Updated: Mar 15
People like supplements, they can take the guess work out of making sure that you are getting all of the nutrients that you need. However, with good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy vegan diet you can get all the nutrients that your body needs to be healthy without the need for supplements. If your diet isn't planned properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients and this can easily be done when excluding animal products from your meals. Vegetarians need to make sure they get enough iron and vitamin B12, and vegans enough calcium, iron and vitamin B12. Women and teenage girls are at particular risk of iron deficiency, whether they eat a vegetarian or vegan diet. But then some groups of people are advised to take vitamin supplements, regardless of whether they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
How can I get enough calcium?
Calcium helps you maintain strong bones. Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods, but it's important for vegans to get calcium from other foods. Good sources of calcium for vegans are:
fortified unsweetened plant milks, such as soya, almond or oat milk
leafy green vegetables (but not spinach)
sesame seeds and tahini
dried fruit pulses
Adults need about 700mg of calcium a day, so it's important that vegans regularly include plenty of these foods in their diet, also the body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. Fortified margarine and fat spreads, fortified breakfast cereals and fortified plant milks contain vitamin D. The best and most reliable way to get vitamin D is to get some sunshine. when exposed to sunlight your skin takes that sun's energy and uses it to make vitamin D and on a really sunny day your body will make extra and store it for the cloudy days.
Getting Your Iron
Iron is needed to make healthy red blood cells and we need red blood cells to carry oxygen around our bodies and we need between 9mg - 15mg per day depending on whether we are male or female and how old we are. Examples of how much iron and calcium you can get from food include:
Red Kidney Beans - 100g of tinned red kidney beans contains 2mg of iron
Spring Greens - 80g serving of boiled spring greens contains 1.1mg of iron
Raisins - 30g portion (1 tablespoon) of raisins contains 1mg of iron
Almonds - a 25g serving of almonds contains about 60mg of calcium
Broccoli - a serving of boiled broccoli (80g) contains about 28mg of calcium
Wholemeal Bread - 2 slices of wholemeal bread (80g) contain around 1.9mg of iron and around 85mg of calcium
It's important to remember though that bones get stronger when you use them and the best way to do this is through regular exercise.
How can I get enough vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in foods from animal sources, so sources for vegans are limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed. If you're not vegan and eat dairy products and eggs, you probably get enough, a blood test will tell you for sure. Vegan sources of vitamin B12 include:
yeast extract, such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12
breakfast cereals fortified with vitamin B12
soya products fortified with vitamin B12
Adults need about 1.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 a day. Check the labels of fortified foods to see how much vitamin B12 they contain, you may find that they don't give you enough of what you need each day. In those cases make sure your eating everything that you need to maintain your vitamin levels.
What are good vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids?
Sources of omega-3 fatty acids suitable for vegetarians and vegans include:
soya-based foods (such as tofu)
Omega-3 enriched eggs are also a good source if you're a vegetarian and include eggs in your diet, obviously I wouldn't encourage anyone to eat eggs, I don't think that they're good for you. Some people say that omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart, but so far, there is no proof of this. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your brain, your eyes and your skin. If you are getting your omega-3 from seeds they must be ground first, if not they will pass straight through you looking exactly the same when they come out as they did when they went in.
What are good sources of protein for vegans?
Most vegetarians have enough protein in their diet. Good sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans include:
pulses and beans
cereals (wheat, oats and rice)
soya products (tofu, soya drinks and textured soya protein, such as soya mince)
nuts and seeds
A variety of protein from different sources is necessary to get the right mixture of amino acids, which are used to build and repair the body's cells.
Are Quorn products suitable for vegans?
Simple answer - sometimes. Since most Quorn products contain a small amount of egg white and most also contain milk ingredients, they're not all suitable for vegans. However, some vegan products are available in the Quorn range. Their suitability for vegans is clearly marked on the packaging with a green banner.
Do I need a special diet if I exercise?
You don't need a special diet for exercising if you're a vegetarian or vegan. The advice about exercising is the same for vegetarians and vegans as it is for meat eaters who exercise regularly. Most vegetarians have enough protein in their diet for the body to grow and repair itself. If you exercise regularly, make sure you eat plenty of complex carbohydrates, such as rice and potato for energy, and drink extra fluids when exercising harder.
Eating a vegan diet is great for your health, you'll feel amazing, look amazing and be amazing.