See also the General Veg FAQ
General Veg FAQ
Q: Is being a vegetarian or vegan healthy?
A: In its 2003 and 2009 position papers on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association reported that vegan and vegetarian diets "are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes." According to the ADA, "Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals." Vegans benefit as well -- cow's milk contains significant amounts of saturated fat, while eggs contain large amounts of cholesterol, making regular use of them contributors to cardiovascular disease.
Vegan foods, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans, are low in fat, contain no cholesterol, and are rich in fiber and nutrients. Vegans can get all the nutrients they need: protein from legumes (e.g., beans, tofu, peanuts) and grains (e.g., rice, corn, whole wheat breads and pastas); calcium from broccoli, kale, collard greens, tofu, fortified juices and soy milks; iron from chickpeas, spinach, pinto beans, and soy products; and B12 from fortified foods or supplements.
As with any diet, a fully nutritious vegan or vegetarian diet will require some small amount of planning. However, as evidenced by the ADA's position and the thousands of people becoming vegetarian every day, a veg diet is widely understood to be a healthy one, and for many people it proves to be the healthiest diet of all.
For more information, see PCRM's information on vegan diets.
Q: Where do vegetarians and vegans get the necessary vitamin B-12?
A: Vitamin B12 is needed by vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, to prevent anemia, and for healthy nerves and blood vessels. The latest information suggests that acquiring enough B12 is not as difficult as it was once thought. The requirement for vitamin B12 is very low. Vitamin B12 is needed for cell division and blood formation. It is especially important that infants, children, and pregnant or lactating women to have reliable sources of vitamin B12 in their diets. If you are concerned about getting enough B12, there are many foods which are fortified with B12, in addition to vitamin supplements. Non-animal sources include Nutri-Grain cereal and Red Star T-6635+ nutritional yeast, as well as many soy products fortified with B-12. Vegan health experts suggest that vegans choose one of these ways to fortify their intake of B-12 and ensure good health.
Q: Where do vegans get the necessary protein?
A: Contrary to public opinion, vegetarians and vegans receive adequate protein from a well-balanced diet comprised of plant foods, including soy milk, soy burgers and other products, animal-free "cheese," nuts, beans, seeds, grains, and vegetables, among other products. Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, and Mark Messina, PhD, renowned experts on veg health, recommend that vegans receive 0.4 grams of protein per day for every pound of healthy body weight. If a vegan consumes adequate calories and eats a variety of foods, it is very difficult not to get enough protein. This is true for athletes as well. It's important to note that food combining, though once thought to be necessary, is in actuality not necessary to get adequate protein.
Q: Where do vegans get the necessary calcium?
A: Adequate intakes of calcium vary according to one's age, with people who are older in age generally requiring higher daily intake of calcium. Excellent vegan sources of calcium include: collard greens, broccoli, kale, turnip greens, and tofu prepared with calcium all contain high quantities of calcium. Here are some average calcium content numbers for common vegan products:
- calcium-set tofu (120-200 mg per 0.5 cup)
- fortified soy milk (200-300 mg per cup)
- dried figs (50 mg per fig)
- fortified orange juice (250 mg per cup)
- collard greens (180 mg per 0.5 cup)
- sesame seeds (180 mg per 2 Tbsp)
- baked beans (130 mg per cup)
- broccoli (90 mg per 0.5 cup)
- almonds (50 mg per 2 Tbsp)
- kale (50 mg per 0.5 cup)
Q: Where do vegans and vegetarians get the necessary iron?
A: Good sources of iron include: dried beans, spinach, chard, beet greens, blackstrap molasses, bulgur, prune juice, and dried fruit. To increase the amount of iron absorbed at a meal eat a food containing vitamin C, such as citrus fruit or juices, tomatoes, or broccoli. Cooking food in iron cookware also adds to iron intake.
Where can I learn more about veg health?
A: The following links contain a wealth of information about staying healthy on vegetarian and vegan diets.