You’re convinced and excited to be a vegan, but then the question: how to be a healthy vegan.
Just as ‘health & fitness’ are essential for non-vegans, vegans are no exception.
Therefore, committing to a healthy vegan diet and adding other health aspects to your life will help in following your daily routines with vigor.
Out of numerous health benefits a vegan can enjoy, reducing the risk of heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer are a few to name.
Typically a healthy vegan diet includes more portions of vegetables, fruits, cereals, nuts, and seeds, which have all the macro and micronutrients (including fiber) and low saturated fats.
Something we should always remember is that “being vegan” and “being healthy” may not necessarily mean the same thing. It depends on variables such as what you consume, general outlook/mental condition, sleep and physical activity as with any other diet.
Thus, adopting what’s mentioned in this post can help a great deal to be healthy for the long haul and be a vegan role model showing that health is a great reason to go vegan!
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin B12 
- Ages 14 years and older – 2.4 micrograms daily
- Pregnant females – 2.6 micrograms daily
- Breastfeeding females – 2.8 micrograms daily
- People over 50 years of age should consider eating foods fortified with B12 or take a supplement. To maintain vitamin B12 levels for older people supplementation of 25-100 micrograms daily is advised.
Functions and Benefits of Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is taken for mental function, immune system, Alzheimer’s disease, slow aging, boost mood, energy, concentration, digestion, heart health and minimize pregnancy complications.
Vegan Options for Vitamin B12
- Vegan B12 supplements (recommended)
- Vegan fortified food with vitamin B12
Best Vitamin B12 Fortified Vegan/Plant Milk Brands
- Milkadamia Original Macadamia Milk (50% daily value)
- Silk Pure Vanilla Flavored Almond Milk (50% daily value)
- So Delicious Organic Coconutmilk Beverage (50% daily value)
- Oatsome Organic Oat Milk (40% daily value)
Other B12 Fortified Beverages
- Beet Performer Beet Juice (80% of your daily value of vitamin B12)
- Sunshine Blueberry Lemonade (100% of your daily vitamin B12, no artificial colors or flavors)
- Hapi Water: Orange Peel (25% your daily vitamin B12 with no artificial ingredients and sugar)
Other Vegan Products with Vitamin B12
- Garden Of Life Raw Organic Meal Replacement (one serving of meal powder provides 100% of your daily vitamin B12, USDA Certified Organic, Non-GMO, Gluten-Free)
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Fortified nutrition bars
- Fortified soy products (recommended Non-GMO)
- Fortified spreads, yeast extracts, and nutritional yeast products
- Marmite (each four-gram serving provides 25% of your daily vitamin B12)
- Bragg Nutritional Yeast (one tablespoon provides 40% of your daily vitamin intake for B12, gluten-free, salt-free, and kosher)
- Daiya Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac (20% of the daily recommendation for vitamin B12, and gluten-free)
- B-Fresh Gum (one piece of this sugar-free non-GMO gum provides 300% of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 and it is gluten-free)
- Nasoya Vegan Mayonnaise (each serving provides 10% of your daily vitamin B12 intake / non-GMO)
If you rely on fortified foods for vitamin B12, read labels carefully to see how much vitamin B12 you get per serving. For example, if a fortified food provides 1 microgram per serving, then you would need 3 servings per day to get enough vitamin B12.
Alternatively, you may consider taking a reliable vitamin B12 vegan supplement to make sure you get enough of it.
Make sure to keep your tabs on B12 as a vegan!
You would have seen the heavy advertising to drink cow’s milk for stronger bones by having more calcium. Apparently, the human body doesn’t digest cow’s milk all that well considering approximately 75% of the world population is lactose intolerant [1B] which is normal. Why? Because cow’s milk was meant for calves, not for adult humans!
We are better off relying on vegetable sources of calcium such as green leafy vegetables and beans.
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Calcium 
- Age 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg daily
- Women over 50 years: 1,200mg daily
- Men over 70 years: 1,200mg daily
- Preadolescent children: 1,300mg daily
- Pregnant/lactating women: 1,000mg daily
Function and Benefits of Calcium
Calcium is essential for growth, and bone health. For bones, it is a great team player, working together with vitamin D, K, C, A, Magnesium, Protein, and Phosphorus.
If you want to have strong bones, eat a variety of plant-based foods that naturally consist of the above nutrients while engaging in physical activities.
Healthy Vegan Food with Calcium
- Sesame seeds (975 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of unhulled sesame seeds)
- Chia seeds (631 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Tahini (426 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Almonds (264 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Spring greens (210mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Soybeans*, navy beans, and pinto beans
- Dried figs (162 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Rocket/ arugula (160 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Parsley (138 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Black-eyed peas (128 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of boiled black eyed peas )
- Watercress (120 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Mustard greens (118 mg of calcium per 100 grams of boiled mustard greens)
- Broccoli Raab, rabe, or rapini (118 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of broccoli raab cooked)
- Almond butter (two tablespoons of almond butter contains 111 mg of calcium)
- Walnut (98 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Tofu* (77 mg of Calcium per 100g of organic Nasoya Tofu)
- Kale (72 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of boiled Kale)
- Chickpeas (49 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of boiled Chickpeas)
- Cabbage (48 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of boiled Cabbage)
- Swede/ rutabaga/ neep (43 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Broccoli (40 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of boiled broccoli)
- Oranges (40 mg of Calcium per 100 grams)
- Kidney beans (35 mg of Calcium per 100 grams of boiled Kidney beans)
- Fortified/enriched bread
- Flour fortified with calcium
*Recommended Organic & Non-GMO
Best Calcium-Fortified Vegan/Plant Milk Brands
- Ripple Non-Dairy Milk (Calcium 45%)
- Silk Pure Almond Milk (Calcium 45%)
- Pacific Foods Enriched Soy -Based Beverage (Calcium 30%)
- Pacific Foods Hemp Original Unsweetened -Based Beverage (Calcium 20%)
Other Calcium-Fortified Food
- Hapi Water: Orange Peel (10% of your daily calcium with no artificial ingredients and sugar)
- Daiya Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac (20% of the daily recommendation for calcium / gluten-free)
Certain foods, like spinach, may be rich in calcium but the calcium is bound to oxalate which makes it difficult to absorb. Try low-oxalate vegetables such as rocket, mustard greens, and kale. When you eat nuts, soak them to break down the phytic acid so that you can better absorb nutrients.
Also, note that whole sesame seeds have much higher calcium content compared to hulled sesame seeds while salt & caffeine are known to inhibit the absorption of calcium.
Protein is found in many foods and provide essential amino acids. It is almost impossible not to get enough amino acids if you eat a good variety of whole foods.
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Protein 
It is recommended that you consume 0.8g-1g of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.01oz per pound of weight). So if you weigh 140lb (63.5kg), you need 1.76oz (50g) of protein.
Function and Benefits of Protein
The body uses protein to make and repair muscles, hair, nails, enzymes, hormones, bones, cartilage, blood and other body chemicals.
The body makes most of the amino acids that we need so we only need to eat an adequate amount of the right protein foods to get the essential amino acids.
Healthy Vegan Food with Protein
- Green Beans
- Pulses: aduki/adzuki beans, black-eyed beans, chickpeas, chickpea flour, kidney beans, and lentils.
- Soy foods* (tempeh, tofu, soya mince, soy milk).
- Peanut butter
- Nuts: cashews, almonds, peanuts, pistachios.
- Seeds: hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame
- Grains: amaranth, quinoa, oats, and millet.
- Breakfast cereals
- bread and pasta.
