A vegan diet is a type of vegetarian diet that avoids all foods of animal origin and is comprised of plant-based foods instead, such as vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and fruit.
According to the American Dietetic Association, a well-planned vegan diet can be healthy, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.
A well-planned vegan diet that includes plenty of legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds and whole grains should provide enough protein as well as iron and zinc. Calcium sources for vegans include calcium-fortified soy products, green leafy vegetables and dried figs.
However, vegans risk a deficiency of vitamin B12 as significant amounts are only found in animal foods. Although your body only requires small amounts of vitamin B12, a deficiency can have serious effects such as memory loss and hallucinations. But vegans can get sufficient B12 by including foods fortified with B12 in their diet or by taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Vegans also risk being low in omega-3 fats found predominantly in fish. However, there are plant sources of omega-3 fats (eg linseed, walnuts, canola oil, omega-3-enriched foods and some leafy greens) as well as supplements based on plant-derived omega-3 fats.
You should check with your doctor or accredited practising dietitian before changing or starting an eating plan such as a vegan diet.
The Dietitians Association of Australia
American Dietetic Association (ADA). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Jul 2009; 109(7): 1266–1282.
Better Health Channel. Vegetarian eating. [online] Melbourne, VIC: State Government of Victoria. c1999-2010 [updated May 2010, accessed 2 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au
Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). Vegetarian diets. [online] Deakin, ACT: DAA. [updated 27 Aug 2008, accessed 2 Aug 2010] Available from: http://www.daa.asn.au/for_the_public/smart_eating_for_you/nutrition-a-z/vegetarian-diets/
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Last published 31 October 2010