Veganism in a Nutshell
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What is a Vegan?
Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being
vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy
products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, cosmetics, and soaps derived from
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People choose to be vegan for health, environmental, and/or ethical reasons.
For example, some vegans feel that one promotes the meat industry by consuming
eggs and dairy products. That is, once dairy cows or egg-laying chickens are too
old to be productive, they are often sold as meat; and since male calves do not
produce milk, they usually are raised for veal or other products. Some people
avoid these items because of conditions associated with their production.
Many vegans choose this lifestyle to promote a more humane and caring world.
They know they are not perfect, but believe they have a responsibility to try to
do their best, while not being judgmental of others.
The key to a nutritionally sound vegan diet is variety. A healthy and varied
vegan diet includes fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain
products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
It is very easy for a vegan diet to meet the recommendations for protein as
long as calorie intake is adequate. Strict protein planning or combining is not
necessary. The key is to eat a varied diet.
Almost all foods except for alcohol, sugar, and fats are good sources of
protein. Vegan sources include: potatoes, whole wheat bread, rice, broccoli,
spinach, almonds, peas, chickpeas, peanut butter, tofu, soy milk, lentils,
For example, if part of a day's menu included the following foods, you would
meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for an adult male: 1
cup oatmeal, 1 cup soy milk, 2 slices whole wheat bread, 1 bagel, 2 Tablespoons
peanut butter, 1 cup vegetarian baked beans, 5 ounces tofu, 2 Tablespoons of
almonds, 1 cup broccoli, and 1 cup brown rice.
Vegan diets are free of cholesterol and are generally low in fat. Thus eating
a vegan diet makes it easy to conform to recommendations given to reduce the
risk of major chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. High-fat foods,
which should be used sparingly, include oils, margarine, nuts, nut butters, seed
butters, avocado, and coconut.
Vitamin D is not found in the vegan diet but can be made by humans following
exposure to sunlight. At least ten to fifteen minutes of summer sun on hands and
face two to three times a week is recommended for adults so that vitamin D
production can occur.
Calcium, needed for strong bones, is found in dark green vegetables, tofu
processed with calcium sulfate, and many other foods commonly eaten by vegans.
Calcium requirements for those on lower protein, plant-based protein diets may
be somewhat lower than requirements for those eating a higher protein,
flesh-based diet. However, it is important for vegans to eat foods high in
calcium and/or use a vegan calcium supplement every day.
CALCIUM CONTENT OF SELECTED FOODS
Following are some good sources of calcium:
Soy or rice milk,
fortified, plain 8 oz 150-500
Collard greens, cooked 1 cup 357 mg
Blackstrap molasses 2 TB 342 mg
Tofu, processed with
calcium sulfate 4 oz 200-330 mg
orange juice 8 oz 300 mg
Tofu, processed with
nigari 4 oz 80-230 mg
Kale, cooked 1 cup 176 mg
Tahini 2 TB 128 mg
Almonds 1/4 cup 97 mg
Other sources of calcium include: okra, sesame seeds, turnip greens,
soybeans, figs, tempeh, almond butter, broccoli, bok choy, commercial soy
The recommended intake for calcium for adults 19 through 50 years is 1000
Note: It appears that oxalic acid, which is found in spinach, rhubarb, chard,
and beet greens, binds with calcium and reduces calcium absorption. Calcium is
well absorbed from other dark green vegetables.
Vegan diets can provide zinc at levels close to or even higher than the RDA.
Zinc is found in grains, legumes, and nuts.
Dried beans and dark green vegetables are especially good sources of iron,
better on a per calorie basis than meat. Iron absorption is increased markedly
by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron.
Sources of Iron
Soybeans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, kidney beans, chickpeas, black-eyed
peas, seitan, Swiss chard, tempeh, black beans, prune juice, beet greens,
tahini, peas, figs, bulghur, bok choy, raisins, watermelon, millet, kale....