*Recommended Organic & Non-GMO
Best Vegan/Plant Milk Brands with Protein
- Organic Edensoy Soy Milk (protein 12g)
- Orgain Organic -Based Protein Almond Milk (protein 10g)
- Pacific Foods Ultra Soy Non-Dairy Beverage (protein 10g)
- Ripple Non-Dairy Pea Milk (protein 8g)
Protein supplement >> Garden of Life Raw Organic Shake and Meal Replacement
If you’re a vegan athlete or engage extensively in physical activity you can consider the product below for additional protein:
Garden Of Life Sport Organic -Based Protein (30g of protein per serving, USDA certified organic, vegan, non-GMO, NSF certified for sport, Informed-Choice for Sport certified, gluten-free, dairy-free, no added sugar)
Recommended Dietary Allowance Vitamin D 
It is recommended that we get 600 IU of vitamin D daily.
Uses and Benefits of Vitamin D
You already got to know earlier under the nutrient calcium, that vitamin D is related to bone health, which is to promote the absorption of calcium. It also lowers your blood pressure, reduces the risk of diabetes, and lowers the risk of developing heart attacks, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Vegan Sources of Vitamin D
You cannot talk about vitamin D without talking about sunlight and no wonder why it’s called the “sunshine vitamin”. It takes 5 to 30 minutes of exposure to the sun, twice per week for the body to synthesize enough vitamin D.
The exposure time differs based on skin color and area exposed. Light colored skin takes very little time to produce vitamin D while darker skin needs a longer time.
One must be careful of getting a sunburn or in worse case skin cancer ( fair skin is more vulnerable). Thus, consider exposure early in the morning or late in the afternoon where sunlight is not so intense and for a limited time. For an adequate production of vitamin D, sun exposure must not be blocked by sunscreen or glass.
Other Vegan Sources of Vitamin D
- Vegan vitamin D supplements* (ideal for vitamin D3†)
- Ripple Non-Dairy Vegan Milk (30% daily value)
- So Delicious Dairy-Free Organic Coconutmilk Beverage (30% daily value)
- Silk Pure Almond Milk (25% daily value)
- Milkadamia Original Macadamia Milk (25% daily value)
- Garden of Life Raw Organic Meal Replacement (25% daily value, USDA certified organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free)
- Mushrooms exposed to sun or UV light do provide vitamin D but we wouldn’t recommend you to rely purely on mushrooms since they mostly have vitamin D2 and the amount of vitamin D2 may not be sufficient to fulfill your required daily values
*Not all vitamin D supplements are vegan since some supplements derive it from sheep’s lanolin
† Vitamin D3 is recommended for optimum health which can be obtained from sunlight or supplements. Most fortified food would have vitamin D2
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There are three important omega-3 fatty acids, Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), and Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA)
ALA – Do note that the human body cannot make its own ALA and it must be obtained through diet
EPA – Very small amounts found in seaweed. The human body can produce EPA out of ALA and out of DHA
DHA – Very small amounts found in seaweed. The body can convert EPA into DHA
Because omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids compete in the body, the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 affects the conversion of ALA into DHA and EPA. Benefits may be reached either by decreasing omega-6 intake or increasing omega-3 intake. Most health experts recommend keeping Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratios at 1:4 or even lower at 1:1.
Since there are no convenient vegan food sources for DHA or EPA aside from algae and supplements, to get enough DHA and EPA vegans must rely on their bodies’ natural ability to produce it. Thus be mindful of the ratio mentioned earlier.
Do note that the efficiency & effectiveness of the conversion of ALA into DHA & EPA is still questionable . Hence, you may opt for dietary supplements for optimum health.
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The following daily allowances have been recommended by the World Health Organization:
- ALA: 0.8-1.1g per day
- EPA and DHA: 0.3-0.5g per day
Function and Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Triglycerides (blood fat): Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower elevated triglyceride levels, thus lowering the risks of heart disease.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Omega-3 fatty acids seem to enhance the working of anti-inflammatory drugs. The EPA and DHA reduce stiffness and joint pain.
For development: It appears that DHA plays an important role in the development of sight and nervous system of infants. DHA is also a major component of gray matter of the brain, the retina, testis, sperm and cell membranes.
