Welcome to my series of posts in collaboration with Share The Love Yoga, an innovative website that brings affordable yoga to you in your city. In an effort to make the world’s yogis a little healthier, these posts will offer nutrition tips that are relevant to everyone, but especially those leading an active lifestyle of yoga and more sweat-breaking activity.
It’s a choice many individuals make for different reasons. In the case of yogis, the choice is often an ethical one. No matter what reason you have for eating a vegan or strict vegetarian diet, it’s extremely important for short and long-term health to ensure that all of your nutrient needs are met. Yogis ask a lot from their body during their practice. Feeding yourself what your body needs to be strong and healthy is essential so that you can keep practicing to your fullest potential and push yourself without compromising your health. I know that one of the most annoying things a vegan can hear is “Where do you get your protein/B12/calcium/omega 3/iron?” Of course there are sources of these nutrients in a vegan diet, but sometimes it can be tricky to get enough of them, get them in the right ratios, or to optimize their absorption when we are only looking to plants to fuel up.
Here are 5 nutrients that an average vegan diet may be deficient in:
1. Vitamin B12. This nutrient is key for energy production, the health of the nervous system, DNA replication and to prevent certain forms of anemia. It’s typically consumed through meat and dairy. This is one of the trickiest nutrients to get enough of as a vegan.
2. Calcium. Critical for skeletal and dental health, as well as nerve function. This nutrient is usually consumed through dairy in a standard diet.
3. Omega 3. This essential fatty acid nutrient is critical for heart health, brain health and skin health, and comes in several forms. There are sources of omega 3 in vegan diets. However, the “converted form”, DHA and EPA found in fish and fish oils, are harder to come by in vegan sources. The body’s conversion of omega 3’s in plant sources into their active form isn’t always the most efficient, and deficiencies can result.
4. Protein. This macronutrient is used to rebuild the tissues of the body. It’s also used as the raw materials for hormones. There is certainly protein found in vegan foods such as grains and legumes. However, getting the amino acids in the correct ratios is essential for your body to be able to properly utilize the protein you consume.
5. Iron. This nutrient is a key building block for hemoglobin, the oxygen carrying particles in our blood. If you want to sustain those tricky asanas, oxygen in the blood is a must. The form of iron in plant foods is chemically different and less absorbable than that in animal products.
Taking a little extra care with your diet goes with the territory of becoming a vegan. Avoiding animal product additives in everything from candy to condiments is part of a vegan’s everyday life. Making sure that these nutrients are a part of your diet and in a way that your body can actually absorb them needs to be a priority, too. Here are my tips for the vegan or vegetarian yogi to keep your bod in top shape:
1. Vitamin B12. Supplements are often the way to go for vegans looking to maintain healthy levels of vitamin B12. However, there are some food sources of B12 that can help vegans stay healthy. My favourite is nutritional yeast (available at health food stores). Opt for one in a sealed container over a bulk bin and store out of the light as B12 can be light sensitive. You can use this stuff in vegan “cheez” sauce (try ohsheglows.com for recipes) or sprinkled over brown rice pasta instead of parmesan as it has a slightly salty-cheesy taste.
2. Calcium. There are actually a lot of incredible sources of calcium in the vegan diet. The trick is eating them regularly and while supplementing vitamin D to help with absorption. Sources such as sesame seeds (and tahini), bok choy and kale are delicious and healthy ways to get calcium in a vegan diet.
3. Omega 3. Incorporate a vegan EPA and DHA supplement. The source is usually algae (which is where fish get their EPA/DHA from!).
4. Protein. There are definitely good sources of protein in a vegan diet, and society’s obsession with eating protein may be a little blown out of proportion, but it’s also important to eat protein mindfully when following a vegan diet. Combining certain foods will provide the body with the correct ratios of amino acids making the protein more easily absorbed. Some sources of complete protein are quinoa, buckwheat, hemp, chia seeds, rice and beans together, and Ezekiel bread.
5. Iron. Certain plants, such as leafy greens like spinach and kale, contain healthy doses of iron. However, as they are in the less absorbable “non-heme” form (as opposed to heme iron in animal products), our body may simply pass the iron from our plant foods. To increase the absorption of non-heme iron in plants, eat them with a source of vitamin C, such as lemon juice.
I hope you find these suggestions for avoiding nutritional deficiencies while following a vegan diet helpful. Eat well, yogis!