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.

Why Veganism?

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 others.

Vegan Nutrition

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.

Protein

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 provide some protein. Vegan sources include: lentils, chickpeas, tofu, peas, peanut butter, soy milk, almonds, spinach, rice, whole wheat bread, potatoes, broccoli, 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.

Fat

Vegan diets are free of cholesterol and are generally low in saturated 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

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. Food sources of vitamin D include vitamin D-fortified soy milk and rice milk. (For more information about vitamin D, see FAQs About Vitamin D)

Calcium

Calcium, needed for strong bones, is found in dark green vegetables, tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice, and many other foods commonly eaten by vegans. Although lower animal protein intake may reduce calcium losses, there is currently not enough evidence to suggest that vegans have lower calcium needs. Vegans should eat foods that are high in calcium and/or use a calcium supplement.

CALCIUM CONTENT OF SELECTED FOODS

Following are some good sources of calcium:

   ___________________________________________________________

   Soy or rice milk,
	commercial, calcium-
	fortified, plain		   8 oz	     200-300 mg

   Collard greens, cooked                  1 cup     357 mg

   Blackstrap molasses                     2 TB      400 mg

   Tofu, processed with 
        calcium sulfate                    4 oz      200-330 mg

   Calcium-fortified
	orange juice			   8 oz	     300 mg

   Tofu, processed with 
        nigari		                   4 oz      80-230 mg

   Kale, cooked				   1 cup     179 mg

   Tahini				   2 TB      128 mg

   Almonds                                 1/4 cup   89 mg
   ___________________________________________________________

Other good sources of calcium include: okra, turnip greens, soybeans, tempeh, almond butter, broccoli, bok choy, commercial soy yogurt...

The recommended intake for calcium for adults 19 through 50 years is 1000 milligrams/day.

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.

Zinc

Vegan diets can provide zinc at levels close to or even higher than the RDA. Zinc is found in grains, legumes, and nuts.

Iron

Dried beans and dark green leafy 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 containing iron.

Sources of Iron

Soybeans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, Swiss chard, tempeh, black beans, prune juice, beet greens, tahini, peas, bulghur, bok choy, raisins, watermelon, millet, kale....

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
       ______________________________________________

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

In order to maximize production of DHA and EPA (omega-3 fatty acids), vegans should include good sources of alpha-linolenic acid in their diets such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans, and walnuts.

Vitamin B12

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 dal, 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

Order Simply 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.

Books

VEGANS KNOW HOW TO PARTY COVER Vegans Know How to Party by Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD
SIMPLY VEGAN COVER Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman. Nutrition section by Reed Mangels Ph.D., R.D.
CONVENIENTLY VEGAN COVER Conveniently Vegan by Debra Wasserman
VEGAN HANDBOOK COVER Vegan Handbook Edited by Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels Ph.D., R.D.
LOWFAT JEWISH VEGETARIAN COVER The Lowfat Jewish Vegetarian Cookbook by Debra Wasserman

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About this Article

The contents of this brochure and our other publications are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional.

This electronic edition of the brochure, "Veganism In a Nutshell" is published by:

The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203
(410) 366-VEGE
email: vrg@vrg.org

What is the Vegetarian Resource Group?

Our health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and individuals to bring about healthy changes in your school, workplace, and community. Registered dietitians and physicians aid in the development of nutrition-related publications and answer member and media questions about vegetarian diets. The Vegetarian Resource Group is a non-profit organization. Financial support comes primarily from memberships, contributions, and book sales.