The complete guide to vegan nutrition
Whether you’re considering making the leap into Veganism this January or are already vegan and need some tips, this vegan nutrition guide is for you.
From ethical to environmental, everyone has a different reason for being vegan. No matter what yours is, we respect it and are here to support you with evidence-based tips so that you can ensure that your diet is nutritionally adequate.
This vegan nutrition guide covers everything you need to know to stay healthy and well-nourished on a vegan diet. Think nutrition tips, the nutrients you need to be extra aware of and everything you need to know to meet your protein needs, easily!
Best of all? It was written with the help of very own vegan nutritionist, Barbara Usak (Registered Associate Nutritionist, BSc Human nutrition and PGDip Clinical & Public Health Nutrition).
First things first, can a vegan diet be healthy?
There’s so much confusing (and often conflicting) information out there, which is why people often fear that being vegan means that their diet will be ‘deficient’, ‘incomplete’ or compromise their health.
But the most credible and established health authorities, such as the BDA (British Dietetic Association, NS (Nutrition Society), AfN (Association for Nutrition) and the NHS all agree that a well-planned vegan diet can ‘support healthy living in people of all ages’ and that:
'a balanced vegan diet can be enjoyed by children and adults, including during pregnancy and breastfeeding, if the nutritional intake is well-planned’.
It’s a well-established fact that a vegan diet can support healthy living in people of all ages, provided that it is based on a wide variety of whole foods and not mainly on ultra-processed vegan foods (think vegan doughnuts, sausage rolls and ready meals) – just like any other diet.
In fact, many studies and a recent meta-analysis (of over 150,000 people) have suggested that a plant-based/vegan diet that emphasises minimally processed and unprocessed foods can even help reduce the risk of developing several chronic health conditions such as type-2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, hypertension, obesity and even cardiovascular disease.
The key to a healthy vegan diet? Choose whole foods
Before we get into the finer details of vegan nutrition, there’s one key tip that’ll give you the best chance of feeling healthy and nourished as a vegan: choose whole foods over ultra-processed foods when you can.
Do eat plenty of whole foods
For the majority of your diet, focus on a diverse range of minimally processed whole foods, such as:
- Nuts & seeds
- Tofu & tempeh
- Herbs & spices
- Healthy oils, such as olive
- Unsweetened plant milks
This will mean that your body will get all the macronutrients it needs (protein, fats & carbohydrates) as well as most of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Don’t rely on ultra-processed foods
With vegan diets becoming more popular, there’s an ever-growing number of vegan-friendly processed products being introduced to supermarkets. Whilst these can help when initially transitioning to a vegan diet, they’re certainly not healthier just because they’re free from animal products.
Heavily processed mock meat alternatives – just like the meat-containing originals – are not only expensive, but often highly refined and full of additives. Of course, they’re fine in moderation, but trying to meet all your protein needs from ‘fake meats’ is not the healthiest route.
Equally, try to avoid highly processed foods such as vegan ready meals, cakes, doughnuts, biscuits and sweetened drinks. These are often highly refined, lacking in nutrients and high in sugar and salt.
Understandably, it’s exciting that there are so many vegan treats available. These are fine in moderation, but to feel your best, try to prioritise whole foods most of the time.
The nutrients you need to be aware of as a vegan
The nutritional needs for most micronutrients can be met through a healthy and varied diet, with the exception of vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and selenium, where supplementation is sometimes recommended.
We'll cover micronutrients in detail later, but first, let's cover your macros.
Macronutrients are energy-providing nutrients that are required in larger quantities for your body.
Protein is the second most abundant compound in your body and is vital for so many bodily functions.
How much protein do I need?
The current recommended daily intake (by the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) and the British Dietetic Association) for protein is 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight for adults in the UK. This recommendation is for all healthy adults, regardless of the diet followed (omnivore, vegetarian or vegan).
In recent years, it’s been proposed that the RNI is too low. Whilst official recommendations have not yet been revised, a sensible recommendation and a good rule of thumb for vegans looking to maintain their wellbeing and existing muscle mass is to aim for about ~1g per kg bodyweight per day.
With that being said, there are some life-stages and circumstances where additional protein intake is recommended, including those who are highly active, pregnant, breastfeeding, menopausal or if you recovering from an operation/illness.
Where can I get protein on a vegan diet?
You can easily meet your protein needs by eating protein rich plant food sources, such as:
- Tofu & tempeh
- Edamame/soy beans
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas)
- Nuts & seeds
- Some vegan alternatives to dairy (milk & yoghurt)
- Wild rice
- Spirulina (great with green smoothies)
- Purition Vegan or Vegan Protein Powders
Aim to include one or two (palm sized) servings at each meal. For nuts, the serving size is approximately 25g, which is a small handful. If you’re unsure whether you’re meeting your protein needs, it might be helpful to track your intake for a week or so to see where you’re at.
Purition is a great source of quality protein from 8 different plants – on average, it contains 16g per serving (plus the milk/milk alternative you prepare it with), so it can be a great way to keep your protein intake high on a vegan diet!
Busting vegan protein myths
It’s an outdated myth that those on a vegan diet won’t be able to consume enough protein. Studies have also repeatedly shown that even a diet based purely on plant foods (that meets energy/calorie requirements) will meet all protein and essential amino acid needs.
In fact, all age groups and genders in the UK are exceeding the recommendations. According to the BNF, BDA and official statistics from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey (NDNS), current intakes of protein in the UK are well above the recommendations.
Another outdated myth is that that plants don’t contain all the essential amino acids. But plants, in fact, do contain all EAAS (essential amino acids) – they may just be in lower levels than animal proteins.
It has been repeatedly demonstrated that human EAA needs don’t need to be met at each mealtime – it’s the overall consumption of EAAs over the course of a day that is important. As long as you’re consuming a variety of plant protein sources, you’ll be fine.
2. Fats (including omega 3s)
Fat is another essential macronutrient in your diet and provides a concentrated course of energy.
How much fat do I need?
People are often afraid of fat, but health authorities (BDA/BNF/NHS) actually recommend that around a third of your daily calories should come from fat – the majority of which should be from unsaturated sources:
You should eat about 70-90g of fat per day (70g fat per day for an adult female and 90g per day for an adult male). Aim to have approximately 20-30g of saturated fat per day (the upper limit representing the needs for men).
Where can I get fats on a vegan diet?
To meet your daily needs for healthy fats, just aim to include a serving of healthy fat per meal (a tablespoon of oil, half an avocado or a small handful of nuts):
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Virgin coconut oil
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts etc)
- Seeds (chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds etc)
- Nut butters
What about omegas on a vegan diet?
It’s vital to consume healthy essential omega fats, as your body cannot make them on its own. They’re needed for heart, brain and eye health, hormone regulation, the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and loads more essential functions.
The essential omega 6 fat is called linoleic acid (LA), but most people tend to have enough of this already. Omega 3 fats are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA and DHA are readily found in fish and algae sources (that’s where fish get their omega 3 from!). As you don’t consume fish, your main source of omega 3 comes from ALA, which comes from plant food sources like nuts and seeds.
After consumption, ALA is converted into EPA and DHA. However, this conversion process is inefficient in humans. On average, only 1–10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 0.5–5% into DHA. Therefore, to achieve an adequate omega 3 intake (according to the EFSA and FAO), you should eat 2g of ALA daily.
This can be as simple as:
- A tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax seeds
- Two tablespoons of hemp seeds
- Six walnut halves
You may also want to consider algae oil supplements, which can provide a great plant source of EPA & DHA!
Purition is an extremely rich source of ALA. A 40g serving of Purition contains approximately 28g nuts and seeds, with an approximate amount of 1.85g of ALA, taking you oer 90% of the way towards the recommended intake in just 1 meal.
3. Carbohydrates (fibre)
When it comes to carbohydrates, not all are created equal. Refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta have undergone so many steps of processing that they no longer contain many nutrients.
Of course, everything is ok in moderation, but for the most part, it’s best to focus on whole food sources of fibre-rich carbohydrates.
Health authorities (NHS, BDA, BNF and AfN) state that there is strong evidence that eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Not only that, but choosing foods high in fibre may make you feel fuller, while also helping keep your digestive system healthy and preventing constipation.
Getting enough fibre is also one of the best things you can do for a healthy and diverse gut microbiome, which is beneficial for your health in an endless number of ways.
How much fibre do I need?
The recommended intake is 30g per day, but according to data from the British Nutrition Foundation, the average intake in the UK currently stands at just 17.2g for women and 20.1g for men.
Where can I get fibre on a vegan diet?
You’re in luck – whole food vegan diets are naturally very high in fibre! But if you’re unsure, make sure to include plenty of the following foods in your meals:
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Soya beans
- Nuts & seeds
- Legumes (chickpeas, peas, beans and lentils)
- Whole grains (wholegrain rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, barley & millet)
Indulging plenty of non-starchy vegetables (and some fruits) will help you reach that 30g/day fibre goal easily. Aim to have 1-2 servings with each meal or half fill the plate to get at least 5 servings per day – but really, the more the better!
Servings of certain plant proteins sources, such as pulses (beans, lentils, peas) and grains (like quinoa) double up as both protein and fibre/carbohydrate sources. If you have specific nutrition goals (for example weight loss or a lower carbohydrate diet), just be mindful of how much of these you eat.
Purition is naturally high in fibre! The fibres in Purition are both soluble and insoluble types and a 40g serving typically contains an impressive amount approximately ~7-8g of fibre, seriously helping you out with your fibre intake!
Micronutrients or 'micros' – aka vitamins and minerals – are nutrients required in much smaller quantities but are still essential for a healthy diet.
These micronutrients, in particular: need a little extra attention on a vegan diet:
This water-soluble vitamin plays many important roles in your body, from the normal functioning of the nervous system, to red blood cell formation and even to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
Vitamin B12 is produced by microorganisms that are then eaten by animals and is therefore only available from foods of animal sources. As a vegan, it’s important to play close attention to your diet and make sure you’re consuming some B12 from fortified foods or supplements:
- Nutritional yeast
- Fortified plant milks/yoghurts
- Marmite/yeast extracts
- Good quality supplements, such as Multi Nutrient
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that has two available forms – ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) from plants such as fungi – and cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3) from animal sources or from lichen/algae.
