One of the first questions I get when I tell someone I am vegan is if I take a bunch of vitamins. The truth is no, I don’t take any vitamins. A lot of vegan do use supplements, but I am horrible about remembering to take medication and vitamins, so I have opted out of it. Not to mention, I would much rather get my micro and macro nutrients from natural sources. My doctor is aware of my dietary choices and my blood work looks great, so I am currently not worried about it.
Protein is a huge concern for people when learning about a vegan lifestyle. I have heard a million times “what about protein?”, but what people don’t realize is there are ton of non-meat protein sources. Here are some helpful tips for including protein-rich foods in your daily life.
- Almonds, peanuts, cashews and other nuts are famous for being protein-packed. You can make cheese and mayo spreads from cashews. You can make almond butter and peanut butter to spread on your toast or eat with fruit. I love to make our own trail mix with cashews, almonds, dried cranberries, dried coconut, and pumpkin seeds for a protein-filled snack.
- Chickpeas are ones of my favorite foods. I eat them almost every day and they are so versatile. They can be seasoned and baked for an on-the-go snack or added to your salad. Regular cooked chickpeas are even great for salads. I love hummus. It’s one of my staple lunch foods. You can make your own or buy some already made and there are dozens of different flavor options. You can choose from crushed red pepper, garlic, original, artichoke, jalapeno lemon, dill, or any other flavor that you prefer. I usually pack hummus with some baby carrots and celery for part of my lunch at work. We also love to eat hummus with corn tortillas. You should definitely try it sometime!
- Tofu is another great protein option. We don’t eat much tofu because I worry about too much soy intake, but a lot of vegetarians and vegans enjoy tofu in their recipes. A lot of Indian inspired dishes include tofu. It takes on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with, so when we do use tofu, we like to add a lot of spices. It is even an option for some cheese alternatives such as the ricotta in lasagna.
- I’m sure this comes as a no-brainer for you, but beans are a great protein source too. Beans and rice are an awesome budget-friendly meal. We love vegan chili and it is packed with beans and warms up great as leftovers. A lot of vegan brownie recipes call for black beans too. I am not a baker, so I haven’t tried my hand at making brownies, but I think it’s a great idea.
Iron deficiency (anemia) is a concern that I personally have. Women are at a higher risk for anemia than men, but vegetarian and vegans alike are concerned with the decrease in iron-rich foods. Meat products are a large component of iron in people’s diets, so being vegan means being in-the-know about alternatives.
- Dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and spinach are great sources of iron. Broccoli is great raw or steamed. Kale and spinach are incredibly versatile ingredients. They can be eaten in salads, wraps, and sandwiches. I like to massage my kale before eating it raw because it mellows out the flavor and texture, but my husband loves the strong taste. They are also great cooked in soups because they wilt and coordinate well with many flavors. Because of the vitamin K substance in dark green leafy vegetables, I suggest consulting your doctor if you take the medication Coumadin (Warfarin) before increasing your consumption of these foods. If you are taking Coumadin, the vitamin K could decrease the medication’s effectiveness.
- Soy products such as tofu and tempeh are packed with iron too!
- Pumpkin, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds are great sources of iron. Pumpkin seeds can be bought in bulk and added to trail mix. You can also season and bake fresh pumpkin seeds. Any of these can be added to salads for a bit of extra crunch or, if you make your own bread, you can add sesame and/or flax seeds to your loaf.
- A physician I used to work with told me that coconut palm sugar is an ingredient she uses when she becomes anemic. I started using it in moderation instead of regular white sugar and I haven’t even noticed a difference in taste.
Vitamin D is a micro-nutrient that people in the northeast (vegans and non-vegans alike) struggle to consume enough of. Companies have actually resorted to fortifying some foods with vitamin D (such as cereals and dairy products). Living in an area that doesn’t see much sunshine can increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency because our skin is made to create the vitamin from the sun’s exposure. This is a large contributor to seasonal depression.
- Mushrooms are an easy-additive for vitamin D intake. We add mushrooms to many of our favorite foods including salads, sandwiches, sauces, pizzas, soups and anything else that we can sneak it into. Mushrooms have a lot of medicinal properties and some studies suggest that the consumption of mushrooms on a daily basis can decrease a person’s risk for cancer.
- Just like cow’s milk, some almond and soy milks are fortified with vitamin D. We prefer unsweetened original almond milk, but you should use what you think tastes best.
- If you have the opportunity to enjoy sunlight, it’s the best (and cheapest) way to increase your vitamin D intake. Being outside with exposed skin allows your body to create vitamin D intrinsically.
- Oh, tofu has vitamin D too!
There are so many foods that are nutrient dense and contain one or more of the above listed items. A lot of people utilize tools and apps such as “MyFitnessPal” to track their micro and macro-nutrients. I personally have decided to eat intuitively instead of tracking, but you should find what works best for you. With any diet or lifestyle change, it may get a good idea to have a conversation with your doctor beforehand. He/She will be able to guide you in the best health-conscious direction for your body’s specific needs.
Knowledge is power.