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Health Bytes: How To Be A Healthy Vegan


Health Bytes: How To Be A Healthy Vegan


Photos and Words by Samantha Wood

Each time I tell a new person I am a vegan, they automatically ask about my nutrition and wonder how I can possibly be getting everything I need in such a restricted diet. My response to them is that while it is important to educate yourself fully on a plant-based diet before embarking on the challenge, it is possible to do it the right way. While I am not a nutritionist or expert on vegan eating, I consider myself pretty successful in the vegan eating department. I can’t report any unfortunate changes I have had in my time as a vegan.

However, in addition to reading this, consult a nutritionist and do lots of reading on the topic before beginning your tenure as a vegan. Some of my favorite resources include The Vegan Society, The Vegetarian Resource Group and PETA. WebMD is also a great source.

Below I list some of the things I have learned as a vegan. As I stated above, this is by no means a complete list and should be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak, but it is something that I have compiled from my own previous experiences. I thought it would be helpful to share my experience as a vegan college student and let you know what has worked and what has not.

1. Know the common vitamins and minerals vegans naturally lack

B12, D, Iron and omega-3s are some of the more prominent ones. One of the most popular sources of omega-3s is salmon, but because that is not vegan, you can get yours from flax seeds, which must be ground up to receive the benefits, and walnuts, among other foods. Omega-3s are not naturally produced in the body, which is why adding them to your diet is extremely important. Their job is to maintain cell function in the body.

Vitamin B12 is prevalent in animal meat, but is also found in nutritional yeast, a vegan cheese substitute. B12 is important in maintaing a healthy nervous system.

And Vitamin D, also known as the sun vitamin, is found in dairy products, though can also be accumulated through spending long days in the sun. In New England, the sun is not strong enough to maintain healthy levels of the vitamin and many people need to supplement their intake with either a pill or by eating fortified foods, such as orange juice and soymilk.

Stocking up on spinach will improve iron levels, as well as Vitamin A, K and C and potassium.

Broccoli is a great source of calcium. One cup of broccoli has 178 milligrams of calcium. Many soymilks are also fortified with calcium.

2. Know some of the good vegan restaurants around town

While you may be happy about being vegan, your friends may not appreciate it quite as much because it cuts down on the available restaurants. Yet, you would be surprised how many restaurants serve vegan options without even meaning to. I went to Tasty Burger a few weeks ago and I was able to get a veggie burger with lettuce, tomato and a vegetable sauce. It was delicious. Many places are really good about preparing something vegan for customers upon request. If, however, you would like to visit a completely vegan restaurant, some of my favorites include Grasshopper, Peace o’ Pie and FoMu.

3. Pick meals that are filling and full of essential nutrients

Nothing is worse than feeling hungry after eating a meal, which can then result in consuming more calories than your body can handle. It is easy to overeat on a vegan diet, which may sound like a paradox, but is true. Adding avocados, nuts or grains to salads, eating healthy snacks in between meals and maintaining a balance of proteins, grains, vegetables and fruits will help you keep the calories to a level that works for you while providing enough nutrients to maintain your health.

4. Vegan food can be unhealthy

Most people think vegan is synonymous with healthy, but that is not necessarily true. A lot of junk food is considered vegan and while many unhealthy foods are cut out under the vegan rule, it still leaves many more available. For example, Oreos are vegan. That stuff in the middle does not come from milk. It is all processed sugar. Who would have thought? Therefore, be careful with what you put in your mouth. Being vegan will not completely save you from an unhealthy diet.

5. Have fun with it

My last bit of advice is don’t do this for the sake of others; do it for yourself. You are more likely to stick with it if your heart and soul are behind your decision. When first beginning, don’t be afraid to start slow. Going cold turkey is an unforgiving way to change your diet. When I became a vegan, I started a little at a time and eventually made it to a completely vegan diet. This technique has lasted me almost two years and I have no plans of going back. It has increased my palate and shown me new foods I would never have discovered without being vegan.

Many of my ideas come from vegan blogs that have made veganism delicious.

  • Chocolate-Covered Katie: Most of her recipes are easy and don’t require many ingredients.
  • Oh Lady Cakes: The photography on this site is amazing and while the recipes are a bit more complicated, they are something you can aspire to. Or just drool over the photos. That works too.
  • Post-Punk Kitchen: I found this blog from a cousin who made the pumpkin oatmeal cookies. Since then, I have never been at a loss for finding a good staple recipe here.
  • Manifest Vegan: This site has great photography and a variety of recipes. There are also gluten-free and soy free recipes included.
  • The Kitchn: While this site is not officially vegan, it generally has a lot of recipes that can easily be made vegan. In addition, there are great writers and photographers who produce delicious content.

DISCLAIMER: I am not and do not claim to be a registered dietician or nutritionist. Therefore, the advice you see on this website has been researched, but does not come from someone with professional experience.