Switching to a Vegan Diet? Things You Need to Know – Continued

An important nutrient for vegetarians to consider is calcium. Adults need about 1000 mg of calcium per day. Most people think of dairy products when they think of calcium, which important for strong bones and teeth. But vegans can get plenty of calcium from dark greens, tofu processed with calcium sulphate, and other foods or from calcium supplements. Soymilk and rice milk are often fortified with calcium as well. Other good sources of calcium for vegans include blackstrap molasses, fortified orange juice, tahini and almonds. It is important to note that a compound known as oxalic acid, found in vegetables like spinach, rhubarb, chard, and beet greens, can bind with calcium and prevent it from being well absorbed. Therefore, greens like broccoli and collards are better sources of calcium for vegans.

Though there is much concern about vegetarians getting enough protein, the need for protein is often overrated. The average diet contains far more protein needed for health. In fact, excess protein can damage the kidneys and contribute to the development of osteoporosis. The recommended daily allowance of protein is 8/10ths of a gram for every kilogram of body weight or about 10-15% of total calories. Foods like soy, rice and beans, and nuts and nut butters can provide adequate amounts of protein for vegans. In contrast, animal foods are so high in protein that non-vegetarians can easily exceed the upper limit recommended for protein intake, which is 4.5 grams of protein per 100 calories of food.

Protein is comprised of amino acids, which are often called protein building blocks. The body needs nine different amino acids from foods. Because the body cannot make these nine amino acids, they are known as essential amino acids. Foods that contain all nine essential amino acids are considered complete protein foods. Non-vegan vegetarians can easily get all nine amino acids from eggs and dairy products. For vegans, soy protein, which is a complete protein, is often considered the best source. The nine essential amino acids can also be obtained by combining whole grain rice and beans. Other vegan sources of high quality protein include the grain quinoa and spinach. Eating a variety of legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds daily ensures that vegans consume all of the protein they need.