We’ve shared some tips on going vegan and how to thrive on this diet in a previous article. However, we still get a lot of questions on how to find the right balance, how we make sure we get all of the right nutrients in, and how we manage to meet our daily protein intake.
Although following a plant based diet seems much harder than it is, it still requires a bit more attention. The reason is, eating meat and dairy makes it easy to get all of the nutrients in one place, whereas getting energy from plant based sources means it is necessary to include a lot more of variety into your diet.
Even we tend to get passive from time to time, not always being extra careful with our diet. That’s why we made it one of our new years resolution to be more cautious with our meals in order to get all of the vitamins we need. With that, we want to share the basics on how to succeed on a vegan diet as it comes with so many benefits for our health, the planet and all its ecosystems. As always, it’s not about doing everything right, but about having the right information to go at your own pace and feel empowered by your eating, even if it is just cutting down on meat a day a week or adding more veggies on your plate.
As overwhelming as it may seem to construct a balanced plate every day, it doesn’t have to be. Bear in mind that it is not because you are going vegan that you will have to keep track of every portion of every meal, instead try to think of eating as much variety as you can throughout the week.
We use this simple method to visualise what we need and what we (ideally) aim at having on our plate : 1/2 vegetables and/or fruits, 1/4 grains and 1/4 plant based protein. Added to that, adding some healthy fats sources to provide omega3s, calcium fortified foods and B12 and Vitamin D supplements to keep our levels up and meet our nutritional target!
We can’t even count how many times we heard the phrase ‘But where do you get your proteins from?‘. Protein is very important on a structural point, to build our muscles, our bones and organs, but also chemically for our hormones and neurotransmitters. When it comes to it, there are two things we need to be cautious of.
The daily intake recommandation is of 0.8 grams per 1 kg body weight. This means you should to multiply your weight times 0.8 and aim for this amount. Obviously this is the average and depends on your physical conditions, activity, if you’re pregnant, etc.
For these reasons, the important is to get as much variety as possible, even with the type of beans or legumes we are eating. If your worry is not getting enough proteins in, you can always easily supplement with a protein powder. If it’s the case, make sure you choose a brand and a product as pure as possible in terms of ingredients.
A lot of people are afraid of fat because they’re higher in calories, but good fats are important for our brain to work properly, our mood, our hormone imbalance, reducing inflammation, good hair and skin, immune system, cardiovascular and joint health. As you see, getting enough fat is pretty mandatory to our body.
Of course, there are different types and not all of them are equally healthful. The good ones are saturated fats (such as coconut oil), poly unsaturated fat (omegas 3 and 6), mono unsaturated fats (olive oil, avocados…) and we want all of them in our diet.
Omega-6 are really abundant in a vegan diet, thus very important to balance it with omega-3 and choose oils that have a good ratio.
The last group are trans fat, the bad kind we want to avoid. They tend to be more processed fats, oils heated to high temperature, margarine, deep fried food, etc.
We try keeping our fats intake from whole foods sources and use oil moderately.
Some good plant based sources are: avocados, ground flax, chia, walnuts, hemp, pecans, olives, coconut, all nut butters & seeds…
Iron is much needed for our energy, a well functioning thyroid, mood and good immune system amongst others. It also carries oestrogens around in the body. If your levels are low, you can quickly notice it due to a deep fatigue, feeling heavy, faint and/or repetitive headaches. We usually need around 14 mg per day, but it varies depending on your gender (women need more than men because of their periods), and, of course, if you’re pregnant.
There are two types of iron:
This means the recommended daily intake for vegetarians and vegans is almost 2 times higher than for meat eaters. Also, eating vitamin C rich foods will help the body absorb it better.
Some good plant based sources are: soy derived products, lentils, beans, peas, nuts and seeds, leafy vegetables, seaweed…
The myth is that you need to drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of dairy to get your calcium levels up and have strong bones. In reality, studies show that it actually has the opposite effect. This is because dairy products are acidic and in order to alkalize our pH, our body uses its calcium stores, lowering their levels.
To get a good calcium intake, vegans should include a wide variety of leafy greens and crucifers into their diet and to eat fortified aliments. We used to stay away from the fortified aliments, because we wanted to defend a plant based diet so badly and felt like we lost our credibility if we add to supplement with “unnatural” sources of vitamins. The truth is, even if we don’t necessarily need them, they’re always a convenient way to keep our levels up.
Some of the best plant based sources include fortified mylks or aliments, collards, mustard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy, tempeh, tahini, dried figs…
B12 is the most important to supplement with, as it helps us make our DNA and maintain nerve cells, liver function, hormone balance and cardiovascular support. If lacking this vitamin, you can start feeling depressed, numb, lose balance or have a confuse mind.
Some say that we can get enough through specific foods like algae or mushrooms, but it is very difficult if not impossible for plant based eaters to get enough B12 through food. It still easy to meet our target though, we just need the right supplementation.
Our bodies store this vitamin, so the longer you have been following a plant based diet, the more chance you have of lacking it. Before supplementing, it is important to get your level tested as everyone is different and it is common that our body do not absorb B12 correctly.
Vitamin D acts as a hormone and is needed for a better calcium absorption, for the immune system, bone health, muscle function and higher mood. You can get it through your diet, by eating aliments that bathed in the sun, by exposing your skin to sunlight or through supplements. The best is to get at least 20 minutes of direct exposure, bearing in mind that wearing sunscreen keep our body from making vitamin D.
To get it through our diet, the best is to eat foods fortified with the vitamin. Otherwise, you can get it through tofu or mushrooms, but usually the best if you don’t live in a very sunny place is to supplement.