A vegan diet is a type of plant-based diet that excludes all animal products. All foods that come from animals, such as meats, eggs and dairy products, are off-limits for vegans, as are substances that contain even trace amounts of animal products, including those in packaged baking mixes, vitamins and beverages. Although a vegan approach to eating eliminates numerous culinary possibilities, vegans can still draw their nutrients from a variety of sources.
Eliminating foods from your diet can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Individuals consuming plant-based diets, including vegans, can guard against deficiencies by eating a variety of foods. Focusing on consuming foods high in iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12 helps vegans avoid health concerns related to improper nutrition.
Since meat is a rich source of protein, eliminating this entire food group requires eating a variety of other kinds of foods to help you meet your protein requirements (see References 1). Acceptable sources of protein for vegans include beans, nuts and nut butters, soy products and whole grains. Choose protein replacements that also contain added amounts of vitamin B12. Fortified breads and cereals, as well as yeast, include this vitamin.
Dairy products, which play an important role in supplying adequate amounts of calcium and help bind foods together in recipes, are not an option for vegans. However, vegans can meet their necessary calcium requirements by consuming calcium-rich, plant-based foods, such as broccoli, almonds, soy nuts, blackstrap molasses, figs, leafy green vegetables, calcium-fortified juice and rice milk. Recipe substitutes that serve to bind food together include soft tofu, applesauce, cornstarch and mashed bananas.
Eating out often poses a difficulty for people who follow strict diets. Although individual recipes and ingredients may vary, depending on the restaurant, vegans can usually stick with their dietary restrictions by choosing vegetable burgers, hummus, tabouli, Thai vegetable curries or Chinese moo shu vegetables. Ordering pizza, eggplant dishes and bean tacos without the cheese is an option in many eating establishments and allows vegan dieters to consume foods similar to other patrons.
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