And, as you probably already know, vitamin D3 can also be produced in your skin as a response to exposure to sunlight!
It’s most well-known for its function in maintaining normal bones and muscle function, as well as maintaining normal calcium levels and contributing to the normal function of the immune system.
Dairy and dairy-free, vegan alternatives are often fortified with vitamin D, but it can be difficult for anyone – not just vegans – to get an adequate amount of daily vitamin D intake from food alone.
Athough the official current NRV for Vitamin D is still 5μg/day (= 200iu), recommendations to supplement with 10μg/day during autumn and winter have been emerging. If you think you might be falling short, it’s best to take a good quality supplement or vitamin-D-containing multivitamin, such as Multi Nutrient.
Calcium is vital to so many functions in your body: think normal muscle function (including the heart), the maintenance of normal bones and teeth, blood clotting and energy-yielding metabolism, just to name a few.
Dairy is probably the most well-known source of calcium, but vegans can also easily meet their needs though eating a varied, healthy diet.
Good vegan sources include:
- Fortified dairy alternatives
- Green leafy vegetables (such as kale, spinach and okra)
- Soya beans (edamame)
- Sesame & chia seeds
- Fortified flour/bread
Try to include a variety of these in your every day diet.
Iodine is essential for normal cognitive function and the functioning of the nervous system, as well as normal skin. It also contributes to the normal production of thyroid hormones and thyroid function.
If you’re vegan, you may be at risk of not consuming enough iodine, as most food sources are of animal origin, such as fish, eggs and diary products. Iodine can be found in plant foods, such as cereals and grains, but the levels vary depending on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants are grown.
One option is seaweed – it’s a highly concentrated source of iodine. However, it can end up providing excessive amounts and, because of this, stick to a once per week serving, especially through pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Arguably, a supplement is currently the most reliable way of meeting your body’s need for iodine on a vegan diet. There’s no need to take several different supplements, though – just choose a high-quality vegan multivitamin such as Multi Nutrient.
Iron is a mineral that is essential for brain function, oxygen transportation around the body and the immune system. Thankfully, you can get enough iron from a well-planed vegan diet, as many plants contain good amounts.
However, it’s important to know that the iron found in plant sources (non-haem iron) is less readily absorbed than iron from animal sources (haem iron). Its’s important to include plenty of good sources in your daily diet, such as:
- Pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans, peas)
- Nuts & seeds
- Green leafy vegetables (kale & spinach)
Vitamin C also helps/enhances iron absorption, so it is a good idea to combine sources of both in a meal – for example, adding broccoli to a tofu stir fry. Other great food sources of vitamin C include peppers, brussel sprouts and fruits (berries).
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that protects cells from oxidative stress. It’s needed for the maintenance of normal hair and nails, as well as normal immune and thyroid function.
Although selenium is found in meat, fish and eggs, a substantial proportion of the population (that’s everyone, not just vegetarians and vegans) are thought to not consume adequate amounts of it.
The amount of selenium in a plant food varies depending on how much is in the soil the plant is grown in, but you can ensure you consume enough by having nuts and seeds (especially brazil nuts, cashew nuts and sunflower seeds) or by using a good quality supplement/multivitamin to ensure a reliable, steady intake.
Zinc has a very long list of important functions. It helps to strengthen immune response, reduce oxidative stress, improve cognitive function and focus, maintain bones, hair and nails, and loads more.
You can meet your zinc needs by including plenty of the following foods in your diet:
- Pulses (chickpeas, lentils)
- Chia, flax & pumpkin seeds
- Cashews & walnuts
- Wholemeal bread
Do I need to use a supplement on a vegan diet?
There's no straightforward answer to this – it's highly personal!
Many people may get enough get B12 from fortified foods, while others may not consume those, in which case, B12 supplementation is essential.
Vitamin D supplementation is actually recommended for all people (not just vegans) in the UK during winter months (October-April), as getting adequate amounts from diet and sun exposure alone is extremely difficult.
Iodine supplementation can be beneficial for many vegans as plant sources may not contain adequate levels (depending on where they are grown).
And, when it comes to selenium, supplementation can be beneficial, depending on the diet. If you don't eat many nuts and seeds (especially brazil nuts), you likely need to use a supplement.
The bottom line? While you're still finding your feet on a vegan diet, taking a good quality multivitamin will give you nutritional peace of mind.
Purition for a healthy vegan diet
Need help finding your feet on a vegan diet? Try Purition Vegan.
It’s a blend of plant based whole foods that you can make into a shake, yoghurt bowl or add to porridge. It’s quick, easy and super nutritious – think protein, healthy fats (including omega 3s), fibre and loads of naturally-occurring nutrients to fuel your day.
Even better? It’s free from all the gums, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners that you’ll find in most other vegan shakes or protein powders. Unlike most others, it’s made from locally-sourced UK & EU ingredients, with sachets packed in 100% recyclable paper. That means it’s better for you – and better for the planet too.
Get started with any 7 sachets for £16.80!
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