I've been vegan/vegetarian for about 4 years now and my way of making sure I'd eat enough of everything is to mix as much as possible vegetables, fruits, grains...

There's a French recommendation to eat at least 5 fruits/vegetables per day, and that's what I'd usually eat in a single meal (not with the full quantities though).

I recently learned about vitamins D and B12 and the fact that we can't have them "naturally" in a vegetarian/vegan diet made me think that I'm surely missing a lot more vitamins, minerals, nutrients, or other elements I'm not even aware of.

How do you make sure you get enough of everything you need?
Is there a method to keep track of that?

  • 1
    Cron-o-meter tracks a lot of nutrients and can suggest good foods for obtaining specific nutrients – nloewen Feb 23 '17 at 15:11
  • 1
    Good variety is also good for getting the right amounts of different proteins. Legumes and nuts help a lot with that. – Adam Miller Feb 23 '17 at 22:18
  • 1
    I think Michael Pollan has a good rule of thumb: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. – dan08 Oct 27 '17 at 20:06

I ran my personal best of 2:49 at the Boston Marathon after one year of training under a pretty strict vegan diet. (I'm still vegan but running less these days). My diet wasn't complicated at all, I had three rules of thumb:

  • A smoothie consisting of various types of fruit combined with soy milk, a spoonful of 'good' fats (mostly flax) and some extra hemp protein. This in the morning and/or after training. I still eat my fruit and use some flax seed oil, but as I'm not training hard, no extra protein.
  • Main courses followed different combinations of 'a grain, a green, and a bean'. Without much hassle, this allowed me to combine different proteins, carbs, fibers and micronutrients. I often ate my greens raw, and I tried not to eat the same combinations too often in a short time.
  • I took my B12 more or less each day and had my blood tested for deficiencies.

This is just what worked for me.YMMV. I did some research at the time, but I can't be bothered right now to digg up any references. What was important for me was to keep it simple and to rely only on the absolutely necessary substitutes (B12). There's no point in a sophisticated and scientifically approved diet that you won't realistically implement.

  • 1
    As an afterthought: I used to snack a lot throughout the day: Raw veggies and (dried) fruit, but mostly nuts, which are great sources of fats, proteins and micronutrients. Of course they are also high in calories. So another rule of thumb was: never let yourself become hungry. But that's perhaps more important when you're very active. – henning Aug 19 '17 at 8:10

Except for vitamin B12 and vitamin D, you're going to get everything you need provided you get most of your calories from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains. What is not good is to use a supplement to correct for a deficiency (except for vitamin D and vitamin B12) and then think that you've plugged all holes in your diet. The essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids,etc. are just the tip of the iceberg; for optimal health a lot more compounds are needed than can be found on any list of RDAs of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats.

We need to consider here that science hasn't yet identified all the compounds our bodies need. E.g. celiac patients who's intestines are so damaged that they need to get supplements via IV, only thrive when given whole food extracts. If they only get a mix of the known nutrients they don't do as well. The difference is then due to the likely large number of compounds in whole foods that has yet to be identified as necessary for the human body.

Suppose that 200 years from now scientists will have identified every last compound you need to eat with their RDAs. If there are 1000 items on that list and today we only have an incomplete list of, say, 25 items with their RDAs, then it's obviously impossible to check if a diet is adequate today. However, there is a statistical trick you can use to guess whether a diet is likely to be deficient according to the unknown list of 1000 compounds.

This works by checking if the 25 compounds in a diet are coming from a wide variety of food sources, here you pay attention to how close different plants are related to each other and also the similarities in the entire profile of the 25 compounds. So, two food sources that are rich in calcium should be considered to be more different if they come from different plants that have different profiles for the other compounds.

Suppose that your diet is not so optimal according to the above criterion, a few of the 25 compounds only come from 3 reasonably independent sources. Then it's a forgone conclusion that your diet will lack many of the 1000 compounds of the unknown list. If you put the compound that comes from the largest number of independent sources on top and below that the compound that comes from the next larger number and so on, then item number 25 of the old list will appear somewhere at the bottom of the new list, but it's likely not going to be the last item of the new list. So, it's quite likely that you are missing quite a few nutrients that are necessary for optimal health.

An effective way to boost the quantity of nutrient intake is to eliminate all sources of empty calories like refined sugars and fats and to get all your calories and essential fats from whole food sources. So, no cooking oil should be used, one should instead eat nuts and seeds. Also, by exercising a lot one can increase the calorie requirement thereby boosting the nutrient intake.

