Building your menu around whole plant foods will automatically nudge you toward healthy eating. To ensure that you are meeting nutrient needs and to maximize the disease-fighting benefits of your vegan diet, follow these seven simple guidelines.
- Pile your plate with fruits and vegetables. They are packed with antioxidants that keep bones and muscles strong, protect eyesight, slow skin aging, keep your brain sharp, and lower the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Many of these foods are good sources of potassium, which helps keep bones healthy and blood pressure in check.
- Take appropriate supplements. Vitamin B12 keeps your blood and nervous system healthy. It protects cognitive function and reduces risk for heart disease. Because of changes in digestion, everyone over the age of 50 needs to take supplements of vitamin B12 or get it from fortified foods. Aim for 25 to 100 micrograms of B12 per day or take 1,000 micrograms three times per week. The best type of B12 is cyanocobalamin. Vitamin D is important for bone health and may reduce risk for some chronic disease. Take a supplement providing 800 to 1000 IUs of vitamin D per day.
- Eat plenty of protein-rich foods, such as beans and soy foods. Protein protects your bones and muscles. The type of starch and fiber in beans keeps blood glucose levels more even, lowering the risk for heart disease and diabetes. The isoflavones in soy foods may help prevent prostate cancer and protect the health of women who have had breast cancer. The protein in soy can lower blood cholesterol levels. The best sources are traditional soy foods, such as tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and edamame.
- Include good sources of calcium in your diet every day. Foods that are rich in calcium include tofu, calcium-fortified plant milks and juices, kale, collards, turnip greens, bok choy, almond butter, sesame tahini, and figs.
- Choose carb-rich foods that are slowly digested. These help with weight control, lower cholesterol levels, and help keep blood glucose levels more even. All grains and starchy vegetables are good choices but the best choices are barley, oats, pumpernickel and rye breads, pasta, and beans.
- Include healthy fats in your diet. Fats from plants reduce blood cholesterol levels, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Meet your needs for the essential omega-3 fats with a small daily serving of ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, or chia seeds, or canola, walnut, or soy oil. Nuts and seeds provide important nutrients like zinc and are linked to easier weight control, better management of blood glucose for people with diabetes, and protection from heart disease. Use vegetable oils in moderation to add flavor and texture to recipes. Consider supplementing your diet with a vegan source of DHA and EPA from algae.
- Keep alcohol and sodium intake moderate. Men should limit alcohol to no more than two drinks per day. For women, it’s best to limit intake to one drink per day. Limit your intake of processed foods to keep sodium intake low.