5 things vegans should pay attention to

5 things vegans should pay attention to

My mom calls me a “nerd” a lot. It’s because if you get me started on nutrition, theatre, or my dogs it’s hard to shut me up. Hence why I started blogging about it…to save my poor mom from all my ranting.

Today we get to chat about something equally nerdy and important…nutrients!

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Yaaaay! 

How often have you heard: “I need more protein”, “Where do you get your protein?”, “I heard carbs are bad…” (etc) in general conversation?

Now picture a dinner party and how many of your friends (who don’t have a condition like hypertension) are saying: “My potassium intake is INTENSE” or “My selenium is rather low today. Anyone have any brazil nuts?”

Yeah…not heard a lot. If you’re vegan, you’re a little bit more aware of these micros than someone on a standard American diet (aptly abbreviated to SAD). And if you’re not, don’t worry, you’re not going to die.

There are some micronutrients that you, or the vegan in your life, should be paying attention to regardless of diet.

What’s a micronutrient?

Like a macronutrient, a micronutrient is something our body uses to stay healthy just on a smaller scale. For example, sodium (which is part of NaCl- sodium chloride, table salt) helps our muscles, heart, and nerves fire when we need them to.

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Which ones are the ones vegans need to pay attention to? There’s a lot of micronutrients.

Here are what I consider to be the top 5 micronutrients you should be focusing on:

  • Iron (+Vitamin C) (yes, technically 2 in one…you’ll see)
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium
  • B12
  • Zinc

Iron

Iron is used for a few things in the body:

  • Oxygen transport
  • Keeping blood cells healthy.

If you are an individual who menstruates, you may already be aware that iron is needed more during menstruation since you’re losing a bit of blood.

It also helps in handy little things like energy production, DNA synthesis, and acts like an antioxidant in the body (https://veganhealth.org/iron-part-1/#functions-iron) .

Vitamin C is tagged on there because it helps increase your adsorption of iron. Simply put, it acts like a magnet: it scoops up more iron for your body than your body would get if you didn’t add any vitamin C.

Including vitamin C in an iron-rich meal can look as simple as enjoying an orange after eating some lentil salad (you can even include some spinach, another source of iron).

I’m bad at recipes and cooking (working on it!) so here’s an article on iron sources from No Meat Athlete.

Vitamin D

Necessary for bone health and calcium absorption. If you drink dairy milk, you might have noticed there are dairy products that include vitamin D and it’s because of the link between vitamin D and calcium.

Often, during the sunny months, humans can get vitamin D from the sun. However, during colder months, getting vitamin D can be a challenge (unless you’re one of those people who can wear shorts when it’s freezing…if you’re this person, you scare me with your strength).

There are vegan/vegetarian sources of vitamin D like algae, and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) supplements.

Calcium

Not exclusive to dairy, calcium can be found in numerous sources like spinach, tofu set in a calcium solution, sesame seeds, and fortified plant milks. You don’t have to have dairy products to get calcium, so vegans rejoice!

Much like Vitamin C + Iron, Calcium + Vitamin D is a dream team of micronutrients. Calcium is needed for bone health (something you might remember from health class) but is also needed for a healthy nervous system.

B12

Even non-vegans need to pay attention to their B12 intake. B12 is not naturally from animal products as some might claim, but rather is found in soil bacteria that we used to get by not washing our produce before we ate it.

By the way…please wash your produce. You can get B12 without eating dirt.

The book Vegan for Life by Jack Norris and Ginny Messina, two vegan RDs, explains that the best way to supplement B12 is with a sublingual supplement.

If you are a vegan, you cannot skip your B12. B12 is necessary for healthy brain function and a B12 deficiency is no laughing matter.

But don’t let that scare you- B12 is easy to come by with these supplements.

If you or your teen want to go vegan, having a varied diet is key to getting these micronutrients in and making sure you’re getting what you need for your lifestyle. Just like paleo, the Mediterranean diet, keto, whatever eating fad crosses your mind, veganism just needs a little bit of time to plan for variety!

These are the top five nutrients I believe people need to pay attention to. What are your top five? Let me know!