Depression: Studies have shown that those who eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids tend to experience lower levels of depression.
Other: Omega-3s are also known for lowering the risks of pneumonia and high blood pressure.
Vegan Food Sources of Omega-3
ALA is found in,
- Chia seeds
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
- Hempseed oil
- Camelina oil
- Chia seed oil
- Mustard seeds
- Green leafy vegetables
For DHA & EPA you can opt for a vegan supplement (recommended)
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Iron 
- Men (age 19-50) : 8 mg / day
- Women (age 19-50): 18 mg / day
- Men & Women (age 51+): 8 mg / day
- Pregnant women: 27 mg / day
- Lactating women: 9 mg / day
Function and Benefits of Iron
The body uses iron for energy, immunity and DNA synthesis. Deficiency of iron may not be felt during the early stages of deficiency. However, once the deficiency is advanced, it could pose a real challenge to improve and may take a considerable amount of time.
Incorporate iron-rich foods in your diet to prevent a deficiency and having an annual blood test can show whether your iron level is normal.
Vegan Sources of Iron
Good sources of iron include spinach, parsley, vegan dark chocolate, cocoa powder, dried peaches, dried figs, raisins, white beans, soybeans *, cooked swiss chard, cooked turnip greens, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, squash and pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, cashews, pine nuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, pistachios, macadamia, molasses and edible seaweeds.
You also must think about including foods rich in vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron in your meals. Colorful fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C and can be found in guavas (did you know that guavas have more vitamin c than oranges?), oranges, kale, red peppers, broccoli, parsley, cabbage, kiwis, papaya, strawberries, grapefruit, and apples.
*Recommended Organic & Non-GMO
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Zinc 
- Infants, children between 7 months and 3 years: 3mg per day
- Children 4-8 years: 5mg per day
- Children 9-13 years: 8mg per day
- Girls 14-18 years: 9mg per day
- Boys and men 14 years and older: 11mg per day
- Women 19 years and older: 8gm per day
- Pregnant women: 11mg per day
- Lactating women: 12mg per day
Apparently, whole grains like whole wheat bread, pasta, and rice contain high levels of phytates which tend to interfere with zinc absorption. Therefore, the Institute of Medicine suggests that vegans who consume whole grains should increase their zinc intake by 50%. So you can increase your zinc to 12mg/day (adult women) & 16.5mg per day (adult men), if you tend to eat a lot of whole grains.
Function and Benefits of Zinc
Zinc is an “essential trace element”. Because only small amounts are needed for the maintenance of health. The body uses zinc for the immune function, blood clotting, thyroid function and several other body functions.
Deficiency of zinc includes slow wound healing, stunted growth and acute diarrhea with children.
Vegan Sources of Zinc
Pumpkin and squash seeds, sesame seeds, pine nuts, cashews, cocoa powder, natto, tofu, baked beans, aduki/ adzuki beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, quinoa, and fortified products (like breakfast cereals and vegan meat substitutes) are all varied sources of zinc.
Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Iodine 
In the USA, the daily recommended intake of iodine is:
- Adult men and women: 150mcg.
- Pregnant women: 220mcg.
- Breastfeeding women: 290mcg.
Uses and Benefits of Iodine
Iodine can be quite a mineral when it comes to keeping it in the normal healthy range. A surplus or a deficiency can spoil your thyroid which plays a major role in controlling the way body uses energy from food. According to evidence, low iodine can also cause numerous deceases including cancer.
This is an important mineral that can be traced in every organ and tissue of the body and deficiency seems to occur irrespective of being vegan or non-vegan.
Be careful when you take supplements since too much iodine could also cause harm than good. American Thyroid Association (ATA) recommends that we should not exceed 500mcg daily. Ingesting more than 1,100mcg (tolerable upper limit) of iodine per day may even cause thyroid dysfunction.
Sources of Iodine
You can get iodine from half a teaspoon of iodized salt, which would help achieving your daily recommended allowance (150 micrograms / µg).
