Gentle nutrition is the final principle of intuitive eating and a compassionate way to honor your health without dieting, restriction or obsessing about food.
The reason gentle nutrition is the last principle of intuitive eating is because when we focus on nutrition too early in the intuitive eating process, we may end up using it like a diet. Remember: the key to good nutrition is making sure you’re eating enough food, not taking away food.
And that’s exactly what this post is about! How vegans can make sure they’re eating enough to meet their nutrient needs.
For most people, micromanaging food isn’t necessary for good nutrition. In fact, a basic understanding of some general nutrition principles paired with your internal wisdom will help you meet your nutrient needs in a way that feels satisfying and joyful.
But what about vegans – don’t they need to pay extra attention to certain nutrients because they’re not eating meat, fish, dairy, eggs and other animal products? The answer is: yes and no.
First, let’s remember that just because someone eats animal products doesn’t mean they’re in stellar health or meeting their nutrient needs. Plenty of non-vegans fall short on certain nutrients. So while it may seem “easier” to get certain nutrients from animal products (based on the current state of the American food system and how most of us have been socialized to eat), the truth is anyone who wants to be vegan can meet their nutrient needs through vegan foods, beverages and dietary supplements.
I often find many folks get so amped up about going vegan and helping animals that they don’t pause to learn how to meet their nutrient needs as a vegan. It’s not too difficult, but there is more to it than making sure you’re getting enough protein. Another thing I see is folks approaching veganism as a diet and focusing on eliminating lots of foods (both vegan and non-vegan), which is a no-go for many reasons.
Here’s how to cover your nutrition bases as a vegan without getting pulled into diet culture or feeling like you’re obsessing over your food!
Eat Enough Food
It should go without saying, but sadly, it doesn’t. Principle number one to good nutrition for anyone is to eat enough food. No matter how “healthy” your meals are, if you’re not eating enough, you’re not going to meet your nutrient needs or be able support your overall health. Yet another reason why dieting is just the worst.
Not sure what “enough” is? This varies from person to person and there are many variables that impact this. Your internal hunger, fullness and satisfaction cues are important, as well as your brain knowledge that you need to eat consistently throughout the day.
If you struggle in this area, a registered dietitian can help you devise a plan that works for you.
Substitute Rather than Subtract
This is an overarching principle that is super helpful for transitioning to veganism. Rather than simply eliminating all animal products, make vegan swaps. For example, don’t just nix the meatballs from your spaghetti and meatballs, buy or make vegan meatballs. Don’t just ditch dairy, enjoy vegan alternatives. Don’t just say goodbye to the meat in your sandwiches or tacos, replace it with vegan meat or beans.
This will not only help you meet your nutrient needs, but it will also help you feel satisfied with your food. No one wants to feel like something is missing from their meal, which is exactly what happens when we just get rid of the animal products we’re so used to consuming.
There are so many vegan goodies on the market these days, many of which are available in “regular” grocery stores in towns all across the country. And, it’s fun to explore new recipes and creations by making some of your own vegan foods!
Make Balanced Meals
Balance is an important nutrition concept that diet culture loves to exploit, but there is nothing inherently diet-y about eating a variety of foods. In fact, it’s fun and flavorful!
Balance is important for: adequate nutrient intake, optimal nutrient absorption, helping you feel full and helping you feel satisfied.
When I say balance, I mean make sure most of your meals contain these 4 food “groups”:
- Grain or starch
- Fruit or veggie
If you want to learn specifics about what is included in each of these groups and minimum serving sizes to aim for, check out the Anti-Diet Vegan Nutrition Online Course!
Don’t Restrict Vegan Foods
If a food is vegan, it’s on! No need to restrict vegan foods such as oil, salty snack foods, sweet treats, processed foods, or vegan meats and cheeses.
I highly recommend unfollowing and unsubscribing from anyone telling you to go on any kind of diet, making far-fetched health claims, or telling you that you will absolutely get a disease unless you follow their diet rules.
Eat Plenty of Legumes
Legume is a funny word, isn’t it? Silly, but important! It’s a category of foods that includes beans, lentils, peas and peanuts. And anything made from these foods, such as tofu, tempeh and soy-based meats and milks, pea-based meats and milks, and peanut butter.
Eating at least a few servings of legumes every day will make meeting protein needs a breeze, along with fiber and other nutrients. Legumes are the go-to protein for vegans – they’re affordable, versatile and super nutritious.
Where you would eat meat, replace it with legumes! Learn more (like what “counts” as a serving) in this plant-based protein 101 post.
Eat Nuts and Seeds
Don’t skimp on these little nuggets of nutrition! Nuts and seeds are great for crunch, texture and flavor, and they also lend lots of heart-healthy fats, essential minerals and some protein.
Certain nuts and seeds are particularly rich in the omega-3 ALA, which is an essential fatty acid that vegans can get through select food options or dietary supplements.
Eat Leafy Greens
I know this seems a little cliché, but leafy greens truly are an important part of a balanced vegan eating pattern! Let’s reclaim leafy greens from the clutches of diet culture, shall we!
Leafy greens deliver a punch of vitamin K and other important vitamins and minerals such as folate, vitamin A, vitamin C and more. And, some are rich in calcium!
If you’re new to greens or not sure what to do with them, I have a whole discussion on that in my online course (and I share my favorite tasty ways to prepare greens).
I don’t want you to force yourself to eat foods you don’t like (and unfortunately some people think they don’t like greens because they’ve had some poorly-prepared greens in the past). Which is why I think it’s so important to explore different cooking methods and find what you like!
Choose Calcium-Fortified Milks
If you like milk, opt for calcium-fortified options. This is especially important if you’re used to getting most of your calcium from cow’s milk.
Not all plant milks are fortified with calcium, so you’ll need to check the ingredients list and/or the Nutrition Facts label on the milk container to see if calcium is added.
Take Appropriate Dietary Supplements
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all dietary supplement for vegans, but all vegans must supplement with vitamin B12. And I have found that most people (vegans and non-vegans) need to supplement with vitamin D.
Depending on your intake, you may also need to supplement with calcium, iodine, omega-3s and more.
Go to the Experts for Nutrition Information
These strategies will take you pretty far, but there’s more to well-rounded nutrition than just these few tips. For much more details on vegan nutrition, foods and beverages, dietary supplements, meals, snacks and more, check out the Anti-Diet Vegan Nutrition Online Course!
The Anti-Diet Vegan Nutrition Course contains 20 modules that are jam-packed with science-based information on vegan food, nutrition and health. If you want to learn how to eat in a way that is nourishing, filling, satisfying and non-restrictive, join the course to get immediate access!
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