Learning About a Vegan Diet

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What is it?

A vegan (say "VEE-gun" or "VAY-gun") diet is a type of vegetarian diet. Besides not eating meat, vegans don't eat food that comes from animals in any way. That includes milk products, eggs, honey, and gelatin (which comes from bones and other animal tissue).

Why eat a vegan diet?

There are many reasons why some people choose a vegan diet.

  • It can be healthier than other diets.
  • Some people think it's wrong to use animals for food.
  • Not eating meat is an important part of some religions.
  • A vegan diet can cost less than a diet that includes meat.
  • Eating less meat can be better for the environment.

How do you eat a healthy vegan diet?

A healthy vegan diet includes mostly whole foods and less-processed foods in each meal. A vegan diet can give you most of the nutrients you need.

As long as you eat a variety of foods, there are only a few things you need to pay special attention to.

Calcium.

Foods that have calcium include certain legumes, certain leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tofu. Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, nut milks, and orange juice are also good choices.

Vitamin D.

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important to keep bones strong. Vegans can have nut milks, breakfast cereals, and other foods with added vitamin D.

Iron.

Getting enough iron isn't a problem if you eat a wide variety of food. Vegan iron sources include cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils; leafy green vegetables; and iron-fortified grain products. Eating foods rich in vitamin C will help your body absorb iron.

Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is found only in foods that come from animal sources. Vegans need to eat foods that are fortified with this vitamin (such as nut milks and breakfast cereals) or take a supplement that contains it.

Zinc.

Vegan sources of zinc include whole-grain breads, beans and lentils, soy foods, and vegetables.

Omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, certain leafy green vegetables, soybean oil, and canola oil.

How can you eat a healthy vegan diet during pregnancy?

A balanced vegan diet can give you most of the nutrients you need for a healthy pregnancy. Pay special attention to getting enough protein, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12. These nutrients help in the growth of your baby's cells, brain, and organs.

Vitamin B12 is found only in foods that come from animal sources. So you'll need to eat foods that have vitamin B12 added (such as plant-based milk and breakfast cereal) or take a supplement that contains it.

Think about working with a dietitian to be sure you are eating a balanced diet.

Taking prenatal vitamins while pregnant is an easy way to make sure that you get the right vitamins and minerals. And starting a folic acid supplement when you're trying to get pregnant is helpful too.

How can you get more protein on a vegan diet?

Protein is made of building blocks called amino acids. The human body can make some of these amino acids. But you must get the nine essential amino acids from food.

Protein isn't just found in meat. If you are looking for alternatives to meat, the following foods are equal to about 1 oz of meat.

  • ¼ cup cooked beans, peas, or lentils
  • ¼ cup tofu (about 2 ounces)
  • 2 Tbsp hummus
  • ½ ounce nuts or seeds (for example, 12 almonds or 7 walnut halves)
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter or other nut or seed butter

You can get more protein in your food by adding high-protein ingredients. For example, you can:

  • Add powdered protein to fruit smoothies and cooked cereal.
  • Add beans to soup and chili.
  • Add nuts, seeds, or wheat germ to vegan yogurt.
  • Spread peanut butter onto a banana.

You can also buy protein bars, drinks, and powders. Check the nutrition label for the amount of protein in each serving.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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