Healthy Vegan

I’m noticing a trend in the questions I’ve been getting in emails, comments and Facebook messages. It seems like everyone wants to know more about the vegan diet – what constitutes as a protein, the story on soy, and what nutrients a vegan should pump up in their diet.

There are many things to consider when you’re vegan and I hope this post helps to shed light on a couple of them to help you along your journey.

What’s the deal on protein? I’m not sure I can live off beans for the rest of my life.

Vegan living has become more and more mainstream, so when people think vegan proteins, their mind tends to go to things like beans, lentils, and soy products. But there are so many more plant-based foods that offer a pretty hefty amount of protein. Items like wild rice, hemp seed and hemp products, chia seed, nuts, bee pollen (some vegans are comfortable with eating bee products), spirulina, and quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) are just some of the proteins vegans can rely on to replace the animal-based proteins of their previous diet.

It’s worth mentioning also, that if you’re vegetarian, some choose to eat eggs and dairy as well which are both chock-full of protein.

What’s the soy story? I’ve heard it’s bad for my health.

The soy debate is a lengthy topic! Basically, soy contains a mix of phytoestrogens, plant estrogens, which may stimulate or inhibit the cells of our estrogen receptors. Just because soy contains these phytoestrogens does not mean that consuming whole soy is going to stimulate in inhibit the cells. Studies are now showing that consumption of soy, as seen in Asian cultures, can be beneficial for our health.

Consumption of 1-2 servings of healthy, whole foods based soy a day is going to do more good than bad and will give you about 35-40mg of isoflavones a day, enough to give you the benefits of soy without overdoing it. You can find whole food sources of soy in organic, Non-GMO products like cooked soy beans, edamame, tofu, miso, tempeh and soy milk. The less processed and more fermented, the better!

I was told that I need to take an iron supplement, is that true?

There are plenty of ways to pump iron into the vegan diet! One of my favorite ways is by cooking with cast iron pans. When foods that are high in vitamin C, like tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts, greens, and broccoli are cooked in a cast iron pan, the iron is leached out of the cookware into your food! Crazy, right?

This same vitamin C to iron relationship is great when consuming foods high in iron. Items like beans, soy, tofu, dried apricots, pumpkin seeds and oatmeal all contain iron. Pair them with foods high in vitamin C like potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruits or strawberries and you’ll increase absorption rate!

Are there nutrients that a vegan is missing out when they remove animal products? Are there foods I should focus on to help me get those nutrients?

Many of us believe that if we are consuming the recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals, that we are meeting our nutrient needs. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth. The recommended daily amounts for vitamins and minerals are in place so that we avoid diseases, like scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) or rickets (vitamin D deficiency) but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enough for a healthy functioning body. The best way to get these vitamins and minerals is to take a whole food multi-vitamin and ensure our diet is packed with highly nutritious foods.

For the supplement, look for something that’s been created from food and not in a lab. Some of my favorites are products from Garden of Life and New Chapter. Check out my post on essential vs. nice-to-have supplements for more information on an inexpensive approach to supplement planning.

Variety is key, not just for vegans, but for all of us. Incorporating variety into our vegetable, fruit, protein, starch and fat choices will ensure that we’re getting a bit of everything we need to live a happy and healthy life. Cutting out animal products, however does mean that we have to be a bit more mindful of our intake of calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. Here are some foods that you can incorporate into your diet to ensure you’re getting a healthy dose of these vitamins and minerals,

  • Calcium: leafy greens (kale, spinach, mustard greens, beet greens, collard, etc.), almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli, beans and figs.
  • Vitamin B12: nutritional yeast, miso and sea vegetables
  • Zinc: pumpkin and sunflower seeds, whole dairy (if consumed), soy, beans, and nuts.

As with anything, I encourage you to choose the diet that’s best for your body. If you’re a vegan who often craves meat and feels like there’s something missing, listen to those urges and feed your body what it is asking for. If every time you eat animal protein you feel lethargic, give the vegan lifestyle a try. Life is all about figuring ourselves out and a lot of it can be achieved by finding the right diet for our bodies.

I’m often asked, ‘but if I start eating animal proteins again, my friends will judge me. How do I tell them I’ve made this decision for myself?’ If I’ve learned anything, it’s that we shouldn’t have to justify our food choices to anyone. We should live for ourselves because ultimately, our body knows best. If you crave meat, eat meat. You can still make great, ethically sound choices when you choose to incorporate animal proteins into your diet. And most of all, trust that whatever decision you make will nourish your body and soul if it’s the right choice for you.

