The nutrients of concern for vegans are: proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, cholesterol, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12. All vegans need to plan the composition of their nutrition with due care. Adding various kinds of nutrient-dense nuts, seeds, grains, and dried fruits makes a significant contribution to a vegan diet because each kind of them offers different dietary benefits to meet requirements for important nutrients – apart from vitamin B12.
What vegans must know
- Iron from plant foods is absorbed less well by the body than from animal foods.
- The presence of vitamin C (such as citrus fruits) increases its absorption from nuts.
- Tannins in tea and coffee and phytates in wholegrains inhibit the absorption of
- The bioavailability of iron is approximately 5% to 12% from vegan diets, which is very low. Firstly the form of iron found in plant foods is non heme which is generally poorly absorbed in the gut compared to heme iron from animal sources. Secondly, spinach (the richest vegan source of iron) has very high levels of oxalic acid that binds iron.
Calcium bioavailability from plant foods is very low. Calcium absorption is improved in the presence of vitamin D but is reduced by sodium and caffeine.
The important interaction between phosphate and magnesium ions makes magnesium essential to the basic nucleic acid chemistry of all cells of all known living organisms. More than 300 enzymes require magnesium ions for their catalytic action, including all enzymes using or synthesizing ATP and those that use other nucleotides to synthesize DNA and RNA
There are three Omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from plant sources, and other two – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – from animal sources.
- The health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are mostly linked to EPA and DHA.
- EPA and DHA of animal origin are “ready-made” and can be utilized immediately.
- ALA of plant origin has to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA but the conversion rate is very low.
- Sesame seeds have the highest total phytosterols content (400-413 mg per 100 grams)
- Sunflower seeds and pistachios are the second best sources of phytosterols (270-289 mg/100 g), followed by pumpkin seeds (265 mg/100 g)
- English walnuts and Brazil nuts have the lowest (113 mg/100grams and 95 mg/100 grams). (100g = 3.5 ounces.)
Here are notes about some foods that vegans should pay attention to:
- There are no polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids in almonds
Almonds are low in essential amino acids lysine and the sulfur-containing methionine and cysteine. In order to be considered “complete,” a protein must contain all nine essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts.
- Brazil nuts have all nine essential amino acids making their protein complete.
- Brazil nuts are the richest in calories (656 calories in 100g).
- Brazil nuts are the richest in total fat (66g of total fat in 100g, which is 101% Daily Value).
- Brazil nuts are the richest dietary sources of selenium, with a one-ounce (28g) serving of 6 nuts supplying 774% DV.
- Brazil nuts are the richest in phosphorus (725g of it in 100g, which is 104% Daily Value)
- Brazil nuts are one of the best foods of plant origin to boost your energy.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Don’t go nuts with Brazil nuts! They can be toxic because of the fenomenally high content of selenium. 3-5 Brazil nuts a day is usually recommended for an adult.
- Chia seeds contain more Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon! They are the richest plant source of Omega-3.
- Chia seeds are easier to digest than flax seeds, and they don’t need to be ground up.
- Among all plant foods, chia seeds are the highest in quality protein.
- Chia seeds may be considered as a rich source of calcium for people who don’t eat dairy.
Unlike most nuts that are high in monounsaturated fatty acids, walnuts have over 70% of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their total fat content, particularly alpha-linolenic acid (14%), an Omega-3 fatty acid. However, walnuts contain over 40% (of total fat) of Omega-6 fatty acids that counteract Omega 3s.
Dried goji berries
- Proteins in dried goji berries are “complete”, having all 9 amino acids essential in human nutrition.
- Dried goji berries have a phenomenal content of Vitamin A
Pistachios are one of the best food sources of vitamin B6. A 100-gram serving of pistachios has 1.7mg of vitamin B6, whereas 100g of salmon have 0.8mg. Pistachios are twice higher in B6 than salmon!
- A one-ounce serving of spirulina (about 2 tablespoons) has16g (57%) of protein that contains all nine essential amino acids!
- Spirulina does not contain vitamin B12
- 1 pound (lb) = 16 ounces (oz) = 454 grams (g)
- 100 grams = 3.5 ounces
- 1 ounce = 2 tablespoons (tbsp.)
- 1 tablespoon = 14 grams = 0.5 ounce
- Values and percentages are approximate based on the USDA Nutrient Database
- Percent Daily Value (%DV) is a guide to the nutrients in one serving of food. For example, 40% for protein means that one serving provides 40% of the protein you need each day. It helps you make informed food choices. DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults.