How to Be a Vegan

Vegan Plate

Vegan Plate by PCRM (visit for more info.)

What do Bill Clinton, Alicia Silverstone and Fiona Apple have in common?  They’re all vegans.  It took Mr. Clinton a quadruple bypass surgery plus, a few years later, an additional visit to the heart surgeon before he decided his well-known runs to McDonald’s needed to change.

There are many ways to eat a healthy diet, veganism can be one of them, if planned correctly.

Why go vegan?  People become vegan for various reasons.  I listed three of the most common reasons here.

1.  Health: A well planned and balanced vegan diet can result in:

  • lower BMI
  • lower risk of heart disease
  • lower risk of high blood pressure
  • decreased rates of type 2 diabetes
  • lower risk of certain types of cancer
  • lower cholesterol levels
  • lower risk of gallstones and intestinal problems
  • reduced symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

2.  Environmental:  Industrial Agriculture uses unsustainable amounts of fossil fuel, water and soil, adds to pollution and results in declining biodiversity and fish.  To produce one pound of beef requires 2400 gallons of water and 7 pounds of grain.

3. Ethical:  Factory farms try to produce inexpensive meat, egg and dairy products which results in confined cages, pens, restrictive stalls and many other forms of animal cruelty. 

How to become vegan?

What foods to avoid:

1.    All red meats and products such as broth made from them.

2.    All poultry and fish and products such as broth made from them.

3.    Dairy products: milk, cheese, cream cheese, yogurt

4.    Animal-based fats: butter, lard

5.    Eggs and egg products

6.    Honey

What foods to include:

1.    Choose proteins sources from beans, legumes, nuts and nut butters, non-dairy milk sources such as soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, tempeh, seitan and egg substitutes

2.    Fruits and vegetables, vegetable broth:  Choose a variety of colors and preferably local and in season

3.    Carbohydrates: Aim for whole grains such as barley, oats, quinoa, millet, whole wheat pasta

4.    Fats: Choose vegetable oils, nuts and seeds

Make sure you get enough of these nutrients:

Protein: Plant-based proteins are absorbed differently than animal based proteins, so it’s recommended that vegans get slightly higher amounts than non-vegans. The recommended amount for vegetarians and vegans is 1.0g of protein per kg body weight or 0.45 g per pound of body weight.

Good sources of plant-based proteins are: beans, legumes, nuts and nut butters, soy or rice or almond milk, soy yogurt, tofu, tempeh, seitan, egg substitute, Red Star nutritional yeast

Iron: Plant-based iron, or non-heme iron is not absorbed as well as animal, or heme iron. As a result, the recommended amounts of iron for vegetarians is 1.8 times the regular DRI, which is 32.4 g for adult women ages 19-50 and 14.4 mg for adult men ages 19+. This practice is somewhat controversial and not all experts agree. Recommendations were based on only one study and did not reflect vegetarians actual diets. Also, studies show that the body adapts over time to lower intakes of iron and becomes more efficient at taking in iron. For better absorption, consume iron-rich foods with vitamin C.

Good sources of iron: soybeans, lentils, blackstrap molasses, kidney beans, chickpeas, bok choy. The use of cast-iron skillets also contributes to iron intake. In addition, soaking and sprouting beans, grains and seeds helps enhance iron absorption.

Zinc: Recommended amounts of zinc is 8 mg for women and 11 mg for men. Emphasize whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fortified cereals. Choose fermented soy foods such as tempeh or miso for better absorption and include foods high in protein. Take calcium supplements separate from zinc sources since iron and calcium decreases zinc absorption. When large doses of iron are taken, as during pregnancy, also take zinc supplements.

Calcium: Recommended amounts for adult men and women ages 19-50 is 1000 mg a day and 1200 mg for women ages 51-70. Good calcium sources are in dark leafy green vegetables, tofu made with calcium sulfate, calcium fortified soy milk, nut and nut butters, blackstrap molasses, seeds and seed products such as tahini.

Vitamin D: Recommended amounts are 600 IU a day for people ages 1-70 (see post on Vitamin D). Vitamin D sources are fortified soymilk, rice milk and soy products.

B12: Recommended amount for men and women is 2.4 mcg. Vitamin B12 is generally not found in plant foods, choose vitamin B12 supplements or foods fortified with B12 such as Red Star nutritional yeast, fortified soy or rice milk, meat analogs, fortified breakfast cereals. One cup of rice or soy milk can have from 1-3 mcg per cup.

Omega 3 fats:  There are 3 omega 3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid(ALA), Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but not very efficiently. As a result it’s recommended that vegan men aim for 2.2-5.3g of ALA and vegan women aim for 1.8-4.4g, or 1-2% of total calories. Active, heavier and pregnant people should aim for the higher end range and smaller, less active people should aim for the lower end range. To increase production of EPA and DHA regularly consume good sources of ALA. It’s also important to pay attention to the omega 6 fats you eat, since they interfere with the production of EPA and DHA. Omega 6 fats can be found in sunflower, safflower, corn and sesame oil.

Good sources of ALA are: flaxseed (ground), flaxseed oil, canola oil, tofu, soybeans, hemp products and walnuts. If you are supplementing with DHA or EPA, aim for the recommended amount for non-vegans which is 1.6 g for men and 1.1 g for women.

Also see video of Dr Hibbeln researcher of the NIH, talking about Omega 3’s and Vegans.  Click: HERE


Also see post on How to be a Vegetarian. Nutrients to Consider

For vegan recipes go to: Recipes


Recommended Vegan Resources:
Vegetarian Nutrition:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:  a project of Vegan Outreach:

The Vegetarian Resource Group:  Nutrition information and recipes.

Vegetarian Nutrition Info:

Vegweb:  Vegetarian and Vegan recipes.  Recipes, tons of information and restaurant guide.



1. World Resources Institute. World Resources 2000-2001: People and Ecosystems: The Fraying Web of Life. Washington, DC:World Resources Institute, 2000. 2. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2009; 109: 1266-1282.

3. Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. National Academy of Sciences. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. DRI table for carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids and protein.

4. Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.

5. Mangels R. “Update on the New DRI’s” Vegetarian Nutrition Update Sum 2001;10(4):1-7.

6. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


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