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Comments | Leave Your Comment

  1. HI, Thank you for sharing your thought on this topic. It’s very informative. Although I eat vegan most of the time, yes I find that my body needs some meat or eggs from time to time. Especially if I have some stomach issues. The same when we r going out to the restaurant, often chicken is the safe meal to choose for me.
    Btw I love reading your blog and your recipes so I added you to my blog roll. Have an awesome day!!!

    • Thanks for adding me to your blogroll, Izabela :)

  2. Great post Leanne! I am not vegan but really enjoy eating fermented and whole soy products. Call me weird, but I will snack on plain tempeh, sliced off the block! Regarding the yes/no to eggs and bee products, and switching from being non-vegan to vegan and vice versa, I like that you said it’s an individual choice. I’m always experimenting with different ways of eating to see what makes me feel best, and I don’t think anyone should have to worry about being judged for making changes. Oh, and beautiful photos – the blog is looking super vibrant today!

  3. You hit the nail on this post, Leanne! I had a friend talk to me the other day about veganism, too. Her daughter has a baby and they are all vegan, and she was wondering if they were doing everything they could. Iron and vitamin B’s are the big ones (this vegan was pretty mindful about her protein content, so that is good!). Nutritional yeast is great for b’s, and beans are pretty good for iron. But my sister used to take an all herb and plant-based liquid iron supplement that was very good. Can’t remember exactly what it was called, but I tried it once and it tasted like liquid metal! Yuck, but t got the job done.

  4. Hi Leanne! Per your suppliment article, I purchased the Raw One for Women vegetarian capsules and the Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotics yesterday. Over the past 6 months I have completely changed my way of life. I thought I knew so much about health and nutrition and man was I blind sided by the truth. I have been fazing out everything I had been using, as not to waste them, and incorporating better choices in their place. I am excited about the vitamins and probiotics- today is day 1. It is great to gain information from those who have been enlightened before oneself, thank you for the helpful information!

    • Hi Tracy, wow! It sounds like you’re doing some extensive work on yourself and your approach to wellness. I’d love to know how you like the probiotics. They’ve changed my life! Enjoy the journey :)

  5. That was a great post and I think you summarized it so nicely for anyone even with general questions/concerns!!

    I like how you especially answered the question about soy; I think people are over-paranoid of soy…it’s just a bean! I think eating meat at all times of the day everyday would be equally as detrimental as overdoing it on soy. Your answer was just awesome ;)

  6. Great post covering all kinds of concerns and questions. I know that about cast-iron pans and leeching iron. Do you have a fave pan? I am in the market for one and wish I had an old hand-me-down but I don’t so need to start from scratch on that.

    And amen to: “we shouldn’t have to justify our food choices to anyone.” :)

    • Thanks, Averie! I found my cast iron set at Value Village. It’s old, well used and fantastic! A lot of the consignment stores have them, too!

  7. So well written! This is a great “short version” of answers to all the many questions. I love how accepting of all diets/mindsets your responses are. Thanks Leanne!

  8. Leanne, great information here! Per your supplements article, I’m looking at Vitamin Code products, but unfortunately I’m not good at swallowing pills. I see that Vitamin Code makes a liquid, but I’m trying to locate a liquid or chewable (that’s not filled with sucrose) made specifically for women. I know it’s a tall order; do you have any ideas?

    Thanks a bunch – love the blog!

    • The company MegaFood makes amazing pills and supplements. I take their iron pills (called Blood Builder) and instead of the pill being only iron, they’ve added whole foods like broccoli, oranges, and beets, thus ensuring that there are no digestion problems when they’re taken. They have a huge range of vitamins and minerals- definitely worth checking out!

  9. Thank You for the post!! I consider myself 99% vegan (cuz I ate some buffet food including salmon yesterday) and this is definitely useful. I feel as long as you are getting enough calories from variety of different foods, you are fine getting your nutrients in a vegan diet (maybe supplementing B12). :D

  10. This is a great, grounded article. It shows not only that you know your stuff, but it also shows a deep compassion for various eating styles. I teach cooking classes and am often faced with many of the same questions re: protein, carbs, iron, etc. We’ve been so persuaded by the meat & dairy industry (at least here in the US) that people are convinced they are going to wither and die without red meat and milk, and yet are unaware that they are deficient in other nutrients like fiber, vitamin c, and more. Thanks for sharing compassionate and helpful information to show us otherwise. aloha from Oahu, andrea