And remember: Do your homework, eat a vegetable, and make sure to smile at someone today. Bye!

 

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It’s OK if your teen wants to be vegan

Teens can be vegan

Veganism, the diet (eating-kind, not weight loss kind) that excludes all animal products has been on the rise since 2014. According to Live Kindly’s recap of Veganism in the past year, there are huge increases in demands for animal-product free foods.

One quick search on YouTube for veganism shows recent uploads of what I eat in a day, suggestion videos, ‘why I went vegan’ videos, and vegan vlogs.

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Click here to be taken to the newest ‘vegan’ youtube uploads!

Why the increase? I think that in the digital age, where information can be transferred quicker than we can blink, we’re seeing a lot of other vegans blogging, vlogging, podcasting, and just tweeting about their ideas and beliefs. As with all discussions, people are seeing other’s point of view and changing.

We also see more vegan celebrities and athletes paving the way and spreading the message of the benefits of eating a plant-heavy diet.

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I personally went vegan because of Beagle Freedom Project, a nonprofit that rescues animals from animal testing. After a while I realized that if I’m against animals being tested on, why do I eat them?

Of course, there are people against animal testing but might feel differently about eating them. And that’s okay!

But what if your teen wants to be vegan?

The common definition of veganism, the one I shared earlier, can be a red flag. It focuses on the exclusion of things rather than the inclusion- so let’s change our focus!

What do we add when someone goes vegan?

Since vegans don’t eat cheese, meat, milk, or eggs, they include more legumes, beans, plant milks, whole grains and other forms of protein like nuts, seeds, and tofu.

Veganism can be focused on junk food (there’s a whole list of accidentally vegan junk food), but ultimately a balanced vegan diet includes lots of colors of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources.

It’s totally okay if your teen wants to be vegan

Puberty and adolescence is the time where teens are going to experiment with their independence, which can look like a bunch of different things: eating more fast food than normal, not wanting to go to religious services with you, cutting their hair/growing it out, and going vegan.

There are a lot of different ways you can support your teen if they decide they want to go plant-based. I wrote an article for Athlegan on how to transition to a vegan diet that will be helpful for you to read. I break down a typical transition into four steps.

  1. Decide the reason
  2. Accept that mistakes happen
  3. Start small
  4. Find Vegan friends

Ask your teen why they want to be vegan. If it’s because they saw videos of factory farms, or because they just don’t like meat, then you have a way to discuss with them about their meal options.

Have them help cook dinner and decide their lunches. This is a big shift if you and your family normally eat animal products- especially if your teen is using this as an excuse to be extra picky. Help your teen figure out what they like and don’t like by having them pick out recipes with you.

Even if it’s just a new spin on beans and rice, your teen getting a say in recipes and learning to cook them not only helps you but helps them learn an important skill: cooking!

One of the things that I wish I had learned before I left for school was different cooking skills. I could do the basics and even now I’m not too bad, but I wish I would have had a couple handful of recipes before I went away for college.

Vegan diets can be extremely healthy. Vegan Health.org goes over some things to keep track of for your teen, and here are some things to consider:

  • Vegan diets emphasize a lot of fruits and vegetables
  • The main protein sources are whole foods: beans, legumes, etc
    • They’re high in fiber which help keep you regular
    • They’re extremely versatile when it comes to dishes (look at my Pinterest for inspo!)
  • For burgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets, there are meat substitutes you can buy for cookouts with your teen (yes, I know it’s March, but I’m just optimistic for those warmer days!)

Other tips and tricks are available through One Green Planet’s article on Feeding Vegan Teens.

Some key takeaways from that article are:

Eat or drink something high in Vitamin C to help your body absorb iron (this can look like a glass of calcium fortified orange juice and some cereal, or oatmeal).

Remember: A vegan diet isn’t a deprivation diet. You can be extremely healthy on a vegan diet. You can even veganize some of your teens favorite recipes, like pizza, smoothies, and desserts.

We’ll go into how to spot if your teen’s veganism is covering an eating disorder in a later post!

Are you vegan? Why, or why not? Let me know and join the #centerstageensemble by telling me your reason on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!