With the rise of vegan food products and restaurants, the diet trend is gathering an impressive following among many people. As a personal lifestyle choice, a vegan diet is followed by those who choose to forgo eating all animal products such as meats, eggs and dairy. While the diet contains an abundance of nutrients and vitamins, vegan dieters should consider a few things before accepting this new lifestyle.

Becoming a vegan can be a very fruitful choice in maintaining a healthy diet. According to Gretchen Perea, Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center, “Vegan diets can be very healthy if the person following one does their homework. Vegans need to pay special attention to various nutrients that can be low in their diets due to the avoidance of all animal products.”

How to Get Started

  • Join a Vegan Nutrition Group. Vegan nutrition groups can enable you to reach out to other like-minded vegans, swap healthy recipes, gain resources and guide you on the path to your new lifestyle.
  • Think in 3s. If you are starting a vegan diet, chances are you have already experimented with a few vegan meals. To jumpstart the vegan life, write down three vegan meals that you already enjoy and start your diet around those. Next, think of three non-vegan meals that you already eat and see if you can modify them to a vegan menu. Example, you can substitute meat products with a textured vegetable protein like tempeh, tofu or saiten.
  • Cruise the Cookbook Aisle. Check out vegetarian cookbooks and try creating some new meals. The Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at eatright.org has many recipes and resources.
  • Talk to the Experts. Last, but not least, ask you primary care physician to refer you to an experienced dietician who can help you plan out your vegan diet. Dieticians explain how to get the necessary nutrients needed to achieve a balanced diet and stay healthy.

Nourish Body with Vitamins and Minerals

By following a strict vegan diet, vegans can quickly become deficient in a few important vitamins. If you are starting a vegan diet, make sure to supplement your regime with the following:

  • Vitamin B12. Found in animal products, this vitamin is only found in a vegan diet if it includes fortified grains and soy products. Vitamin B12 is necessary to transport red blood cells throughout the body – without it a person can be susceptible to anemia.
  • Zinc. Commonly found in meat products, zinc is essential for proper immune and digestive functions.
  • Vitamin D. Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is also found in some fish oils and dairy products. Without Vitamin D intake, calcium cannot be absorbed into the body properly and can cause weak bones.
  • Calcium. Considered the “bone-builder” vitamin, calcium is crucial in maintaining bone and tooth health. Vegans can find this nutrient in green leafy vegetables, soy milk, orange, figs and molasses.
  • Iron. Used by the body for the formation of blood, a person deficient in iron will endure tiredness, heart palpitations, anemia and frequent headaches. Vegans can find iron in dried fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables.
  • Iodine. Essential for maintaining thyroid health, iodine deficiency can cause metabolism and growth problems. Usually found in abundance in meat and dairy products, vegans can get their intake of iodine from seaweed, legumes and soy.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Found mostly in fish products, omega-3 foods help the brain function by reducing depression and memory loss. Also, it reduces inflammation in the body by preventing certain chronic conditions. Vegans obtain the adequate amount of omega-3 by consuming flaxseeds and walnuts.

Following a balanced, varied regime with supplements can make a vegan diet nutritious and satisfying. As always, talk to your physician before making any kind of drastic changes in your diet or exercise routine.