B-12, B-2 (riboflavin), Calcium, Iron. Vitamin D, Zinc & Protein: These are the nutrients I need to think about if I’m going to be a vegan. These I need to memorize. The big seven.
B-12 is the most important one because there are no plant sources of this vitamin! B-12 is made from bacteria that is in certain food like eggs, meat, and milk. Which surprised me because I always thought B-12 came from complex carbohydrates like whole wheat, brown rice, etc. Wrong! This is very important information and probably the reason that the first time I tried eating vegetarian I felt very bad after about four months. I immediately felt better when I added meat back into my diet leading me to believe that a vegetarian diet is unhealthy. Now I know that eating a vegetarian diet without first learning the facts is what is unhealthy. I also learned that because our food is so sanitized nowadays, none of us get as much B-12 as we used to. The best source of B-12 is sublingual and is taken under the tongue. This I found easily at Walmart and for very cheap. This one I can check off.
B-2 is easier to get in vegan foods. Good sources that I already eat often are almonds, bananas, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, peas, whole grains, and more. Easy…I got this one.
Calcium is one I was worried about even before I started reading up on it. But to my surprise I didn’t need to worry. In the US we consume a lot of calcium rich dairy and we have the highest osteoporosis rates. This is because the protein in dairy foods impedes the absorption of calcium. It’s much better to get calcium by eating plants! In addition, I’ve replaced regular milk with almond milk which is fortified with 45% of RDA for calcium with only 1 gram protein per 8oz glass, and I drink at least 3 per day. PLUS! The unsweetened variety has only 40 calories per serving! Very Cool.
* A note of caution: Soda pop is acid and when you drink it your body takes calcium (alkaline) from your bones in order to maintain the perfect acid/alkaline balance.
Iron was another worrisome one. I know there is a lot of iron in meat so where am I going to get this important mineral? It turns out there are two kinds of iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in animal flesh foods and is the most easily absorbed. Nonheme iron is found in plant food like veggies, fruits, seed, grains and beans and is harder to absorb. But, the absorption of nonheme iron is up to six times greater when accompanied with vitamin C and vegans typically get a lot of vitamin C. In addition, a lot of vegan sources of iron have large amounts of vitamin C in them as well. Still, this is a mineral I’ll watch closely. My plan is to supplement with a multi-vitamin that contains iron. Still on my “To Do” list.
Vitamin D helps your body use calcium and phosphorus. We get vitamin D naturally through the sun and these days a lot of people are deficient. Your liver stores vitamin D for use in the winter. If you drink a lot of alcohol your liver can’t dispense it properly. The almond milk I drink has 25% RDA per serving and I take a vitamin D supplement just to be sure. But I believe getting our vitamins the way nature intended is best. I have always been a proponent of sunscreen. I’m beginning to rethink this strategy. Moderation is the key.
Zinc is an important mineral that a lot of people lack whether vegan or not. Nutritional yeast, a vegan staple, has a lot of it. I bought this item and it’s sitting on my shelf but I need to begin incorporating it into my recipes. Too much calcium can impede absorption of zinc. Again, moderation in everything! Phytic acid also interrupts your body’s ability to use zinc and soy milk has a lot of it so I’m glad I use almond instead. In fact I’m learning soy isn’t the wonder food I always thought it was. More on that later.
Protein! There are many good vegan sources of protein and there is an argument to be made that these sources are much healthier than animal sources. This subject is important enough to have gotten its own chapter so I’m going to give it its own post. Much more on this later.
And there you have it. Some of the basics to remember, and an extremely important first step in becoming vegan. In fact, I wouldn’t even start trying to eat vegan until I had these under my belt. I did this once before. I stopped eating meat and dairy and just winged it. Not a good strategy at all and I ended up feeling really bad. This time I want to give myself a chance to succeed. Like the good little piggy I’m building my house with the bricks of nutritional fact.