Many people feel that going vegan is too difficult, and that you will more than likely become deficient in one or multiple vital vitamins and minerals. This is simply not the case. As a vegan weight lifter, I carefully track my macro-nutrients on a daily basis to reach my fitness goals, and can tell you with absolute glee that I exceed my daily macro-nutrient requirements by 100%, 200% and sometimes as high as 1000%! You may think that this is because, as a fitness junkie, I have to carefully track my nutrition and watch what I eat. This is also not the case. I pretty much eat whatever I want (though I do watch my fat intake and do not consume refined sugars) and hit my fitness and nutritional goals right on the head. It is important to note that anyone, omnivores, vegans, and vegetarians alike, can become deficient in key nutrients if they do not eat a balanced diet, or if they favor a typical western diet of fast food, sugary snacks, and generally eat empty calories. So whether you are currently following a plant based diet or living a vegan lifestyle or not, it is important to take care of yourself and eat a healthy and balanced diet. For your health and benefit, I have compiled below a list of the vitamins and minerals that we need to consume to stay healthy, the daily suggested required amounts, and where you can get them on a plant based diet.
Contrary to popular misinformation and belief, vegetables DO contain protein. I bet you didn’t know that romaine lettuce contains 3 grams of protein per cup!! Despite the media pushing the belief that the more protein the better, you only need about .36 g of protein daily per pound of body weight. Multiply your body weight by .36, and that’s how much protein you need in grams per day. I bet you’ll be shocked by how low that number is. Of course, if you’re like me and you are athletic, you will need a bit more, but it is still not a difficult task. In fact, eating TOO MUCH protein can cause many health issues. Aside from eating your vegetables, can get protein from beans, tofu, legumes, and wheat (yes, wheat!).Vital wheat gluten is used to make a vegan “meat” called seitan, which is packed with protein. There is also some debate over whether or not there is such a thing as a “complete protein” in the vegan diet. A complete protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own. Quinoa, hemp, chia, spirulina, and sprouted brown rice are all complete proteins. However, it is a fallacy that you must eat every single essential amino acid at every meal. You simply need to get your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of each amino acid. Requirements for each of the nine essential amino acids are right around 10 mg per day for each, with the exception of tryptophan, which is only 3.5 mg per day, and this is not even something that you need to track, as it is quite simple to do so by simply eating a variety of the protein sources listed below.
- Kale/Broccoli/Spinach: 5 grams per cup
- Green Peas: 8 grams per cup
- Lentils- 18 grams per cup
- Chickpeas/Black Beans- 13 grams per cup
- Tofu: 10 grams per 3 ounces
- Tempeh: 10 grams per 2 ounces
- Seitan: 21 grams per 1/3 cup
- Soybeans (Edamame) – 16 grams per cup
- Rolled Oats: 7 grams per 1/2 cup cooked
- Quinoa: 7 grams per 1/2 cup cooked
- Millet: 5 grams per 1/2 cup cooked
- Amaranth: 6 grams per 1/2 cup cooked
- Almond Butter: 7 Grams per 2 tablespoons
- Spirulina: 4 grams per teaspoon
- Chlorella: 2 grams per teaspoon
- Chia seeds: 10 grams per 2 tablespoons
- Flax Seeds: 5 grams per 2 tablespoons
- Sunflower Seeds: 10 grams per 1/4 cup
- Pumpkin Seeds: 10 grams per 1/4 cup
- Hemp Seeds: 10 grams per 3 tablespoons
- Cacao Powder: 5 grams per 2 tablespoons (chocolate has protein!!!)
- Plant-Based Protein Powders: typically around 20 grams per scoop
Omega 3 fatty acids
The RDA for Omega 3 is 1.6 g/day for adult males and 1.1 g/day for adult females. Our bodies make DHA and EPA (fatty acids that are important for good health) from Omega 3, but because research suggests that Omega 6 inhibits the conversion of Omega 3 into DHA and EPA, foods that probably came to your mind like walnuts (2,542mg Omega 3 but 10,666 Omega 6) or sesame seeds (105mg Omega 3 but 5,984mg Omega 6) might not be the best sources of Omega 3 for conversion into DHA and EPA. Don’t stop eating them, but be conscious that these foods, which are higher in Omega 3’s and lower in Omega 6’s are better sources.
- Flax Seeds: 6388 mg per 1 oz.
- Chia Seeds: 4915 mg per 1 oz.
- Hemp Seeds: 1100 mg per 1 oz.
- Mustard Oil: 826 mg per 1 tbsp.
- Spirulina: 58 mg per tbsp. (also the only vegan source that contains DHA and EPA, which means our bodies do not have to make it)
- Spinach: 352 mg per cup cooked
- Blueberries: 174 mg per 1 cup
- Wild Rice: 156 mg per 1 cup cooked
- Winter Squash: 338 mg per 1 cup cooked
The RDA for Zinc is 11 mg/day for adult males and 8 mg/day for adult females.
- Tofu: 0 mg per 1/2 cup
- Tempeh: 1.0 mg per 1/2 cup
- Garbanzo beans: 1.3 mg per 1/2 cup
- Pinto/Kidney beans: 0.8 mg per 1/2 cup
- Lentils: 1.3 mg per 1/2 cup
- Almonds: 1.1 mg per 1/4 cup
- Walnuts, chopped: 0.9 per 1/4 cup
- Peanut butter: 0.9 mg per 2 tbsp
- Oatmeal: 2.3 mg per 1 cup, cooked
- Broccoli: 0.4 mg per 1/2 cup, boiled, chopped
The RDA for Iron is 8 mg/day for adult males and adult females over 50 and 18 mg/day for adult females under age 50. Contrary to popular belief, not many vegans are deficient in iron. Vegans eat a diet rich in grains, leafy greens, quinoa, lentils are rich in iron. Avoiding foods high in calcium, which can adversely affect the body’s ability to absorb iron, for a 30 minute window before and after eating these foods will help immensely. Additionally, cooking foods with high acidity in iron pans will increase the iron content by ten times!
