Potential problems with a vegan diet – and what to do about them
A good vegan diet is at least as healthy as any other diet. However, there are a few potential problem nutrients – as well as a couple people think are a problem which aren’t. Why these nutrients are important needs another post, as does the definition of a “good” diet.
Vegans tend to have lower levels of B12 than other groups. Eating B12 enriched foods, or taking a supplement, are strongly advised.
Spirulina has been suggested as a natural source. However, it contains a lot of analogues, chemicals which are close enough to B12 to interfere with its absorption, but not close enough to do the tasks of B12.
Chlorella might be a natural source – but more research is needed.
The dairy industry has done a superb job of convincing us that a lack of milk leads to rickets and osteoporosis, despite the current epidemic of osteoporosis in a culture eating ever more dairy products!
The body needs calcium. But the amount needed is dependent on the intake of potassium and sodium. Vitamins D and K are also important, as is the amount of protein eaten and exercise you do. How it all fits together will need another post, but here is a list of some things to do.
Good sources of calcium include kale, broccoli, cabbage, oranges, almonds and molasses. Peppers and bananas reduce the level of calcium lost, so are worth adding to the diet. Tofu is also good, Clear Spot tofu is particularly useful as it also contains a useful quantity of Magnesium.
Potassium is good for calcium and is widely available in a range of fruit and veg. It should not be a problem in a good diet.
Sodium, in salt, is bad for calcium – as it is bad in other ways it is best reduced.
Protein needs to be adequate, but not excessive.
Vitamin K is good – lettuce, broccoli and other green leafy veg are good sources. One study found that 100g a day reduced the risk of a fracture by at least 30%.
Vitamin D is good. Sunlight is the best source, so supplementation should be considered for those who don’t get out much, and for all of us during the winter. There are two forms D3, non-vegan, and D2, which can be vegan. D2 will need a higher dose. Any good independent health food shop will be able to advise.
Exercise is good – it helps bones keep a tight grip on its calcium.
In case you were wondering about dairy products. They contain a lot of calcium, but also result in the body losing a lot as they are processed.
Many soils are deficient in Iodine, so many non-vegans obtain it from enriched animal feed. Vegans do have lower levels than the general population. Eating fruit and veg from lots of different countries will help. Eating small amounts of sea vegetables regularly is also a good source. Alternatively take a kelp supplement.
Many soils are deficient, so sourcing fruit and veg widely is good. Eating 5 Brazil nuts twice a week will provide enough Selenium.
Plants contain non haem iron, which is not as well absorbed as haem iron from animals sources. Potatoes, wheat, oats, pulses, pumpkin seeds and many green vegetables are good sources.
Absorption can be helped by eating foods rich in vitamin C with the same meal – oranges, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower are good. Tea and ceffee are best drunk 30 minutes after a meal as they hinder iron absorption.
However, if you experience heavy periods, or have a digestive problem involving blood loss, a supplement should be considered, though this is also the case with meat eaters.
Pumpkin seeds, mung beans, oats, peanuts and cashew nuts are good sources. Again the problem is absorption – so keep tea and coffee away from meals.
Wheat is a good source of zinc, but also contains a chemical which hinder its absorption. Baking bread reduces the problem – eating sourdough bread is even better.
Lots of fruit and veg is the single most important thing. Preferably different coloured and from as many places as possible.
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