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Vegan Nutrients

Has anyone ever told you that "you're going to die of malnutrition"? How about "you have to eat meat for a balanced diet"? The fact of the matter is that meat is not healthy and vegetarians and vegans are usually healthier people, who suffer from fewer cases of heart disease, fewer cases of cancer, and fewer long term health problems. This has been proven time and time again through thousands upon thousands of studies.

This chapter will attempt to give a brief introduction to basic nutrition then move on to explore all of the essential nutrients that a human needs to live a long healthy life.

We will look at what these nutrients are needed for and how to obtain them from vegetarian sources.

A Brief Introduction To Basic Nutrition

Many people worry that when they stop eating meat and fish, they might be in danger of some nutritional deficiency. This is rarely the case, as all the nutrients you need can easily be obtained from a vegetarian diet. In fact, research shows that in many ways, a vegetarian diet is healthier than that of a typical meat-eater.

Nutrients are usually divided into five classes: carbohydrates, proteins, fats (including oil), vitamins and minerals. We also need fiber and water. All are equally important to our well-being, although they are needed in varying quantities, from about 250g of carbohydrates a day to less than two micrograms of vitamin 1312. Carbohydrates, fats and protein are usually called macro-nutrients and the vitamins and minerals are usually called micro-nutrients.

Most foods contain a mixture of nutrients (there are a few exceptions, like pure salt or sugar) but it is convenient to classify them by the main nutrient they provide. Still, it is worth remembering that everything you eat gives you a whole range of essential nutrients.

Meat supplies protein, fat, some B vitamins and minerals (mostly iron, zinc, potassium and phosphorous). Fish, in addition to the above, supplies vitamins A, D, and E, and the mineral iodine. All these nutrients can be easily obtained by vegetarians from other sources.

Women need about 46-50g of protein a day (more if pregnant, lactating or very active), men need about 56-63g (more if very active). Evidence suggests that excessive protein contributes to degenerative diseases.

You may have have heard that it is necessary to balance the complementary amino acids in a vegetarian diet. This is not as alarming as it sounds. Amino acids are the units from which proteins are made. There are 21 different ones in all. We can make many of them in our bodies by converting other amino acids, but nine cannot be made, they have to be provided in the diet and so they are called essential amino acids.

Single plant foods do not contain all the essential amino acids we need in the right proportions, but when we mix plant foods together, any deficiency in one is cancelled out by any excess in the other. We mix protein foods all the time, whether we are meateaters or vegetarians. It is a normal part of the human way of eating. A few examples are beans on toast, muesli, or rice and peas.

It is now known that the body has a pool of amino acids so that if one meal is deficient, it can be made up from the body's own stores. Because of this, we don't have to worry about complementing amino acids all the time, as long as our diet is generally varied and well-balanced. Even those foods not considered high in protein are adding some amino acids to this pool.


Carbohydrates are our main and most important source of energy, and most of them are provided by plant foods. There are three main types: simple sugars, complex carbohydrates or starches and dietary fiber.

The sugars or simple carbohydrates can be found in fruit and ordinary table sugar. Refined sources of sugar are best avoided as they provide energy without any associated fiber, vitamins or minerals and they are also the main cause of dental decay.

Complex carbohydrates are found in cereals/ grains (bread, rice, pasta, oats, barley, millet, buckwheat, rye) and some root vegetables, such as potatoes and parsnips. A healthy diet should contain plenty of these starchy foods as a high intake of complex carbohydrates are now known to benefit health. The unrefined carbohydrates, like wholemeal bread and brown rice are best of all because they contain essential dietary fiber and B vitamins.

The World Health Organization recommends that 50-70% of energy should come from complex carbohydrates. The exact amount of carbohydrates that you need depends upon your appetite and also your level of activity. Contrary to previous belief, a slimming diet should not be low in carbohydrates. In fact, starchy foods are very filling in relation to the number of calories that they contain.

Dietary Fiber or non-starch polysaccharide (NSP), as it is now termed, refers to the indigestible part of a carbohydrate food. Fiber can be found in unrefined or wholegrain cereals, fruit (fresh and dried) and vegetables. A good intake of dietary fiber can prevent many digestive problems and protect against diseases like colon cancer and diverticular disease.


Too much fat is bad for us, but a little is necessary to keep our tissues in good repair, for the manufacture of hormones and to act as a carrier for some vitamins. Like proteins, fats are made of smaller units, called fatty acids. Two of these fatty acids, linoleic and linolenic acids, are termed essential as they must be provided in the diet. This is no problem as they are widely found in plant foods.

