Editor’s note: Due to her recent involvement in an accident, Dear Dietitian Leanne McCrate is taking the week off from column-writing to focus on recouping. She assures her injuries are not too serious, but must focus her energy on recovery at this time. In her absence, here is a previous dietary column from the archives.
My daughter, who is 18, recently changed from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet. When she was eating vegetarian, she did eat chicken for protein. But everything else she ate was considered junk food to us. Chips, candy, sodas. Now that she is vegan she is still not eating nearly enough vegetables or protein in order to maintain good health. I have tried to help with this by giving her a daily multivitamin and she has been taking iron supplements because she was told she was low in iron.
I would like to know what is considered a healthy vegan diet and what a vegan should be eating on a daily basis in order to remain healthy and not become malnourished.
With a little extra planning, a vegan diet can easily provide adequate protein and calories to maintain health. Our bodies need about 1 gram of protein per kilogram body weight. For a 150-pound woman, that amounts to about 70 grams of protein per day.
Some vegan sources of protein are peanut or almond butter, beans, legumes, and soy.
For those who aren’t familiar with a vegan diet, it is comprised entirely of plant foods. There is no meat, fish, or animal products, such as milk or eggs.
There are some vitamins and minerals to watch:
Calcium: An 18-year-old woman needs 1,000 mg of calcium per day. This would be easily obtained in fortified almond, soy, or rice milk. Most of these products are also fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Vegetable sources of calcium include broccoli, kale, and tofu, but it is not advised to rely only on these sources, as the volume needed to attain calcium goals is difficult to reach. Go with a supplement and/or the fortified milk.
Vitamin B 12: This vitamin is only found naturally in animal products. A deficiency in Vitamin B12 may lead to neurological problems. Some cereals are fortified with this vitamin, and the multivitamin should contain it, too.
Iron: There are two types of iron, heme, found in meat such as beef and pork and nonheme, found in plants. Heme iron is more readily absorbed by the body. Plant sources of iron include spinach, nuts and seeds, and beans. The daily recommended intake (DRI) for iron is 18 mg, and as you stated your daughter is taking an iron supplement. Vitamin C aids in iron absorption.
You mention your concern about your daughter’s consumption of junk food. At this age, she has to make a choice to eat healthfully. Most of us make a change when we experience that the change helps us feel better than before.
There are some things you can do to help, but you may need to tread lightly. Have healthy snacks readily available: a fruit bowl in the kitchen, snack nuts, trail mix, or veggies with dip. Prepare a vegan meal that is tasty: pasta with sautéed vegetables and roasted pine nuts, bread, and sorbet for dessert. You may add cheese to the non-vegan plates.
Good luck to you and your daughter. Be healthy!
Leanne McCrate is an award-winning dietitian based in Missouri. Her mission is to educate the public on sound, evidence-based nutrition. Do you have a nutrition question? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.