The diets of vegans and vegetarians are quite different from that of others. Vegetarians do not eat poultry, red meat, or fish, while vegans take it a step further and do not consume any animal products including dairy, eggs, and also animal by-products like gelatin. The diets of vegans and vegetarians are primarily centered on consuming a healthy variety of whole-grains, nuts, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
Like all other diets, a vegan or vegetarian diet must incorporate foods containing all major macro and micro nutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals) in order to meet the nutritional requirements of the individual. Here are some general recommendations for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet:
- Eat a minimum of five servings of different fruits and vegetables each day.
- Include proteins in the form of legumes like soy or lentils in all your meals.
- Eat at least three servings of whole-grains such as oats, barley, brown rice and millet every day.
- Consume dairy alternatives like soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, soy-yoghurts.
- Choose healthy fats such as olive oil, flax seed oil, unsaturated spreads and other forms of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in your diet.
Supplementation for Vegans and Vegetarians
Those vegans and vegetarians who are able to consume a nutritious and well-balanced diet consisting of legumes, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and unsaturated fats might be able to meet nearly all of their daily vitamins and minerals requirements. However, even then, they might have certain dietary deficiencies. A variety of lifestyle factors such as a busy work day, can hamper their ability to achieve a well-balanced diet everyday.
Nutritionists claim that the typical supplements needed by vegans and most vegetarians are vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, iodine, zinc, omega- 3 fats and calcium.
Vitamin B12 is required by the body for producing red blood cells. It helps in preventing the onset of anemia. Unfortunately, this particular vitamin is found primarily in animal products and hence vegans might find it hard to consume sufficient amounts of vitamin B12 through their diet. In addition to this, it is possible for a vitamin B12 deficiency to go unnoticed because of adequate levels of folate in the body (a vegan diet offers plenty of folate). Therefore, it is critical for both vegans and vegetarians to consider taking vitamin B12 supplements in addition to fortified soy products and vitamin-enriched cereals.
Vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin that helps in boosting the absorption of phosphorus and calcium in the body. It also has an impact on several other body processes such as your mood, immune function, muscle recovery and memory. Unfortunately, there are very limited foods that contain natural vitamin D, which is why reports indicate vitamin D deficiencies among a majority of people all over the world, regardless of whether they are vegans, vegetarians, or omnivores.
Vegans and vegetarians who aren’t getting the recommended amounts of vitamin D from exposure to the sun and fortified foods, must consider a daily vitamin D supplement (vitamin D2 or vitamin D3).
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for maintaining brain, heart, eye, skin, and joint health. Athletes and those with an active lifestyle also enjoy the benefits of omega-3s, which speed up the recovery process after a workout. Even though the vegan diet has enough sources providing alpha linolein acids (ALA), the most common form of omega-3s, vegans may still suffer from an omega-3 deficiency. Why? This is because the process that converts the ALA to EPA and DHA (long-chain omega-3 fats) is inefficient. This is why vegans and vegetarians are often recommended a 200 to 300mg EPA and DHA supplement three times a week to meet the omega-3 needs of the body.
Lastly, iron is another important mineral needed for the growth and development of the body. If you’re not able to get sufficient amounts of iron from iron-fortified cereals, breads, lentils, beans and nuts then you might benefit from taking an iron supplement.
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