Maintaining Health & Nutrition on a Vegan Diet – Part 1 (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. Q: Where do I get my protein?

SHARON: Flesh isn’t the only source of protein. You can get all the protein you need from a varied plant-based diet. Protein is found in greens, veggies, beans, grains, nuts & seeds, avocados and so on. And there is no need to consume these foods in any special combination. According to the RDA (recommended daily allowance) we need between fifty to seventy five grams of protein per day. Actually, many researchers believe that this number is too high. Look around you, are Americans suffering from malnourishment? No, we’re facing an obesity epidemic. On average, most people consume between 100 – 120 grams of protein per day. Not only is that unhealthy, it’s extremely dangerous, as the majority of the protein consumed is animal based. To find out how much protein you need, take your weight (in lbs) and divide it by 3. If you’re interested in protein breakdowns and charts, pick up Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis. But rest assured, a whole foods, varied plant-based diet will give you all the protein you need.

2. Q: What about iron?

SHARON: According to Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), the most healthful sources of iron are leafy greens and beans. These foods also contain calcium and other important minerals. In fact, studies show that vegetarians and vegans tend to get more iron than meat eaters. Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables increases iron absorption. Meanwhile, dairy products reduce iron absorption significantly.

3. Q: Can I get B-12 from a vegan diet?

SHARON: A vegan must rely on getting adequate vitamin B12 from a supplement or from eating foods that have been fortified with vitamin B12. If we weren’t so dirt-conscious, we would obtain adequate vitamin B12 from soil, air, water, and bacteria, but we meticulously wash and peel our vegetables now—and with good reason, as we can’t be sure our soil is not contaminated with pesticides and herbicides. Today “aged” foods like sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh are fermented in hygienically sanitized stainless-steel vats to assure cleanliness, so we can no longer be sure they will provide us with the B12 we need. Vegans should not mess around with this issue. To ensure that you are getting the tiny amount (2.5 micrograms) you need per day, take a supplement and/or drink fortified soymilk or rice milk. Read the book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis, R.D., and Vesanto Melina, M.S., R.D., for more information.

4. Q: Don’t I need to drink milk to get enough calcium?

SHARON: No. In fact, drinking milk and eating dairy products can rob your body of calcium and contribute to osteoporosis. If you eat dark green leafy vegetables like kale, collards, and mustard greens, you can get enough calcium from a vegan diet. Beans, tofu, cabbage, sesame seeds, seaweed and broccoli are additional sources of calcium. Calcium from vegetable sources is more easily absorbed by the human body than from dairy products. It’s important to understand that calcium isn’t just about what you eat; it’s also about what you keep. Acidic animal products mine minerals like potassium, magnesium and calcium from our bodies. In fact, the countries that consume the most dairy have the highest rates of hip fracture and osteoporosis. If you doubt that you are meeting the thousand milligram RDA, include calcium-fortified foods like fruit juice, cereals, soy or grain beverages, or take a supplement. Also, the weight-bearing aspect of yoga asana practice contributes to bone density and health. Sunlight is essential to the body’s ability to absorb calcium from the food you are eating. Make sure you receive adequate vitamin D every day through sunlight. About fifteen to twenty minutes of sun on the face and hands is usually enough for most of us. Read the book CalciYum by David and Rachel Bronfman for more information and recipes.

5. Q: Is it okay to drink organic milk?

SHARON: Cows that are fed organic food are still kept as slaves on farms, regardless of whether it is a large corporate factory farm or a small family farm. Besides, every dairy cow, no matter what she has been fed, has her babies stolen from her shortly after birth and she will inevitably end up in the slaughterhouse. Milk is for babies. Human beings are the only species that drinks milk into adulthood and besides that we prefer to drink the milk of another species (enslaved cows and goats), and we have come to consider it normal when, it is actually a pretty perverse form of sexual abuse!