In the world of fortified foods, vegans today have few risks to their health due to diet. Gone are the days of extensive meal planning, most vegans can plan their meals using a variety of grocery store products.
Vegans eat no meat, poultry, fish or dairy products such as eggs or cheese. Soy foods have become the basic staple of their diet, with many soy foods being fortified with the necessary daily requirements. The main nutritional essentials that are most likely to be overlooked or inadequate in the vegan diet are iron, vitamin B-12, calcium and sometimes protein. By eating a varied diet, in adequate amounts, most vegans will not have these concerns.
Vitamin B-12, while found in some plant foods, is primarily found in meat products. Like iron, the most accessible form of B-12 is found in meat. A deficiency of B-12 reduces the body’s ability to form red blood cells, which can lead to anemia. Anemia can, over time lead to severe organ damage and eventually to death. Many doctors recommend a vitamin B-12 supplement, usually injected, to insure enough of this essential nutrient in the body.
Vitamin B-12 can be found in plants, particularly in fortified soy products and in certain yeast extracts. Unless pregnant or nursing, the suggested daily amount requirements for B-12 is very low.
A deficiency of iron has the same effects as vitamin B-12 on the body. Iron, is readily available in plant foods and the nutritional requirements for this nutrient can easily be met with a little forethought. One cup of cooked soybean can provide close to nine milligrams. Other foods include dark green vegetables, molasses, kidney beans, Swiss chard, watermelon, lentils and chickpeas.
Calcium is necessary for strong teeth and bones and can be found in fortified tofu and other soy based products and green leafy vegetables. Many orange juices on the market are now fortified with a percentage of the daily requirement of calcium.
Protein requirements are generally the chief worry of new vegans and their families. Providing the diet is varied and adequate in caloric intake, there is usually no cause for concern. Most plant foods are good sources of protein including potatoes, legumes, whole-wheat products, nuts, seeds and soy products. The only foods that are not good sources of protein would be fats and sugar.
The benefits of the vegan diet are believed to be many. Although no research has been done proving that a vegan will live longer than their carnivore friends and family, the non-meat diet has been proven to help improve overall health.
Vegan diets are generally low in fat and free of artery clogging cholesterol. Because of this, the diet conforms to the recommended daily allowances for a heart healthy life. It is believed that vegans suffer less from high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke. The high fat foods in the diet are used sparingly and include nuts, coconuts, avocados and oils.
Obesity, which often leads to diabetes, is rarely seen in a vegan since the diet is low fat. There is also research to suggest that vegans suffer less from skin problems such as eczema and psoriasis. Since the diet is high in fiber, constipation and other stomach and bowel disorders are less likely to occur.
Overall, the benefits of the vegan diet outweigh the risks. The diet has the additional benefit of being more economical since the majority of food costs for non-vegetarians is the meat itself.
By adding a quality multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement to their diet, a vegan will never have to worry about nutrient deficencies. Combined with exercise and an otherwise salubrious lifestyle, the vegan should have no adverse difficulties in keeping their body fit and healthy.