Nutritional Guidelines For Vegetarians & Vegans

Today I want to give you a brief overview of some of the current recommended nutritional guidelines for vegans and vegetarians.

I try to keep on top of the science and current issues regarding any health concerns that vegans need to be aware of and as such I want to offer you a thumbnail view of what you should be thinking about as you adopt a vegan diet or as you grow in your vegan lifestyle.

If you want to read more about some of the health concerns about veganism I encourage you to read my blog posts about the proper nutrition for vegetarians and vegans as well as the one on the best vegetarian and vegan food pyramids to follow.

We’ll start at the macro level which is the amount of calories that vegans and vegetarians need to eat. This post is also going to be exclusively focused at the nutritional guidelines for adult vegans. Tomorrow I’ll write one about the nutritional guidelines for vegan children and infants.

So, how many calories do vegans need? Good question. Thankfully the Institutes of Medicine did a report back in 2002 to answer this very question. Not much has changed since then and I believe this guide to be valid still.

For sedentary men aged 19 – 30 the calorie requirements are estimated at 2,400
For sedentary men aged 31 – 50 estimated calorie requirements are 2,200
For sedentary men aged 51+ estimated calorie requirements are 2,000

You can add about 10% to the above figures if you are moderately active which means you work out strenuously at least 3 times a week for around an hour. And you can add 20% to the above numbers if you are very active which means you work out strenuously 5+ times a week for around an hour or more at a time.

These figures would be what is needed for most men both vegan and non-vegan.

For sedentary women aged 19 – 30 the calorie requirements are estimated at 2,000
For sedentary women aged 31 – 50 estimated calorie requirements are 1,800
For sedentary women aged 51+ estimated calorie requirements are 1,600

Again, you may add 10% or 20% to the above numbers depending on your activity level.

These are averages and your needs might be a little different. Especially if you are learning how to be vegan and lose weight.

This same report suggests that adults should get around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. This works out to about 10% of your calories from protein or put another way, you can easily just aim for 1 gram of protein per kilogram of your body to make it easier.

So a 120 pound (54kg) women needs 54 grams of protein per day or slightly less. A 175 pound (79kg) man needs 79 grams or just under of protein per day. This is easy to obtain on a whole foods plant based varied vegan diet if you are eating enough calories.

The bulk of your calories should come from carbohydrates. At least 45% of calories should be carbohydrates and if you’re vegan you’re likely getting around 60% or so which is great. Fat should be limited at 35% or less.

However, it is recommended that vegans get 1% to 2% of their fat in the form of omega 3s which are flaxseed, tofu, walnuts, greens etc. Addtionally, it is not a bad idea to supplement with vegan DHA and EPA which come from algae. Aim for 200mg or more.

Vegan men need 38 grams of fiber or more and vegan women should aim for 25 grams or more.

The only other nutritional concerns for vegan men and women are for vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and calcium. Women might need to have their iron levels checked periodically especially while they are still menstruating.

A daily supplement of 250mcg of vitamin B12 is recommended or a weekly dose of 2,500mcg of vitamin B12 as cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin is recommended for both vegetarians and vegans. In fact anyone would do well to ensure an adequate supply of this critical vitamin.

For vitamin D it is recommended that we in the Northern Hemisphere supplement with 2,000IU year round if we don’t get out much in the summer or from around February to November depending on where you live.

If your salt is not iodized you might need to supplement with iodine at a 150mcg level per day. Hijiki/hiziki and kelp should be avoided. The former because it contains high levels of arsenic and the latter because it has too much iodine. With iodine supplementation it is recommended you seek your doctors advice first as you don’t want to take too much.

You should obtain most of your calcium from green leafy plants and fortified soy or plant milks. If you need to supplement you should take your calcium separately in order to get 600 or more milligrams in your supplement.

Other than that, you should try and get your vitamins and minerals from plants. However if you prefer to take a multivitamin as insurance you should take one with iron if you are female and without iron if you are male.

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