- Tofu: 6 mg per 1/2 cup
- Tomato Paste: 1.0 mg per 4 ounces
- Spirulina: 5 mg per 1 tsp.
- White beans: 3.9 mg per 1/2 cup
- Soybeans: 4.4 mg per 1/2 cup, cooked
- Dried Apricots: 3.5 mg per 1 cup
- Lentils: 3 mg per 4 ounces
- Spinach: 3.2 mg per 1/2 cup, cooked
- Pumpkin Seeds: 4.2 mg per 1 ounce
- Quinoa: 4 mg per 4 ounces
- Blackstrap Molasses: 4 mg per 1 tbsp.
- Prune Juice: 3 mg per 8 ounces
- Dried Peaches: 3.1 mg per 6 halves
- Peas: 2.1 mg per 1 cup
B12 – The RDA for B12 is 3 mcg per day. Many people assume that vegans are low in B12. Typically, this is not the case. Many foods are fortified with B12 like cereals, plant milks, tofu, and tempeh. One may wonder why it is necessary to take a vegan B12 supplement or consume fortified foods. Many people believe that B12 is produced in the animals that omnivores raise for meat. This is not the case, as B12 is simply a bacteria in the soil. Once upon a time, plant foods were a reliable source of B12. However, our soils are now too clean to produce the bacteria. Animals in the wild can obtain B12 from soil, but any animal in captivity or who consumes food from clean soil cannot. In fact, farmed animals also take B12 supplements! As a vegan, you can choose to take said B12 supplements (just make sure they come from vegan sources), or you can consume these foods.
- Fortified Nutritional Yeast: 2 mcg per 1 tbsp.
- Fortified Soy Milk: 1.2 mcg per 1 cup
- Fortified Almond/Coconut Milk: 3 mcg per 1 cup
- Vegan Mayonnaise: 0.24 mcg per 1 tbsp.
- Fortified Tempeh: 0.12 mcg per 100 grams
- Fortified Cereal: 0.6-6 mcg per 1/2-3/4 cup (depends on brand)
The RDA for Iodine is 150-290 mcg per day, but you should not consume more than 600-1,100 mg per day. Iodine is an essential mineral, and over 30% of people worldwide don’t get enough iodine, vegan or not. You can simply use 1/2 rounded tsp. of iodized salt to get your daily requirement. However, for a more natural source that is better for you, you can consume these foods.
- Baked Potatoes: 60 mcg per 1 medium potato
- Dried Seaweed: 4,500 mcg per 1/4 ounce (consume much smaller portions, like flakes)
- Himalayan Salt: 250 mcg per 1/2 gram
- Dried Prunes: 13 mcg per 5 prunes
- Navy Beans: 32 mcg per 1/2 cup
- Bananas: 3 mcg per 1 medium banana
- Strawberries: 13 mcg per 1 cup
- Canned Corn: 14 mcg per 1/2 cup
- Fortified Breads: Check the label for Iodine content
Calcium and Vitamin D
The RDA for Calcium is 1,000 mg per day for people under 50, and 1,200 mg per day for those over 50, but you should not consume more than 2,000 mg per day. Calcium is quite easy to obtain on a vegan diet. However, to properly absorb calcium, your body needs Vitamin D – The RDA for Vitamin D is 15 mcg per day. Few foods contain Vitamin D, but sunlight exposure helps your body produce this essential vitamin. You can also obtain vitamin D via fortified foods if you have darker skin (which inhibits vitamin D absorption) or live in an area that is not as sunny.
- Blackstrap Molasses: 400 mg. per 2 tbsp
- Fortified Soy/Rice Milk: 200-300 mg per 8 ounces
- Fortified Other Plant Milk: 300-500 mg per 8 ounces
- Tofu: Processed with Calcium Sulfate: 200-420 mg per 4 ounces; Processed with nigari 130-400 mg per 4 ounces
- Tempeh: 184 mg per 1 cup
- Kale, cooked: 179 mg per 1 cup
- Soybeans, cooked: 175 mg per 1 cup
- Bok Choy, cooked: 158 mg per 1 cup
- Mustard Greens, cooked: 152 mg per 1 cup
- Okra, Cooked: 135 mg per 1 cup
- Tahini: 128 mg per 2 tbsp.
- Almond Butter: 111 mg per 2 tbsp.
- Broccoli, cooked: 62 mg per 1 cup
The RDA for Vitamin A is 900 mcg RAE for men and 700 mcg RAE for women per day. Vitamin A deficiency is highly uncommon in the United States. Vitamin A is called retinol in its complete form and only found in animal products in this form. However, many plants contain the precursors to Vitamin A, like beta-carotene, and these give our bodies the tools necessary to make Vitamin A. For this reason, Vitamin A requirements are expressed as Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE), as this expresses the rate the body converts this Retinol to Vitamin A. Many plant based sources have a higher RAE than animal sources.
- Sweet Potato, skinless: 2,581 mcg RAE per cup
- Carrots: 1,329 mcg RAE per cup
- Spinach: 943 mcg RAE per cup
As you can see, eating a complete and healthy plant based diet is not only easy, but delicious!
Written by Kristen Kelley (Instagram/Twitter: @mrskelley0308)