  • That's really interesting. Is there such a list today of the 25 items and their source? – nobe4 Aug 19 '17 at 6:17
  • @nobe4 You can find some information here: ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb – Count Iblis Aug 23 '17 at 3:20

A common rule of thumb I've always heard is by Michael Pollan, a food author:

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.

Specifically:

  1. Don't eat anything your great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. "When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can't pronounce, ask yourself, "What are those things doing there?" Pollan says.
  2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
  3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.
  4. Don't eat anything that won't eventually rot. "There are exceptions -- honey -- but as a rule, things like Twinkies that never go bad aren't food," Pollan says.
  5. It is not just what you eat but how you eat. "Always leave the table a little hungry," Pollan says. "Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full. In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. Islamic culture has a similar rule, and in German culture they say, 'Tie off the sack before it's full.'"
  6. Families traditionally ate together, around a table and not a TV, at regular meal times. It's a good tradition. Enjoy meals with the people you love. "Remember when eating between meals felt wrong?" Pollan asks.
  7. Don't buy food where you buy your gasoline. In the U.S., 20% of food is eaten in the car.

Source: WedMD

I am not sure if the French can claim to have started the 5 a day rule - it seems to be fairly universal. As long as you eat a balanced diet including foods that contain protein (beans are an excellent choice here), carbs are also needed, then you should be alright. Eating your five a day is a great way to get vitamins, but what about that all-elusive vitamin B12? You state that you are vegetarian/vegan, so eggs, are they off the menu or not, if not then there is a good source of vitamin B12, and the same goes for cheese. Here is a great table for reference. Here is what the vegan society says about B12. And a bit more info about finding a vegan B12 here.

What about the vitamin D? Well, sunlight is a great start (avoid burning obviously), but if you don't get enough then try this great chart (too much to print here).

  • 5
    "As long as you eat a balanced diet ... then you should be alright." No. Simply doing this without paying close attention and not taking supplements will likely lead to deficiencies in at least some of B12, D, iron, calcium, zinc, etc. – Alex Hall Feb 24 '17 at 11:07
  • I have never used tables or charts and I'm a healthy vegan of 25 years. I would recommend running or other exercise, eating clean nutritious satisfying foods whenever your body is hungry, and taking a multivitamin and a B12 on occasion. I will take other vitamins as they seem useful, just like I'll try other vegan proteins and fruits and veggies when they sound interesting. You're off to a nutritious start eating vegan. I really don't see a need to obsess. @AlexHall have you tried a vegan diet? If so what went wrong? – moodboom May 30 '17 at 21:10
  • 1
    @moodboom I am vegan. Being vegan or non-vegan doesn't make one more or less qualified to make nutritional claims. I am simply against the claim "As long as you eat a balanced diet ... then you should be alright.". You take some supplements, so your experience doesn't contradict my comment. Furthermore, the plural of anecdote is not data. Someone with different preferences in food from you may eat lots of veggies like carrots and peas and consider their diet balanced, but not eat any dark leafy green veggies or take supplements and end up calcium deficient. – Alex Hall May 30 '17 at 21:24
  • @AlexHall yep, agreed. Didn't mean any offense, we've all seen our share of vegan naysayers and I was just checking out that possibility. Staying informed is important. But to continue the analytical discussion, because I can never resist... Someone who considers their unbalanced diet to be balanced is not eating a balanced diet. Also, an anecdote may be a proof. :-) – moodboom May 30 '17 at 21:30

Nature is revealing the best practice to eat correctly. Here are my observations:

  1. Women's body starting to cleanse right before pregnancy to create the ideal state for fetal development.
  2. When the body is clean the sensory organs can provide enough information to be able to decide what can be eaten and what to avoid.
  3. Eating right is starting by preparing the time and space for it. Drink clean water before, light a candle, bring calm and peace to the table and give time to others, then bless the food and anyone who contributed.
  4. Stay present, don't talk and do not let anyone or anything to distract your attention from the process of eating.
  5. Don't drink too much after, and don't do any drugs (sugar, caffeine, alcohol and nikotin included) to let the digestive system do its job.
  6. Avoid produced food and artificial compounds, eat local and make yourself or leave it to your loved ones.
  7. Stay conscious about the effect of food on your body (energy level, gastrointestinal disorders) and pay attention to the final product (stool and urine)
  8. Compare your observations to the recommendations by the Blood Type Diet and based on the Ayurveda Dosha and do your own research by trying out different eating habits until you find what really suits you.

These are my observations in nature and in archaic sacred societies, where people are connected with nature and live healthy.

Egészséget kívánok!

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.