Veganism in a Nutshell
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What is a Vegan?
Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to
being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as
eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and
soaps derived from animal products.
People choose to be vegan for health, environmental, and/or ethical
reasons. For example, some vegans feel that one promotes the meat industry
by consuming eggs and dairy products. That is, once dairy cows or
egg-laying chickens are too old to be productive, they are often sold as
meat; and since male calves do not produce milk, they usually are raised
for veal or other products. Some people avoid these items because of
conditions associated with their production.
Many vegans choose this lifestyle to promote a more humane and caring
world. They know they are not perfect, but believe they have a
responsibility to try to do their best, while not being judgmental of
The key to a nutritionally sound vegan diet is variety. A healthy and
varied vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens,
whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for
protein as long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein planning or
combining is not necessary. The key is to eat a varied diet.
Almost all foods except for alcohol, sugar, and fats are good sources
of protein. Vegan sources include: potatoes, whole wheat bread, rice,
broccoli, spinach, almonds, peas, chickpeas, peanut butter, tofu, soy
milk, lentils, kale...
For example, if part of a day's menu included the following foods, you
would meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for an
adult male: 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup soy milk, 2 slices whole wheat bread, 1
bagel, 2 Tablespoons peanut butter, 1 cup vegetarian baked beans, 5 ounces
tofu, 2 Tablespoons of almonds, 1 cup broccoli, and 1 cup brown rice.
Vegan diets are free of cholesterol and are generally low in fat. Thus
eating a vegan diet makes it easy to conform to recommendations given to
reduce the risk of major chronic diseases such as heart disease and
cancer. High-fat foods, which should be used sparingly, include oils,
margarine, nuts, nut butters, seed butters, avocado, and coconut.
Vitamin D is not found in the vegan diet but can be made by humans
following exposure to sunlight. At least ten to fifteen minutes of summer
sun on hands and face two to three times a week is recommended for adults
so that vitamin D production can occur.
Calcium, needed for strong bones, is found in dark green vegetables,
tofu processed with calcium sulfate, and many other foods commonly eaten
by vegans. Calcium requirements for those on lower protein, plant-based
protein diets may be somewhat lower than requirements for those eating a
higher protein, flesh-based diet. However, it is important for vegans to
eat foods high in calcium and/or use a vegan calcium supplement every day.
CALCIUM CONTENT OF SELECTED FOODS
Following are some good sources of calcium:
Soy or rice milk,
fortified, plain 8 oz 150-500
Collard greens, cooked 1 cup 357 mg
Blackstrap molasses 2 TB 342 mg
Tofu, processed with
calcium sulfate 4 oz 200-330 mg
orange juice 8 oz 300 mg
Tofu, processed with
nigari 4 oz 80-230 mg
Kale, cooked 1 cup 176 mg
Tahini 2 TB 128 mg
Almonds 1/4 cup 97 mg
Other sources of calcium include: okra, sesame seeds, turnip greens,
soybeans, figs, tempeh, almond butter, broccoli, bok choy, commercial soy
The recommended intake for calcium for adults 19 through 50 years is
Note: It appears that oxalic acid, which is found in spinach, rhubarb,
chard, and beet greens, binds with calcium and reduces calcium absorption.
Calcium is well absorbed from other dark green vegetables.
Vegan diets can provide zinc at levels close to or even higher than the
RDA. Zinc is found in grains, legumes, and nuts.
Dried beans and dark green vegetables are especially good sources of
iron, better on a per calorie basis than meat. Iron absorption is
increased markedly by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods
Sources of Iron
Soybeans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, kidney beans, chickpeas,
black-eyed peas, seitan, Swiss chard, tempeh, black beans, prune juice,
beet greens, tahini, peas, figs, bulghur, bok choy, raisins, watermelon,
Comparison of Iron Sources
Here are the iron contents of selected foods:
FOOD IRON (MG)
1 cup cooked soybeans 8.8
2 Tbsp blackstrap molasses 7.0
1 cup cooked lentils 6.6
1 cup cooked kidney beans 5.2
1 cup cooked chickpeas 4.7
1 cup cooked lima beans 4.5
1 cup cooked Swiss chard 4.0
1/8 medium watermelon 1.0
The requirement for vitamin B12 is very low. Non-animal sources include
Red Star nutritional yeast T6635 also known as Vegetarian Support Formula
(around 2 teaspoons supplies the adult RDA). It is especially important
for pregnant and lactating women, infants, and children to have reliable
sources of vitamin B12 in their diets. Numerous foods are fortified with
B12, but sometimes companies change what they do. So always read labels
carefully or write the companies.
Tempeh, miso, and seaweed are often labeled as having large amounts of
vitamin B12. However, these products are not reliable sources of the
vitamin because the amount of vitamin B12 present depends on the type of
processing the food undergoes. Other sources of vitamin B12 are fortified
soy milk (check the label as this is rarely available in the U.S.),
vitamin B12-fortified meat analogues, and vitamin B12 supplements. There
are supplements which do not contain animal products. Vegetarians who are
not vegan can also obtain vitamin B12 from dairy products and eggs.
Common Vegan Foods
Oatmeal, stir-fried vegetables, cereal, toast, orange juice, peanut
butter on whole wheat bread, frozen fruit desserts, lentil soup, salad bar
items like chickpeas and three bean salad, dates, apples, macaroni, fruit
smoothies, popcorn, spaghetti, vegetarian baked beans, guacamole, chili...
Vegans Also Eat...
Tofu lasagna, homemade pancakes without eggs, hummus, eggless cookies,
soy ice cream, tempeh, corn chowder, soy yogurt, rice pudding, fava beans,
banana muffins, spinach pies, oat nut burgers, falafel, corn fritters,
French toast made with soy milk, soy hot dogs, vegetable burgers, pumpkin
casserole, scrambled tofu, seitan.
When Eating Out Try These Foods
Pizza without cheese, Chinese moo shu vegetables, Indian curries and
dahl, eggplant dishes without the cheese, bean tacos without the lard and
cheese (available from Taco Bell and other Mexican restaurants), Middle
Eastern hummus and tabouli, Ethiopian injera (flat bread) and lentil stew,
Thai vegetable curries...
Egg and Dairy Replacers
As a binder, substitute for each egg:
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) soft tofu blended with the liquid ingredients of
the recipe, or
- 1 small banana, mashed, or
- 1/4 cup applesauce, or
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot starch, or Ener-G Egg Replacer
or another commercial mix found in health food stores.
The following substitutions can be made for dairy products:
- Soy milk, rice milk, potato milk, nut milk, or water (in some
recipes) may be used.
- Buttermilk can be replaced with soured soy or rice milk. For each
Cup of buttermilk, use 1 cup soymilk plus 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
- Soy cheese available in health food stores. (Be aware that many soy
cheeses contain casein, which is a dairy product.)
- Crumbled tofu can be substituted for cottage cheese or ricotta
cheese in lasagna and similar dishes.
- Several brands of nondairy cream cheese are available in some
supermarkets and kosher stores.
For More Information
Vegan for a complete discussion of vegan nutrition plus 160 quick
and easy recipes. This excellent resource contains over 160 vegan recipes
that can be prepared quickly. An extensive vegan nutrition section by Reed
Mangels, Ph.D., R.D., covers topics such as protein, fat, calcium, iron,
vitamin B12, pregnancy and the vegan diet, feeding vegan kids, weight
gain, weight loss, and a nutrition glossary. Also featured are sample
menus and meal plans.
Simply Vegan is more than a cookbook. An additional section on
shopping by mail tells you where to find vegan clothes, non-leather shoes,
cosmetics, household products, and books.