People cut meat out of their diets for many different reasons, including concerns for animal welfare, health and the environment. As a registered dietitian, I definitely believe moving your diet closer to the plant-based spectrum is one of the best changes you can make to improve health! That said, while a vegan diet, which completely eliminates all animal foods including meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, can be perfectly healthy, it requires a little extra planning. That’s because some nutrients are found in smaller amounts in plant foods, so there is a higher risk of deficiency for vegans, especially if combined with another restriction, like gluten free. Below are 7 nutrients of concern for vegans, plus tips for making a vegan diet healthier:

Vitamin B12

Because vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, it’s impossible for vegans to get adequate amounts without supplementation. Vitamin B12 is crucial for brain and nervous system health and for the formation of red blood cells.

  • Start your day with a bowl of fortified whole grain cereal and fortified non-dairy milk. Add fresh or frozen berries and a small handful of nuts for antioxidants, protein and filling fats.
  • Sprinkle pastas, grain bowls and roasted vegetables with vitamin B12 fortified nutritional yeast, which adds a rich, cheesy flavor.

Iron

While iron is found in both plant and animal foods, the type of iron found in plants is less absorbable. Iron deficiency anemia is common in the general population, especially among women, and vegans are at a higher risk.

  • Swap lettuce in your salad for spinach or kale for a boost of iron. Add beans and a scoop of cooked brown rice or quinoa for protein, complex carbohydrate, and even more iron.
  • Pair iron rich foods, like beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, or tofu, with foods rich in vitamin C, like tomatoes, citrus, or peppers. The vitamin C helps the body absorb more iron.

Vitamin D

Very few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D, which is mostly produced through exposure to sunlight. However, two of the best sources, fortified dairy and fatty fish, are not included in a vegan diet.

  • Look for vitamin D mushrooms, which are exposed to sunlight. Check out these mushroom swaps for meat for inspiration.
  • Make a smoothie with vitamin D fortified orange juice and/or soy milk.

Calcium

Many plant-based foods are surprisingly rich in calcium, as well as other bone building nutrients!

  • A serving of tofu, a vegan favorite, has over 75% daily needs of calcium. Here’s tips from Luvo on how to make your tofu taste delicious!
  • Make an Asian stir fry with bok choy and broccoli, two calcium-rich green leafy vegetables. Sprinkle it with plenty of toasted sesame seeds, another surprising source of calcium.

Omega-3

This anti-inflammatory essential fatty acid is mainly found in fatty fish.

  • Chia, flax and hemp seeds can all give a boost of omega 3 fats to your meal. Add a tablespoon of each to your morning oatmeal for a nutty, seedy flavor and lots of fun texture.
  • Toss olives and omega 3 rich walnuts with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt for a savory, salty and crunchy vegan snack that’ll last!

Did anything in this post surprise you? Let us know in the comments below!

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