    • Thanks, Andrea! Too cool that you teach cooking classes for a living, that must be so fun :)

  11. Such a great post, Leanne. I got a whole lot of heck from my friends when I bought Dreena Burton’s Let Them Eat Vegan cookbook…they seemed to think that because I bought a vegan cookbook and often cook meals without animal products, then I must be labeled “vegan” and subscribe 100% to that way of life. Truth is, I do exactly as you describe and follow what my body craves…sometimes that’s a plate full of veggies, sometimes it’s un-veganizing one of those vegan recipes and adding cheese, or frying up a sustainably-caught fish for a yummy weekend dinner. I eat what makes my body and mind feel good. Simple!

  12. Thank you so much for this!! A vegan for over 2 years, you just become so used to all these myths that float around that people think are true, or the assumptions that are associated with vegans. Sometimes it drives me crazy, and I appreciated you shedding some light on this and giving accurate and important information.

  13. Love your insight to all this. I often eat vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) meals to balance out the animal fats in the sweets I bake. Definitely some helpful info here!

  14. Great post Leanne,
    I think its important for people not to get trapped by labels. After all, vegetarian, or vegan is just a word to describe someone’s eating habits, (or to a further extent, perhaps lifestyle), but it is just a label. To describe my eating habits, I would be an ovo-vegetarian I guess. But that’s just for the most part. I used to eat dairy, but turns out it doesn’t agree with me so much, so I’ve cut it out. And sometimes I won’t eat eggs for weeks, or maybe even months, so am I vegan who occasionally eats eggs? And what about honey? Or potentially non-vegan sugar? Where to draw the line? It doesn’t matter. On the odd occasion, I feel lacking, and desire fish, so I’ll eat a small portion of fish, usually wild salmon if I can get it. To others it’s easier to describe my eating habits under the label vegetarian, as it pretty simply implies I don’t eat meat, but I don’t restrict my eating habits to the definition of a label. I choose how to eat based on health, environment and ethical reasons. Not because I choose to be vegetarian so I’m not allowed meat. I don’t judge others by their decisions on how and what to eat, and I expect others not to judge me on mine, whether I choose to eat animal products or not. I understand that labels help classify and explain things, but we should not be trapped by common perception. Food and nutrition is a very personal thing. Not every person suits a particular way of eating. Some people eat to live, others eat for pleasure, others eat based on social convention. Me? I choose to eat sustainably, for both environment and animals, as well as myself. I feel good about my food choices, and if we all paid a little more attention to our bodies, so should everyone else.

    Sorry this turned into a bit of a novel, but I hope you all enjoy reading a brief insight into my views on eating and “labels”!

    • Thank you for sharing your approach to eating styles, you said it very well, Tamara!

  15. Thank you so much for this – and for including the part at the end! After trying out a more vegetarian lifestyle earlier this year, I found myself feeling blah for lack of a better word. The best I’ve ever felt is right now, with a focus on WHOLE, REAL FOOD! :) Thanks for leading by example!

  16. Hi Leanne,

    Thank you for sharing, I really felt glad I read this. I have just recently subscribed to your site and I wondered why it took me so long. I have tried being vegan and I’m on my second week now. This post has helped me evaluate how my vegan lifestyle has been so far and I made a blog post about it too.

    Again, thanks! And by the way, I love your recipes!! :)

    All the best to you! :)

    • Thanks for stopping by and saying hello, Tonette. Good luck on your vegan journey!

  17. Thanks for the post Leanne (and the great site). I eat mostly vegan but I sometimes feel the need to have some organic dairy (sheep/goat cheese or yogurt and ghee) and sometimes organic eggs. It depends on how my body feels and the kind of stress I am under. I need less of the animal protein in the hot weather. It is true not one size fits all and as you get older you might need certain foods that you could do without when you were younger.

    Keep up the good work!

  18. Awesome post – thank you! I’m also glad to see there aren’t any mean comments on here :) I find labeling brings out the worst in people! I think it must be your good energy and your open mind.

