How Healthy is a Vegan Diet?

With celebrities like Natalie Portman and Brad Pitt publically broadcasting their commitment to following a vegan diet, veganism has very quickly become popular in the US. The commitment to veganism, according to Vegan Action, can be for several reasons including preventing cruelty towards animals, preventing destruction to the environment, or preventing a multitude of health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension. But here’s the question: Is a vegan diet truly healthy for you?

This is what the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has to say about vegan (and vegetarian) diets: Appropriately planned vegan diets are healthy, can provide the body with enough nutrients, and can help to prevent certain diseases. The emphasis here is on appropriately planned. As long as you carefully research what nutrients you need, what types of foods contain those nutrients, and what recipes you can use to prepare those foods, you will have the tools to follow a healthy diet.

Let me give you a bit of a “cheat sheet” to help with your research. There are a few nutrients you should especially focus on when following a vegan diet.

  • Protein: Since most omnivores get the majority of their protein from meat, how can vegans get enough protein without animal foods? Focus on plant proteins like chickpeas, beans (available in many varieties), whole grains (like brown rice, whole wheat bread, or quinoa), soymilk, and nuts.
  • Vitamin D: This important vitamin is needed to help with calcium’s absorption and help with other bodily processes. While direct exposure to the sun can stimulate Vitamin D formation in the skin, depending upon what climate you live in and other factors, it most likely will not provide enough. Vegans need to focus on foods that are fortified with vitamin D, like fortified orange juice, or take a supplement. The body requires 15 micrograms or 400 IU of vitamin D each day.
  • Calcium: Calcium is needed for many purposes in the body, one of which is to form and maintain strong bones. While many omnivores get their calcium through dairy products typically, vegans can depend on fortified sources like orange juice, soymilk or rice milk, tofu (made with calcium sulfate), or leafy greens like kale or collard greens.
  • Iron: Another important mineral for vegans to be mindful of is iron. There are two different types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal products and non-heme iron is found in non-animal products. Unfortunately, non-heme iron sources are less easily absorbed by the body. A way to improve absorption is to eat some sort of food containing Vitamin C. Some of those foods are citrus fruits (like oranges), cantaloupe, green peppers, cauliflower, or potatoes (both sweet and regular). Good sources of iron for vegans are dried beans, some dark green leafy vegetables, and dried fruits. Vegans may need a supplement for iron.
  • Vitamin B12: Of the B vitamins, this vitamin will require vegans to take a supplement for sure. While it is mostly found in animal products, some plant products do contain it but are not thought to be a reliable source. The best way to supplement B12 is to take a multivitamin with other B vitamins. This will provide the best absorption.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fatty acids have been in the spotlight in recent years because of their potential to reduce the risk of heart disease. The best source of omega-3s is fish, but you can also get some through nuts (like walnuts), canola or soybean oils, and flaxseed. Depending upon your diet, you may need a supplement for omega-3s too.

Hopefully these tips will give you some help with your own vegan diet or provide you with more knowledge about this popular lifestyle. Veganism definitely has benefits because of all of the staple fresh fruits and vegetables consumed that give you lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. But, it really requires a lot of awareness of what you are eating and increases the likelihood that you may need different supplements.


The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Position Paper on Vegetarianism & Veganism

The Vegetarian Resource Group on Veganism

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—Scroll to Appendix 9 for more specific information on what should be eaten in the vegan diet

More Information on Vitamin B12

More Information on Vitamin C

More Information on Omega-3 Fatty Acids


8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Welcome! « A Healthier Hokie: A Blog for Smarter Eating  |  November 3, 2011 at 10:33 am

    […] Since November 1st was World Vegan Day, we decided to write a new blog post on the healthiness of the Vegan Diet. Get informed by reading the post here. […]

  • 2. Welcome! « A Healthier Hokie: A Blog for Smarter Eating  |  November 4, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    […] November 1st was World Vegan Day, we decided to write a new blog post on the healthiness of the Vegan Diet. Get informed by reading the post […]

  • 3. Healthy Eating Facts  |  June 21, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    I never heard about vegan diet until I read this post. Very educative and informative!

  • 4. Gena  |  July 3, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I was a little nervous about looking over this much material, however once I got started I can’t quit.
    Thanks on your very interesting post.

  • Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but
    after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  • 6. Virginia Tech Dining Services Administration  |  September 29, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    We are very glad to hear that you will be returning to our site! Please check back every couple of weeks for updated entries.

  • 7. victor smith  |  October 31, 2014 at 2:31 am

    If you eat a vegan diet everyday, it will ensure that you live long and stay healthy for a longer period. A vegetarian, then getting vitamin B12 in sufficient amount should be of great concern to you. Cheese, eggs, Milk, yogurt etc. have Vitamin B12 in abundant amounts in them. One should consume these vitamin b12 foods everyday.

  • 8. Virginia Tech Dining Services Administration  |  November 10, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you for your input!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

%d bloggers like this: