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Vegan? Here’s How to Stay Healthy
If you are vegan, you are healthier than a lot of people, but there are some very important nutrients that you need to make sure you eat enough of to maximize your health.
Most Americans do not eat enough vegetables and fruit. The USDA recommends that adults eat two and a half to three cups of vegetables per day, but most Americans eat at most one piece of fruit or a single serving of vegetables per day, if at all.
Because the average diet is lacking in vegetable and fruit nutrition, eating a larger amount of vegetables and fruit daily will significantly improve health. Individuals who are interested in preserving their health eat more vegetables.
Some studies have suggested that eating too many carbohydrates from grains, starchy vegetables, meat, and other animal products have negative effects on health. Vegetarians and vegans have made the choice to completely eliminate animal products from the diet in the pursuit of health, for the environment, or to protect the rights of animals. However, some nutrients are not present in plant-based foods. Some vital nutrients (such as vitamin K2) are impossible to find in plant products.
Although it is possible to survive and thrive on a plant-based diet, great care is needed to ensure you get the optimal balance of nutrients. Many vegetarians and vegans are lacking in the following vital nutrients. Adding these nutrients in supplement form can prevent any nutrient deficiencies from adversely affecting your health while living a vegan and vegetarian lifestyle.
High levels of calcium are found in animal products, such as yogurt, cheese, milk, and some meat. However, there are some plant foods that also contain calcium. Ensuring you get enough calcium in your diet is extremely important in maintaining optimal health.
According to a 1999 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dairy and animal products have the highest bioavailability (usability) in the body, because not only is the calcium content higher in animal and dairy products, but dairy does not contain any inhibitors that interfere with the absorption of calcium. Many plant-based sources of calcium contain oxalate and phytate, which are inhibitors that block some absorption of calcium.
Combined with the lower calcium content, it is necessary to consume large quantities of calcium-rich plants to reach healthy calcium absorption levels. According to the study authors, “the quantity of vegetables required to reach sufficient calcium intake make an exclusively plant-based diet impractical for most individuals unless fortified foods or supplements are included.”
Vegans and vegetarians should supplement with extra calcium, such as a coral calcium or other non animal-based calcium supplement to ensure their calcium intake is high enough to protect bone health, calcium is also used for effective muscle function, optimal heart function and blood flow, hormone secretion, enzyme reactions, and nerve impulses. When the blood level of calcium is too low, the body will take calcium from the bones, which weakens them. A diet rich in calcium is essential to optimal health for the entire body.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids essential for optimal health. Omega-3 fatty acids help absorb other nutrients and also have a healing effect in the body fighting internal damage and inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and mental stimulation and regulation.
A lack of omega-3 acids have wide sweeping negative effects in the body, which can cause problem such as brain damage, depression, mental instability, and autoimmune diseases. However, only one kind of omega-3 fat is found in animal foods- ALA. EPA and DHA (known as the “brain-boosting” omega-3s) are only found in animal products.
Fish is the primary source of EPA and DHA. The body can convert some ALA from plants into EPA and DHA, but the process is inefficient. Luckily, vegans and vegetarians can take algae-based supplements that contain DHA and EPA.
Vitamin K2 is the animal-based form of vitamin K1 that is found in plant foods. While you can eat a lot of vitamin K1-rich plants and convert that vitamin into vitamin K2, it is still easier to absorb vitamin K2 when it is consumed directly from food. However, most sources of vitamin K2 are animal-based. Vitamin K2 is found in products such as animal organs, cheese and dairy from grass-fed animals, and egg yolks. Luckily, there is also a way to make vitamin K2 using plants.
The best way to create vitamin K2 is to take vitamin K1-rich plants and ferment them. The fermentation process converts vitamin K1 into K2, ensuring you get enough vitamin K in your diet. Both vitamin K1 and K2 are essential for the absorption of calcium and other minerals. Vitamin K1 binds with protein and minerals and vitamin K2 helps send the nutrients to the parts of the body that need them most. Vitamin K1 is found in dark leafy greens, such as spinach, lettuce, and kale.
Most fermented foods contain vitamin K2, but one of the biggest sources is fermented soy and seaweed products, such as natto and fermented soybean paste.
Sulfur is a nutrient that is often ignored in lists of necessary nutrients, but sulfur is also important for maintaining optimal health. Sulfur is usually found in fish, poultry, and beef. Most dietary sulfur is found in the amino acids present in animal products. Sulfur is used to maximize the absorption and usefulness of protein and enzymes from food.
Without sulfur, you can face problems such as bone loss, a sluggish metabolism, joint paint, and tissue damage. A 2012 study published in the journal Nutrition found that most vegetarians and vegans have low sulfur levels. This study found that low sulfur levels were associated with blood clots and heart disease. Sulfur also acts as an antioxidant, which eliminates oxidation from the body and can help fight cancer.
There are a few plant-based sources of sulfur. These include coconut oil, olive oil, kale, garlic, onions, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and legumes. Vegans and vegetarians may also want to supplement with MSM, which is a natural form of sulfur extracted from plant sources and concentrated.
Taurine is a nutrient necessary for both a healthy brain and healthy heart. It helps boost antioxidant activity in the body, improve muscle function, and is used to produce bile salt. Taurine works with magnesium to regulate the body’s systems and reduce the negative effects of stress. Taurine is a byproduct of cysteine and methionine. Typically, taurine is found in red meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy.
Most vegans are lower in taurine than their counterparts who eat meat. Taurine can be produced by the body, but vegetarians and vegans may also want to supplement with taurine to ensure their muscles, heart, and brain stay healthy.
Vitamin D3 is a steroid hormone that is synthesized by the body when you go out into the sun. Vitamin D is crucial to your bone health, mental state, immune system, and all around general health. Vitamin D3 is also found in some animal products, such as dairy and meat. The best way to ensure your vitamin D levels are high enough as a vegan is to go outside and get some sun. However, if you do not get to spend at least 30 minutes in the sun daily, you will benefit from taking a vitamin D3 supplement.
Make sure you are also getting enough calcium, magnesium, and vitamin K2 along with your vitamin D.
Just like many other nutrients, the animal version of the nutrient is different than the plant-based form. Heme-iron is a type of iron that is almost exclusive to red meat. Other forms of iron, such as the iron found in leafy greens, are difficult to absorb in the body and require a large consumption of these vegetables to maintain optimal levels in the body. Because of this, many vegetarians and vegans have low levels of iron even if they eat a lot of leafy greens. Iron’s main function in the body is to carry oxygen to your tissues.
Without enough iron and oxygen, your cells die faster. Anemia doesn’t seem like that bad of a condition, but if left untreated, it can cause a wide range of problems in the body. Iron supplements can be used to regulate iron levels. However, too much iron can also be just as bad as too little. Some iron found in supplements have a negative effect on health.
According to studies, the safest form of iron supplement is carbonyl iron. However, only take an iron supplement if you have anemia. The negative effects of taking too much iron can be just as bad or worse as too little iron.
Vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods, like meat, dairy, fish, and eggs.
Too little B12 in the diet can increase risk for heart disease, psychiatric disorders, neurological disorders, and Alzheimer’s disease. Vegans and vegetarians still have a few ways to get their vitamin B12. Both nori seaweed and fermented soy contain usable vitamin B12, and there are several B12 supplements that are vegan. Fresh nori is more beneficial than dried or frozen.
Although most vegans and vegetarians are far more healthy than the average American, a lack of animal products in the diet does have some significant health risks. Most vegetarians and vegans have chosen that lifestyle for multiple reasons in addition to basic health, but there are still risks in eating only plant-based products. Ensuring that you do at a lot of the foods that do contain the plant-based versions of the above nutrients like calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin K2 can go a long way toward providing vegans with optimal nutrition. Supplements can also work to fill in any missing nutrient gaps from a vegetarian or vegan diet. With a bit of extra care, a vegan or vegetarian diet can be both healthy and environmentally-friendly.
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Acktiva, a coral calcium supplement, is a NEW form of calcium that has been shown to provide your body with over 70 trace minerals to create healthy PH levels.