Nutritional advice for converting to a vegan diet

Essential advice for vegans and vegan teenagers

One of the challenges in today’s society for anyone wishing to become vegan and not living in a vegan household is to eat a good balanced diet. Vegans in particular need to take care of the following 3 elements:

The right protein combinations.
Adequate zinc and zinc absorption.
Vitamin B12.

Lack of any 1 of these 3 elements is likely to result in depleted energy and a compromised immune response, i.e. a person is vulnerable to colds, flu and whatever viruses and bacteria are currently circulating the population.

Vegan dietary advice: ‘The right protein combinations’

In terms of human nutrition it is not enough to eat protein foods with some of the essential amino acids present.

As human beings we need a particular combination of amino acids, which all need to be present at the same meal so that the protein is absorbed correctly. This is relatively easy for people who eat meat, fish, eggs and milk products, however, a little bit more thought is required for vegans.

Below are listed combinations of foods that will give a complete balance of the essential amino acids:

1. Brown rice and garbanzo beans.
2. Most combinations of brown rice with either lentils and/or pulses.
3. The following combinations of flours which can be used to make a highly nutritious pancake mixture:
corn flour + rice flour + potato flour
4. The following seed combination: sunflower seeds + pumpkin seeds + sesame seeds
(These can either be ground up into a paste and used for cooking or combined with dried fruit e.g. raisins.)
5. Oatmeal and millet together make a complete protein.

Vegan nutritional advice: ‘Adequate zinc and zinc absorption’

Zinc is found in higher concentrations in animal foods which is why vegans need to be particular watchful that they have an adequate supply of this essential minerals.

Organic vegetables contain much higher sources of zinc than vegetable grown with the usual NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) fertilisers. For vegans especially it is always better to eat organic.

Zinc is required for a strong immune system and is involved in most of the enzyme actions in the body.

There is an inexpensive liquid test for zinc easily available over the counter. It is also possible to take supplements. However, as zinc is best absorbed by through the mucus membranes of the mouth it is best to take zinc supplements in the form of zinc lozenges which should be sucked rather than chewed or swallowed.

These vegan foods are high in zinc:

Seaweed – either as flat sheets such as Nori seaweed or dulse (a tasty form of dried seaweed)

Once you have adequate zinc, the next consideration is making sure that it is properly absorbed.

Whilst it is very tempting to eat wheat products at more than one meal a day, this is something vegans especially would do well to avoid. The reason is that the gluten in wheat blocks zinc absorption in the small intestines. Consequently if you are eating wheat, i.e. pasta or bread, at two meals out of three or even three meals over the course of the day, you may be consuming enough zinc but not absorbing enough.

Vegan diet advice: ‘Vitamin B12’

This is a similar situation to the one with zinc in that it is the absorption of Vitamin B12 that is so important. All the natural sources of this vitamin are animal in origin.

For this reason even the Vegan Society recommends taking supplemental vitamin B12.

Fortunately, most vegans eat enough B12 to avoid pernicious anaemia and nervous system damage, however, there are many not getting enough B12 to minimise their risk of heart disease and complications in pregnancy.

It can take up to five years for a deficiency of B12 to appear in the body after its stores have been depleted, and if allowed to go to this extreme the damage may not be completely reversible.

The only reliable dietary source of vitamin B12 for vegans are foods that have been fortified with the vitamin. These include some plant milks, some soya products and some breakfast cereals.

E.g. if a fortified plant milk contains 1 microgram of vitamin B12 per serving, then 3 servings a day is providing adequate B12.

As an absolute minimum, a vegan needs:

• 3 micrograms of B12 a day,
or one vitamin B12 supplement daily of at least 10 micrograms,
or one weekly vitamin B12 supplement providing at least 2000 micrograms

Vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small amounts. The less frequently you are taking it, the higher the amount you need. It is completely okay to exceed the recommended dose and/or using more than one option.

As vitamin B12 is not well absorbed in the stomach, it is essential to take a time releasing form of this supplement. Used with folic acid, it has an energetically revitalising effect. It may be easier to take a time releasing complete B vitamin product so that a proper balance of all the B vitamins is ensured.

The normal healthy range for a vegetarian/vegan with respect to vitamin B12 is about 300 micrograms. It would be wise to have a blood test to check your levels of this vitamin once a year on a regular basis it is possible to have vitamin B12 injections if there is a deficiency.

High doses of Vitamin C, i.e. above 3 grams daily, may deplete Vitamin B12 and folic acid.

Another final thought, if you are blood group A, you will probably find converting to a vegetarian/vegan diet relatively easy. If you are blood group O, it may be more of a challenge.

About the author

Dr. Suzanne G Harper is a Naturopathic Physician, Acupuncturist, a UKCP Registered NLPTcA Psychotherapist & Counsellor and a registered Osteopath.

Her practice is located in London, Harley Street and Suzanne draws patients from the surrounding areas of Bayswater, Marylebone, The West End and the Greater London areas.

For more information visit her GoToSee therapist’s page here or visit her website

Submit an Article Submit your article

Related articles & videos

Do not copy from this page - plagiarism will be detected by Copyscape. If you want to use our content click here for syndication criteria