A vegan diet can be an excellent option for those wanting to reduce the impact on animals or improve overall health.
However, great care must be taken to ensure that vegans receive adequate levels of nutrients by eating a wide variety of foods each day.
Think of the base of the vegan food pyramid as being comprised of whole grains.
Vegans should look to consume six to 11 servings of these foods per day, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grains like quinoa, millet or bulgur and cereals such as oatmeal.
Avoid processed grains, such as white rice and bleached flour, which contain less protein, minerals and B vitamins than their pure, unrefined counterparts.
The second tier of the vegan food pyramid should be split between fruits and vegetables.
Vegans should strive to consume at least three servings of each per day.
Seek a wide variety of colors when selecting fruits and vegetables because often, color indicates a wealth of certain nutrients.
For example, dark green leafy vegetables are high in folic acid, calcium and iron, while orange-red fruits and vegetables are high in beta-carotene and vitamin C.
Blueberries contain high levels of antioxidants, and tomatoes offer high levels of the antioxidant lycopene, which may protect prostate health.
The third tier of the vegan food pyramid should contain two to five servings per day.
These foods, as a group, are also good sources of fiber, minerals and B vitamins.
Vegetable-based fats and oils are found at the top of the vegan food pyramid
And should be used sparingly.
The vegan diet is naturally cholesterol-free, and tends to be low in saturated fat.
Certain nuts, seeds and oils, used in small quantities, provide heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids.
Consider supplements a pinnacle at top of the vegan food pyramid.
Nutrients that may be missing or lacking in the vegan diet include vitamins D and B12, and some vegans may need to round out their diets with fortified foods or dietary supplements.
Vitamin D is found in egg yolk and added to cow’s milk, but is not consumed in the vegan diet.
The body does produce its own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but vegans who live in higher latitudes or who do not get regular sun exposure should be careful to select dairy alternatives fortified with vitamin D or take a supplement.
Vitamin B12 is not typically found in the vegan diet in adequate or reliable amounts.
The daily requirement for B12 can be met if vegans select cereals fortified with the vitamin, add a food supplement, such as Red Star nutritional yeast, or take a B12 supplement.
Whether opting for a vegan diet to improve health or minimize impact on agricultural animals, choosing a well-rounded diet will help to supply necessary vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
Remember to select fortified foods or a supplement to supply vitamins not found in the vegan diet, and enjoy a wide variety of foods each day to ensure adequate consumption of other, food-based, essentials.