Fats can be either saturated or unsaturated (mono-unsaturated or poly-unsaturated). A high intake of saturated fat can lead to a raised blood cholesterol level and this has been linked to heart disease. Vegetable fats tend to be more unsaturated and this is one of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Mono-unsaturated fats, such as olive oil or peanut oil, are best used for frying as the poly-unsaturated fats, like sunflower or safflower oil are unstable at high temperatures. Animal fats (including butter and cheese) tend to be more saturated than vegetable fats, with the exception of palm oil, coconut oil and cocoa butter.


Vitamin is the name for several unrelated nutrients that the body cannot synthesize either at all, or in sufficient quantities. The one thing they have in common is that only small quantities are needed in the diet. The main vegetarian sources are listed below:

Vitamin A (or beta carotene): Red, orange or yellow vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, leafy green vegetables and fruits like apricots and peaches. It is added to most margarines.

B Vitamins: This group of vitamins includes B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cyanocobalmin), folate, folic acid, pantothenic acid and biotin. All the B vitamins except B12 occur in yeasts and whole cereals (especially wheat germ), nuts & seeds, pulses and green vegetables.

Vitamin B12 is the only one that may cause some difficulty as it is not present in plant foods. Only very tiny amounts of B12 are needed. Vitamin B12 is added to yeast extracts, soya milks, veggie burgers and some breakfast cereals.

Vitamin C: Fresh fruit, salad vegetables, all leafy green vegetables and potatoes.

Vitamin D: This vitamin is not found in plant foods but humans can make their own when skin is exposed to sunlight. It is also added to most margarines. Vegans who are very young, very old and anyone confined indoors would be wise to take a vitamin D supplement.

Vitamin E: Vegetable oil, whole grain cereals, leafy greens.

Vitamin K: Fresh vegetables, soybean oil, cereals and bacterial synthesis in the intestine.


Minerals perform a variety of jobs in the body. Details of some of the most important minerals (Calcium, Iron, and Zinc) are in the next section.


CALCIUM is for the development and growth of bones and teeth, normal ~lotting of blood and functioning of muscles. The body can't absorb calcium without Vitamin D. Calcium can be found in: watercress, rhubarb, beets, parsley, spinach, broccoli, chinese cabbage, raw onions, raw celery, akra/ o, chives, raw cabbage, cucumbers, turnips, zucchini, green beans, squash, artichokes, leafy green vegetables, tap water in hard water areas.

CARBOHYDRATES are for energy, heat and to assist in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins & calcium. Carbohydrates can be found in: cereals, bread & flour products, dried fruits, dried peas & beans, bananas, sugar, potatoes.

COPPER is for the manufacture of red bloodcells, bones, collagen, healing wounds, even creation of RNA (Ribonulceic Acid). Copper can be found in: nuts & beans, dried peas, wheat bran, whole wheat, molasses, mushrooms, avocados, broccoli.

ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS limit the formation of excess cholesterol in the blood. They are sources of the prostaglandins which regulate processes in the smooth muscles. Essential fatty acids can be found in: corn, walnuts, vegetable oils, peanuts, sesame, sunflower & safflower seeds.

FATS are necessary for healthy skin, energy, heat and to assist in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and calcium. Fats can be found in: vegetable oils, nuts & nut creams, cooking fats, nut butters, margarine, vegan white fats.

FIBER keeps vascular system in good tone, i.e. prevents troubles in the intestines, veins and arteries. Fiber can be found in: citrus fruits, apples, potatoes, peas, beans, broccoli, carrots and unrefined foods (especially cereals).

FOLIC ACID is used to synthesize and break down amino acids. It also prevents, certain kinds of anemia, assists growth can be found in: nuts, grains, oranges,; avocados, all green vegetables, yeast extracts.

IODINE is for healthy growth and development. Present in vegetables, but the, quantity depends on how rich the soil is in iodine. Sea vegetables are a good source of iodine for vegans. Other sources are: dried beans, aparagus, green veggies, pineapple.

IRON is for proper formation of red blood cells and regulation of body processes.

Vegetable sources of iron are not as easily absorbed as animal sources, but a good',' intake of vitamin C will enhance absorption. Iron can be found in: prunes, whole' grain cereals, black treacle, raisins, nuts, leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, soya flour, pulses, cocoa, curry powder, wholemeal bread, molasses, dried fruits (especially apricots and figs). Cook in cast iron.