If there is an Iodine deficiency consult your doctor and you can consider taking a modest iodine supplement with 75-150 µg.
Variety is Key for a Healthy Vegan Diet!
As a rule of thumb, eat lots of different healthy vegan food, and the more colorful the better! Try to include plenty of vegetables (including green leafy veggies), plus fruits (including berries), beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and even vegan fortified foods to make sure you get all the nutrients.
Watch Your Weight
Like everyone else, vegans can gain weight as well, if they have a carefree appetite about the food they consume. Consume just enough calories to maintain a healthy weight, and if you think you are too skinny and need to gain weight, eat protein-rich foods or healthy fats like avocado.
As part of your diet eat moderate amounts of good fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids, like flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, and walnuts. Avoid as much as possible fast food, fried food, sugary sweets and many processed foods which contain trans-fats.
Avoid refined sugar which provides mere calories and not useful in terms of nutrition. Consider healthier more natural sugar substitutes.
If salt is your source of iodine (if using iodized salt) you may want to consume it moderately, but other than that, try limiting sodium intake from other sources.
Reading Food Labels
When you see the word “vegan” on a label, do not assume that the product is a healthy choice by default. Check the information on nutrition and see if too much fat, sugar, and salt are there.
Water is approximately 60%-75% of your body, making it a principal component. Most of the key systems within your body depend on water. Therefore not drinking enough water leads to many illnesses.
Just remember the rule of thumb that is 8 glasses a day or 2 liters. But when exercising increase your water intake and drink plenty of water before, during and after finishing your sessions.
Exercise for Health & Fitness
Whether you’re a vegan or a non-vegan there is no valid reason to overlook on this indispensable aspect of your life. As you read at the beginning of this article this is important if you want to set an example as a healthy vegan.
Few Benefits of Physical Activity
- Provides a healthy and strong heart (low risk of heart attacks & strokes), controls blood pressure, and lowers the risk of diabetes.
- When you exercise, your body releases endorphins. This gives you a positive frame of mind, releases you of any stress and makes you feel great psychologically.
- Gives you a well-defined body shape, stronger muscles, stronger bones, proper weight (correct body mass index), more energy, stamina, healthy skin and proper posture.
- According to one study physical activity helps to improve & maintain your brain’s hippocampus. Hippocampus is critical for our ability to learn and remember.
- Better immunity, detoxification and sleep better.
- When done in outdoors you can have fresh air & sunlight (vitamin D)
A few suggestions for physical activities: walking, jogging, aerobics, running, hiking, swimming, cycling, dancing, jumping rope, jumping jacks, use a treadmill, use an elliptical trainer or go to a gym.
As you learned, having a healthy vegan meal includes eating plenty of different vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, and limit sugary, salty and fatty foods to ensure you’re getting all the proper nutrients.
As a result, you’re bound to enjoy many health benefits besides reducing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, etc.
Keep your emphasis on whole foods as much as possible, but there’s no need to get obsessive about it. As you saw using fortified foods or even supplements at times can be a convenient source of getting your nutrients.
Being healthy also means keeping yourself happy mentally. Whenever you have a need to break the boredom, you may moderately consume vegan substitutes (there are healthy options as well if you choose carefully) for meat, eggs, cheese and of course vegan chocolate, vegan ice cream & vegan cookies!
Whenever possible you may get an occasional medical checkup to see where you stand in terms of overall health.
While every attempt has been made to verify the information provided here, the content in this post is for informational purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice. By providing the information contained herein we’re not diagnosing, or treating any type of disease or medical condition. Before beginning any regimen it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.
Syeda Asma M.Sc (nutrition & clinical dietetics) B.Sc (nutrition)
Syeda Asma is a professional and experienced nutritionist and nutrition tutor. She has always been fascinated and passionate about nutrition and its impact on well-being. She has done research and thesis work on comparative studies about chronic diseases.
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