Vegan Nutrition Basics

October 23, 2010

Ever had a question about vegan nutrition and fitness? Here’s a guest post from Sasha Britton to answer your questions.

We know that foods derived from animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products) aren’t necessary to live a long and healthy life- in fact, quite the contrary. But these protein sources aside,active people especially should take care to get enough protein into the diet. After all, when one istraining, one is breaking down muscle tissue (you know this is happening when you feel the “burn;”this is caused by the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, which causes them to break down) andprotein is necessary for the recovery and rebuilding process. Vegan athletes have to pay more attentionto dietary choices and food combinations in order ensure the absorption of enough high-quality protein.

What May Be Missing
In addition to protein, vegans may be missing the following nutrients in their diet:
ironcalciumvitamins B-12 and Dzinc
Iron is quite important for building muscle and endurance. If you aren’t going to get this from beef,you’re going to have to make sure you’re eating the following on a regular basis:
whole grain cereals fortified with ironlegumes (beans, peas and peanuts)dried fruit (especially raisins)cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage)
In addition, you will want to combine these with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits andberries; this will aid your body in absorbing and utilizing iron.
In lieu of dairy products, instead load up on fortified soy products as well as leafy greens to keepbones strong with sufficient calcium: mustard, kale and chard are powerhouse foods in this regard, aswell as dried figs. Sesame seeds are also a decent source of calcium; a unique form of nut butter madefrom sesame, called tahini, is available in many Middle Eastern specialty stores and combines wellwith sweet as well as savory foods.

Rice and beans together make a complete protein – or almost any combination of grain and legumes.However, peanuts (which are actually legumes, not nuts) and soybeans provide complete proteins thatare of the same quality as that derived from fish, poultry, dairy or eggs. Most tree nuts are also goodsources of protein, and provide the additional benefit of healthy oils, such as omega-3 (also found inolive oil).
The Tough OnesVitamin B-12 is essential for metabolism and making use of the energy stored in food. Unfortunately,the only reliable source of this nutrient is in animal-based foods. Whole grains cereals and soy milk areoften vitamin B-12 fortified, but one would have to consume a great deal in order to get this nutrient
in sufficient amounts from these vegetable-based sources alone. Therefore, vegan athletes may need totake B-12 supplements.
The same is true of zinc, which is vital for healthy respiratory and digestive functions. Fortunately,these supplements are not expensive – so make certain you have these on hand, especially when intraining.

By Sasha Britton, for Gym Source, provider of treadmills, arc trainers and home gyms for over 75 years.

What are your top nutrition tips?


2 Responses to “Vegan Nutrition Basics”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Another important point: I read recently that to make a complete protein, you don’t have to eat the two foods together. You could eat beans at lunch and rice at dinner and have the same effect. I’ve also read some conflicting things about B12. I’ve read that you have to take a vitamin or vitamin fortified foods, then somewhere else I read that nutritional yeast was a good source. Any idea which is correct?

    • Hey, Kelly,
      Both! Nutritional yeast is an excellent source of b12 as well as fortified cereals. I’m not a big vitamin fan because I don’t believe your body will absorb them as well. When you simply swallow something instead of chewing it, your body doesn’t break it down because your saliva is actually the first step to digestion and absorption. You don’t have to eat both proteins in the same meal (as far as I know), but if you can I’m sure that’s maximum bang for your buck.
      Hope you’re doing well and that I didn’t confuse you! 🙂

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