Plant-based eat­ing is boom­ing — but if you’re con­tem­plat­ing a ve­gan life­style, be well pre­pared to meet all your body’s nu­tri­tional needs.

Healthy Food Guide (Australia) - - CONTENTS - WITH DR TIM CROWE

Do the ben­e­fits of a ve­gan diet out­weigh the risks?

More than two mil­lion Aussies say their diet is now veg­e­tar­ian (or al­most veg­e­tar­ian), and among th­ese, Aus­tralia is the third fastest-grow­ing ve­gan na­tion in the world. So per­haps it’s not sur­pris­ing that ve­gan di­ets are no longer seen as ex­treme. How­ever, if you’re new to, or are con­sid­er­ing, plant-based eat­ing, what are the nu­tri­ents that you need to give spe­cial at­ten­tion?

Meat-free ben­e­fits

A plant-based diet has a lot go­ing for it on the health front, with such di­ets linked to lower risk of obe­sity, type 2 di­a­betes, heart dis­ease and some can­cers, as well as in­creased longevity.

A pos­i­tive fea­ture of ve­gan di­ets — which un­like veg­e­tar­ian di­ets also ex­clude any byprod­ucts of an­i­mals such as milk and eggs — is that with good plan­ning, they can meet all the nu­tri­tional needs of al­most any­one. A key ve­gan di­etary ben­e­fit is that such foods tend to be rich in many nu­tri­ents. Typ­i­cally, com­pared to non-veg­e­tar­i­ans, you’ll be eat­ing more fibre along with more thi­amin, fo­late, mag­ne­sium, and vi­ta­mins A, C, and E.

Nu­tri­ents to watch out for

On the other hand, there are po­ten­tial dan­gers in­volved, es­pe­cially if you’re re­mov­ing meat and not re­plac­ing it with suit­able al­ter­na­tives. Peo­ple fol­low­ing a ve­gan diet should en­sure they get enough of the fol­low­ing four key nu­tri­ents.


The iron in plant foods is not as well ab­sorbed as that found in an­i­mal foods. So peo­ple fol­low­ing a ve­gan diet need al­most dou­ble the rec­om­mended amount of iron that non-veg­e­tar­i­ans re­quire.

How­ever, a var­ied, plant-based diet can eas­ily pro­vide an ad­e­quate iron in­take. Good plant sources of iron in­clude legumes, tofu, nuts and

seeds, whole grains, quinoa, for­ti­fied ce­re­als, dried fruits and dark-green leafy veg­eta­bles.

eat­ing vi­ta­min C-rich foods such as cit­rus fruits or broc­coli with meals will help boost iron ab­sorp­tion.

Vi­ta­min B12

This is a sig­nif­i­cant nutri­ent of con­cern for ve­g­ans as it’s mainly found only in an­i­mal foods. Vi­ta­min B12 is im­por­tant for nerve trans­mis­sion and blood cell for­ma­tion. eat­ing foods that are la­belled as for­ti­fied with vi­ta­min B12 — such as some soy milks — is one way to get B12. other­wise, give se­ri­ous thought to tak­ing a vi­ta­min B12 sup­ple­ment, and have your doc­tor keep an eye on your blood lev­els.


The ab­sence of dairy foods in a ve­gan diet make cal­cium another nutri­ent of con­cern. Cal­cium is im­por­tant not just for bone health but for vas­cu­lar, mus­cle, and nerve func­tion. Good plant sources of cal­cium in­clude cal­cium-for­ti­fied soy or al­mond milk, tofu set with cal­cium sul­fate, al­monds and a range of leafy green veg­eta­bles.

Omega-3 fats

Th­ese fatty acids are es­sen­tial for your im­mune sys­tem — and be­cause you can’t make them, you have to get them in foods. With fish and their omega-3 fats off the ve­gan menu, you can go some way to meet­ing your needs through plant sources such as wal­nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds or soy­bean oil.

The bot­tom line

As with any di­etary pat­tern, a ve­gan diet can be healthy or un­healthy de­pend­ing on the types of nutri­ent-rich or poor foods that make up a menu. if you en­sure your ve­gan diet is var­ied, bal­anced and care­fully planned, you can meet your nutri­ent needs through­out life — and reap a host of health ben­e­fits into the bar­gain.

Dr Tim Crowe is an Ad­vanced Ac­cred­ited Prac­tis­ing Di­eti­tian and nu­tri­tion research sci­en­tist. Con­nect with him at think­ingnu­tri­

Did you know? Aus­tralia is the world’s third fastest-grow­ing ve­gan na­tion

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