Comparison of Iron Sources
Here are the iron contents of selected foods:
FOOD IRON (MG)
1 cup cooked soybeans 8.8
2 Tbsp blackstrap molasses 7.0
1 cup cooked lentils 6.6
1 cup cooked kidney beans 5.2
1 cup cooked chickpeas 4.7
1 cup cooked lima beans 4.5
1 cup cooked Swiss chard 4.0
1/8 medium watermelon 1.0
The requirement for vitamin B12 is very low. Non-animal sources include Red
Star nutritional yeast T6635 also known as Vegetarian Support Formula (around 2
teaspoons supplies the adult RDA). It is especially important for pregnant and
lactating women, infants, and children to have reliable sources of vitamin B12
in their diets. Numerous foods are fortified with B12, but sometimes companies
change what they do. So always read labels carefully or write the companies.
Tempeh, miso, and seaweed are often labeled as having large amounts of
vitamin B12. However, these products are not reliable sources of the vitamin
because the amount of vitamin B12 present depends on the type of processing the
food undergoes. Other sources of vitamin B12 are fortified soy milk (check the
label as this is rarely available in the U.S.), vitamin B12-fortified meat
analogues, and vitamin B12 supplements. There are supplements which do not
contain animal products. Vegetarians who are not vegan can also obtain vitamin
B12 from dairy products and eggs.
Common Vegan Foods
Oatmeal, stir-fried vegetables, cereal, toast, orange juice, peanut butter on
whole wheat bread, frozen fruit desserts, lentil soup, salad bar items like
chickpeas and three bean salad, dates, apples, macaroni, fruit smoothies,
popcorn, spaghetti, vegetarian baked beans, guacamole, chili...
Vegans Also Eat...
Tofu lasagna, homemade pancakes without eggs, hummus, eggless cookies, soy
ice cream, tempeh, corn chowder, soy yogurt, rice pudding, fava beans, banana
muffins, spinach pies, oat nut burgers, falafel, corn fritters, French toast
made with soy milk, soy hot dogs, vegetable burgers, pumpkin casserole,
scrambled tofu, seitan.
When Eating Out Try These Foods
Pizza without cheese, Chinese moo shu vegetables, Indian curries and dahl,
eggplant dishes without the cheese, bean tacos without the lard and cheese
(available from Taco Bell and other Mexican restaurants), Middle Eastern hummus
and tabouli, Ethiopian injera (flat bread) and lentil stew, Thai vegetable
Egg and Dairy Replacers
As a binder, substitute for each egg:
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) soft tofu blended with the liquid ingredients of the
- 1 small banana, mashed, or
- 1/4 cup applesauce, or
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot starch, or Ener-G Egg Replacer or
another commercial mix found in health food stores.
The following substitutions can be made for dairy products:
- Soy milk, rice milk, potato milk, nut milk, or water (in some recipes) may
- Buttermilk can be replaced with soured soy or rice milk. For each Cup of
buttermilk, use 1 cup soymilk plus 1 tablespoon of vinegar.
- Soy cheese available in health food stores. (Be aware that many soy
cheeses contain casein, which is a dairy product.)
- Crumbled tofu can be substituted for cottage cheese or ricotta cheese in
lasagna and similar dishes.
- Several brands of nondairy cream cheese are available in some supermarkets
and kosher stores.
For More Information
Vegan for a complete discussion of vegan nutrition plus 160 quick and
easy recipes. This excellent resource contains over 160 vegan recipes that can
be prepared quickly. An extensive vegan nutrition section by Reed Mangels,
Ph.D., R.D., covers topics such as protein, fat, calcium, iron, vitamin B12,
pregnancy and the vegan diet, feeding vegan kids, weight gain, weight loss, and
a nutrition glossary. Also featured are sample menus and meal plans.
more than a cookbook. An additional section on shopping by mail tells you where
to find vegan clothes, non-leather shoes, cosmetics, household products, and
Join the Vegetarian Resource Group
For more information,
About this Article
The contents of this brochure and our other publications are not intended to
provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a
qualified health professional.
This electronic edition of the brochure, "Veganism In a Nutshell" is
The Vegetarian Resource Group
PO Box 1463
What is the Vegetarian Resource Group?
Our health professionals, activists, and educators work with businesses and
individuals to bring about healthy changes in your school, workplace, and
community. Registered dietitians and physicians aid in the development of
nutrition-related publications and answer member and media questions about
vegetarian diets. The Vegetarian Resource Group is a non-profit organization.
Financial support comes primarily from memberships, contributions, and book