Interested in Trying a Vegan Diet? Read This First!
If you’re interested in eating a plant-based diet, bravo! There are so many heath benefits awaiting you. But it’s important to plan wisely, which you can do with these 8 top tips for planning a healthy vegan diet from plant-based nutrition expert Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN.
If you are considering a vegan lifestyle, you’re not alone! While not so long ago “going vegan” was fraught with challenges and stumbling blocks, today this diet trend is cool and easy. From a slue of celebrities (the whole cast of the latest Avengers movie went vegan or vegetarian), to a range of inspiring documentaries on the benefits of eating plant-based, to a wave of fast food restaurants adding veggie-burgers to their menus, it’s never been easier to eat the plant-powered way.
Why go vegan? First off, this diet has so many benefits. Research shows that plant-based diets are linked with reduced risks of ischemia, hypertension and type 2 diabetes; lower LDL and blood pressure, lower body mass, and decreased overall cancer rate. That’s because the diet is low in pesky things like saturated fat and cholesterol, and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and phytochemicals, compliments of all of those whole plant foods, like pulses, whole grains, vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds.
The diet is even linked with a lower environmental footprint. The most recognized nutrition organization on the planet—The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—states that well-planned vegan diets have benefits and are appropriate for people of all ages. Note the emphasis is on well-planned.
If you’ve decided to take on a vegan lifestyle, whether for health or philosophical reasons, it’s important to put a little thought and planning into your new strategy for eating to make it as successful as possible. Check out these Eight Vegan Diet Tips to make sure you make the most of your plant-based diet.
Eight Vegan Diet Tips:
- Let Plant Protein Shine. It’s a common misperception that it’s impossible to get adequate protein on a vegan diet. Keep in mind that nearly all foods contain some protein, except for alcohol, sugar and fat. If you eat a balanced diet with many plant foods and grains, you’re already getting good sources of protein. To ensure that you’re meeting your protein needs, shoot for two servings of nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, and sunflower seeds, and three servings of pulses and foods such as beans, lentils, peas and tofu, every day.
- Get Your Vitamin D-boost.It can be a challenge for vegans to get adequate levels of the important nutrient vitamin D, though this is difficult for all Americans. That’s why you should try to get 10 minutes of sunlight a day, consume vitamin-D fortified foods such as fortified soy or almond milk, fortified breakfast cereal, or fortified orange juice; or take a vitamin D supplement.
- Include Calcium.Even if you forfeit meat and dairy products, your body still needs calcium. Focus on calcium-fortified products like juices and soymilk, and calcium-rich plant foods like dark green vegetables, almonds, and broccoli; and consider taking a calcium supplement.
- Boost Vitamin B12. This important vitamin is found in animal products, so you need to either consume vitamin B12-fortified foods daily or take a supplement to meet your needs of this essential nutrient.
- Pump Plant Iron.You don’t need animal products to get iron. Make sure you include plant iron sources like spinach, kidney beans, lentils and whole wheat bread in your diet, and add a vitamin C source to increase your absorption of iron.
- Score Zinc.You can easily meet your zinc needs, as long as you include whole grains, legumes, green vegetables, and nuts in your diet.
- Omega-3 Bonus.In order to reap the nutritional rewards of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, boost plant omega-3s (ALA) in your diet, which can be modestly converted to the long chain form. Aim for at least two servings of omega-rich plants, such as walnuts, chia, soy products, and hemp. And consider taking an algae supplement (where fish get their omegas to begin with) to provide DHA and EPA.
- Make Your Calories Count.When you’re eating vegan, you need to make sure your food choices really count so that you meet all of your protein, vitamin and mineral needs. Instead of falling for vegan “junk foods,” such as soda, brownies, and chips, keep your diet “clean” with primarily whole foods, including pulses, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds at each meal. And don’t forget to change it up; by varying the types of plant foods you eat every day you ensure a diverse supply of important nutrients.
Written by: Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Featured Image: Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, is an award-winning writer, editor, blogger, and plant-based and sustainability nutrition expert based in Los Angeles. Her Plant-Powered Diet book series and The Plant-Powered Dietitian blog has met with critical acclaim. For recipes and resources on eating a healthy plant-based diet, visit SharonPalmer.com
Follow Sharon at Instagram and Twitter @SharonPalmerRD or on Facebook at Sharon Palmer, The Plant-Powered Dietitian.