MANGANESE is necessary for strong bones, healthy skin, the proper functioning of muscle and nervous tissue. Manganese can be found in: legumes, nuts, fruits, tea, alfalfa, chlorophyll, wheat germ, whole grains.

NICOTINAMIDE is for healthy digestion, good skin condition, and growth. Nicotinamide can be found in: soya, peanuts, flour & bread, yeast, rice, pulses, beer.

PROTEIN helps growth and the repair of body tissues. Also for energy, their physical properties may be changed by cooking and food preparation generally. Protein comes from several sources. Nuts: hazels, brazils, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pine kernels etc. Seeds: sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, linseeds. Pulses: peas, beans, lentils, peanuts. Grains/ Cereals: wheat (in bread, soy flour, pasta etc), barley, rye, oats, millet, maize (sweetcorn), rice, gluten flour, bakers yeast, brewers yeast. Soya products: tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein, veggieburgers, soya milk.

TRACE ELEMENTS are essential accessories to vital processes and to action of other nutrients. Trace elements can be found in: carrots, watercress, dried apricots, prunes, tomatoes, cabbage, green peas, all green vegetables and margarine.

VITAMIN A is for growth in children, plays a part in the way the eyes receive light, and protects moist surface tissues (bronchial tubes, etc.). Vitamin A can be found in: peppers, parsley, carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots, spinach, mangoes, chives, squash.

VITAMIN B1 (Thiamine) is for growth, appetite, digestion, and the nervous system. Vitamin B1 can be found in: bread and wheat products, pulses, yeast (brewers is best), Brazils and peanuts (uncooked), wheat germ.

VITAMIN B2 (Riboflavin) is for vitality, healthy skin, the release of food energy, growth and good sight. Vitamin B2 can be found in: yeast, lentils, rye, mushrooms, parsley, broccoli tops, green vegetables.

VITAMIN B12: Vitamin B12 is needed for cell division and blood formation. Plant foods do not contain vitamin B12 except when they are contaminated by microorganisms. Thus, vegans need to look to other sources to get vitamin B12 in their diet. Although the minimum requirement for vitamin B12 is quite small, 1/1,000,000 of a gram (1 microgram) a day for adults, a vitamin B12 deficiency is a verv serious problem leading ultimatelv to irreversible nerve damage. Prudent vegans will include sources of vitamin B12 in their diets. However, vitamin B12 deficiency is actually quite rare even among long-term vegans. Vitamin B12 also aids growth of nerve cells and the prevention of certain kinds of anemia. A deficiency results in pernicious anemia.

The requirement for vitamin B12 is very low. Non-animal sources include GrapeNuts cereal (1/2 cup supplies the adult RDA) and Red Star T-6635+ nutritional yeast (1-2 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. Other sources include: brewers yeast, bakers yeast, rice bran, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, cornflakes, pinon nuts, soy milk, sesame seeds, brazil nuts, and peanuts. Higher to lower levels found in: edible seaweeds, hijiki and wakame, mushrooms, nutritional yeast, tempeh, miso, syrup, sour dough bread, parsley, beer, cider, wine, yeast, tofu, supplemented fortified foods, some yeast extracts, soya-based textured vegetable proteins, soya milks and margarine.

VITAMIN C is famous for healing wounds, prevention of scurvy, boosting the immune system, maintaining stamina, forming strong blood vessels, and aiding resistance to infection. Vitamin C can be found in: bell peppers, guavas, peppers, broccoli, watercress, parsley, radishes, asparagus, brussel sprouts, chives, strawberries, papayas, canteloupes, oranges, grapefruit.

VITAMIN D builds bones & teeth, prevents the destruction of vitamins C and A, and aids growth. Vitamin D can be found in: mild exposure to sunlight, sunflower seeds, mushrooms.

VITAMIN E is for growth, muscle tissues, normal reproduction. Possibly retards aging. Vitamin E can be found in: wheat and rice germ, whole wheat grains, soybean oil, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, legumes.

VITAMIN K regulates clotting of blood. Vitamin K can be found in green leafy vegetables.

ZINC plays a major role in many enzyme reactions and in the immune system. It also aids in fighting infections. Zinc can be found in: nuts & seeds, wheat germ, brewers yeast, whole grains, yellow & green veggies, yellow fruits, pumpkin & sesame seeds, lentils, wholegrain cereals.

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