    • Yes, I’m glad we all stayed super supportive, honest and open! You’re all a great bunch :)

  19. This is a great compilation of tips! I wish I would have known this when I was thinking of changing to a vegan diet 3 years ago. Well done Leanne :)

  20. Another well-written and insightful post. I appreciate all of your thoughts, tips and information. I am a vegan, allergic to soy and consistently find so much inspiration from your recipes. What I love most about this post is how you present an open approach to vegan foods in a way that can be enjoyed by anyone. Labels seem to sometimes bind us tighter than intuitive eating. always..your pictures are absolutely gorgeous :)

  21. This is one of the best articles I’ve read! It’s well written, informative, easy to understand and non-judgemental! As I (rapidly!) approach my 50th birthday I’m trying to learn what is best for my body. I won’t call myself a vegan or a vegetarian, I just say that I try to stick to a plant based diet. Since I am so new to this, I’ve been trying to figure all of this out for a couple of years, I am trying to learn all that I can. But there is so much information that is contridicting! It gets very confusing. Thank you for helping me sort some of this out. Any reccomendations on further reading that could help me would be greatly appreciated. I want to learn all that I can so I can make good choices for myself , my family and have information to share with my friends. Thanks again!

    • Yes, it can be very challenging to try to make sense of all of the information. If you’re interested in a good read, Brendan Brazier’s books are great. Dr Weil is a good source for health information, too. In the end though, if you feel good with what you’re doing, it’s often where you need to be, regardless of what book or resource says about your choice. Best of luck, Melissa!

  22. This post had a lot of great information. I had no idea that quinoa had protein or almonds and leafy greens had calcium! Though I’m not vegan, I tend to eat a lot of vegan or vegetarian meals, especially for breakfast and lunch, and the variety of foods I’ve discovered has been both astonishing and a real pleasure.

  23. I don’t post a lot of comments on blog I read but I had to tell you how much I loved this post! I agree, it shows that you both know your stuff and are so level headed and giving about so many different ways of eating. I just found your blog today and even though I am a vegetarian turning vegan I love your blog because it is so universal. I think in the “diet wars” what we forget is at the end of the day we all are just trying to eat whole foods close to nature. I love that you have taken that concept and not let anything else get in the way. Love it! Thank you so so very much!

    • You summed up everything I believe in so beautifully, thank you. Thanks for stopping by and saying hello :)

  24. Leanne, what a wonderful post! I’m in the process of incorporating animal products such as eggs and dairy into my diet again because it feels right for my body and soul. Your words about trusting ourselves are so encouraging for me. Do you know of any good sources with info about incorporating animal products in an environmentally friendly way?
    Love your blog!

    • Hi Chelsea, I’m glad that my words resonated with you. You should be proud of yourself for forging your own path and trusting in your body’s instincts. It’s challenging for many of us to do! I don’t know of good resources off the top of my head, but I think if you do a quick Google search you’ll be inundated with great information. A great place to start, which is what I did, is find a butcher in your area that sources grass fed and finished red meats, free range eggs and chickens and fresh sea food. It doesn’t have to be “certified organic” but ask them what sorts of practices the farmers have that source the meat. If you can find a good place in your area, you’re set!

  25. Hi Leanne
    I really enjoyed this page on Veganism and Vegan food. I eat mostly vegan food and also tend to ‘veganise’ a lot of recipes to suit my family’s tastebuds! Will certainly keep visiting your blog, thanks for all the lovely recipes and hard work you have put in here ;-)

    ~ Mika

    • I’m glad you liked the most, Mika. Thanks for stopping in, sharing your comments, and saying hello!

  26. i am not vegan but when i read blogs and surprised to know the benefits of vegetables for maintaining health . i start eating vegetables more .mostly i prepared vegetables for dinner and lunch even in breakfast or as evening snacks , i made fresh vegetables salads for maintaining good health.

  27. Thanks for the post. Being a vegan myself, I thought I’d add a statement about protein. Most studies/health organizations believe we need 5% of our calories to come from protein. It’s virtually impossible to be protein deficient without being calorie deficient. In other words, one would starve before they would become protein deficient. 5% amounts to roughly 30 – 40 grams/day for most people, not the 1 gram/lb. of bodyweight that gets mistakenly thrown around. Also, Spinach and Broccoli are some of the best souces of protein. In fact, at 52% protein, spinach has more protein than a steak/chicken/fish!

    • Thanks for adding your comments, Brian! I really appreciate it :)

  28. Thanks for the post Leanne. I really needed to read your words so that I stop trying to label myself. Or feeling like a flip/flopper for changing things up when my body is craving a healthy whole food that doesn’t fit my current label. There are so many different views on diet that it can be confusing; and a person can feel like if they don’t follow a particular path they are harming their body. Love vegan food, but also love fish and it seems my body craves it from time to time.

    BTW the name of the liquid iron supplement is Floradix Iron plus Herbs.

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