Important Vegan Facts

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What is a vegan diet?

A vegan diet contains only plants (such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits) and foods made from plants.

Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products and eggs.

 For a healthy vegan diet:

  • Eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day

  • Base meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbs (choose wholegrain where possible)

  • Have some dairy alternatives, such as soya drinks and yoghurts (choose lower fat and lower sugar options)

  • Eat some beans, pulses and other proteins

  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat in small amounts

  • Drink plenty of fluids (the government recommends 6 to 8 cups or glasses a day)

With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.

If you do not plan your diet properly, you could miss out on essential nutrients, such as calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

Vegan sources of Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is needed for strong and healthy bones and teeth. Non-vegans get most of their calcium from dairy foods (milk, cheese and yoghurt), but vegans can get it from other foods.

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Sources of calcium for vegans include:

  • Green, leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, cabbage and okra, but not spinach

  • Fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks 

  • Calcium-set tofu

  • Sesame seeds and tahini

  • Pulses

  • Brown and white bread (in the UK, calcium is added to white and brown flour by law)

  • Dried fruit, such as raisins, prunes, figs and dried apricots

A 30g portion of dried fruit counts as 1 of your 5 a day but should be eaten at mealtimes, not as a between-meal snack, to reduce the impact on teeth. 

The body needs vitamin D to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. These nutrients help keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy.

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Good sources of vitamin D for vegans include:

  • Exposure to sunlight, particularly from late March/early April to the end of September – remember to cover up or protect your skin before it starts to turn red or burn

  • Fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and unsweetened soya drinks (with vitamin D added)

  • Vitamin D supplements

Vegan sources of iron

Iron is essential for the production of red blood cells.

A vegan diet can be high in iron, although iron from plant-based food is absorbed by the body less well than iron from meat.

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Sources of Iron for vegans include:

  • Pulses

  • Wholemeal bread and flour

  • Breakfast cereals fortified with iron

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens

  • Nuts

  • Dried fruits, such as apricots, prunes and figs

Vegan Vitamin B12

The body needs vitamin B12 to maintain healthy blood and a healthy nervous system.

It's only found naturally in foods from animal sources. Sources for vegans are therefore limited and a vitamin B12 supplement may be needed.

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Sources of vitamin B12 for vegans include:

  • Breakfast cereals fortified with B12

  • Unsweetened soya drinks fortified with vitamin B12

  • Yeast extract, such as Marmite, which is fortified with vitamin B12