tofu since this is a staple in any vegan friendly diet. Tofu is high in both protein and heart healthy Omega-3s making it a very healthy option as a meat substitute. Best of all, half a cup contains 100 mg of calcium while enriched tofu products actually contain one third of your daily calcium needs. Firm tofu will hold its shape when cooked and can easily replace meat and poultry in many of your favorite dishes. Lentils are also a great place to look for your daily nutrients since they are high in fiber and protein. A cup of lentils or beans will usually give you one third of your daily iron and half a day’s worth of fiber! Better yet since it is a soluble fiber they can help to lower cholesterol! To make sure you are getting a complete protein make sure you are combining grains into your diet daily as they help the body absorb the protein.
Whole grains are also an excellent source of nutrients. Of course make sure you read the ingredients as many types of bread will contain egg or milk. If possible look for enriched whole grain breads as these provide the daily dose of B12 vitamins you need. Leafy greens are also packed full of nutrients. In addition to one third of your daily iron they also are full of antioxidants and Vitamin A. To get the most iron out of these veggies eat it with foods high in Vitamin C such as red peppers and tomatoes. The Vitamin C helps the iron absorb into your body. Whether you have started living a vegan lifestyle because of your views towards animals, or simply because it is a healthier way to eat; there is no reason you should find yourself malnourished. By finding the right types of foods and following the vegan food pyramid you should soon find yourself getting all the nutrients you need and more!