4 Your Health

You’re not just saving animal lives when you go vegan, it can also be great for your own health!  But as with any eating pattern, a little planning goes a long way to help you get enough of all the essential nutrients and reap the health benefits of eating vegan. 

Here’s an easy way to plan your vegan eating pattern, devised by Accredited Practising Dietitian Dr Amanda Benham:

Plan your daily meals based on these six plant food groups:


This group includes oats, barley, rice, wheat, rye and other grains. Choose wholegrain forms where possible, such as brown/red/black rice and wholemeal bread and pasta, and if buying breakfast cereals, look for wholegrain varieties.


This group includes lentils, chick peas, kidney beans, black beans, cannellini beans and other dried or tinned beans, even baked beans. It also includes foods made from soy beans, such as tofu and tempeh.

Green Vegetables

Green is good! Go for a variety of greens, such as broccoli, spinach, kale, green beans, green peas, cabbage, cauliflower, bok choy. Fresh or frozen is best.

Other colourful vegetables

Eat a rainbow! Red, orange, yellow and purple vegetables all have beneficial properties. Think tomatoes, capsicum, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, corn, squash, beetroot and purple cabbage.

Calcium rich foods

Many plant-based milks have added calcium, so check the label and look for at least 120 mg calcium per 100 ml. Calcium-set tofu (with calcium salt 509 or 516) and kale, rocket and bok choy also provide calcium.


Another rainbow! Choose some brightly coloured fruits each day. Fresh or frozen is best, as dried, cooked or juiced fruit is not as nutritious.

The above foods can form the bulk of your meals, with other foods such as herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, avocado, mushrooms and other plant-based foods added for extra flavour and variety.

How much to eat?

If you’re wondering how much you should eat from each of these plant food groups, here’s a guideline:

Aim to eat at least two different foods from each of the plant food groups every day, with the following amounts suggested as minimums:

  • Most healthy active adults and adolescents:  At least 2 cups (500 ml) from each of the plant food groups every day.
  • Children aged 9-13 years*: At least 1.5 – 2 cups from each group every day
  • Children aged 4-8 years*: At least 1- 1.5 cups from each group every day
  • Children under 4 years of age and pregnant and lactating women: It is recommended that you seek advice from a plant-based dietitian qualified in paediatric nutrition during these times of high nutrient needs, as your regular health practitioner may not be qualified to advise you at this time. Seeing a plant-based dietitian is also recommended if you suffer from chronic diseases, gut issues or have trouble maintaining a healthy weight.

*Note: Growing bodies need additional fat, so include some nut butters, tahini and nuts/seeds (for older children) in children’s diets each day.  A full fat fortified soymilk is generally recommended.

Take care to get enough of these essential nutrients,
which often need attention in modern eating patterns:

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is not reliably found in plant foods unless it has been added during processing. It is strongly recommended that everyone on a plant-based diet regularly take a vitamin B12 supplement.   This is by far the safest, easiest and cheapest way to make sure you get enough of this essential nutrient, and it is important to start supplementing from the time a plant-based diet is adopted, rather than wait until blood levels are low.  For most adults, a daily dose of 100 mcg or a twice weekly dose of 1000 mcg of the cyanocobalamin form of vitamin B12 is adequate, and doses for children are lower in proportion to their weight.  It is recommended to obtain vitamin B12 from a single-nutrient supplement rather than rely on mixed-nutrient supplements (such as multivitamins) as some other nutrients in supplements can inactivate vitamin B12.

Vitamin D

This is the “sunshine vitamin” which our bodies can produce from the action of sunlight on our skin.  How much sun exposure is needed depends on what latitude you live in, what your natural skin tone is, how much skin is exposed, the time of year and the UV index.  In Australia, some people may need to take a vitamin D supplement, especially if living in more southerly locations or having limited exposure to sun or having a darker skin colour.  A daily multivitamin with 400 IU of vitamin D may be adequate, but higher doses are needed if you are already deficient.


Omega 3 fats are essential for health and the richest plant food sources are flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts.  Having about a tablespoon or two per day of ground flaxseeds or chia seeds, or a handful of walnuts will provide the recommended intake of the omega-3 called ALA.  This needs to be converted by our bodies into the omega-3s called DHA, which some people obtain directly by eating fish.  However, fish don’t actually make DHA – they obtain it from eating algae or from other fish who ate algae.  Algal-derived DHA supplements are available and often recommended during pregnancy and lactation and for young children as this nutrient has a role in brain development.


On typical “western-style” eating patterns, people have traditionally obtained a large proportion of their calcium from dairy products, but that doesn’t mean that we actually need to consume them.  An easy way to boost your calcium intake on a vegan diet is to choose a plant milk that has added calcium – look for one with at least 120 mg of calcium per 100 ml – and use this to make drinks, on cereals, and in cooking.  Another food rich in calcium is tofu set with the calcium salts 509 or 516 (check label) and eating kale, rocket and Asian leafy greens will also add to your calcium intake.

Although calcium is often touted as the wonder nutrient for healthy bones, it’s not only adequate calcium but also vitamin D and regular weight-bearing exercise are essential for building and maintaining strong bones.


Iron is abundant in many plant foods but is best absorbed from meals containing vitamin C.  Aim to include a source of iron (e.g. breakfast cereal, soy product or legumes) with a source of iron (e.g. citrus, kiwi fruit, mango, pawpaw, berries, raw tomato, raw capsicum, raw leafy greens as part of your meal or squeeze lemon or lime juice on your meal) to maximise your iron status. Some women of reproductive age will struggle to absorb enough iron regardless of diet and may need to supplement.  See your doctor for a blood test if you are concerned you might be running low in iron.


As the iodine in soil in Australia is getting depleted, it’s getting harder for Australians to obtain enough iodine.  Using iodised salt is recommended, and you can also obtain enough iodine by taking a daily multivitamin tablet with 150 mcg iodine in it.

Focus on eating mostly whole plant foods, as shown in the six plant food groups above. Beware of eating too many “empty calories” from highly processed and “junk foods” that are high in refined oils, added sugars or refined grains, as these foods are poor sources of nutrients and displace more nutritious foods in your diet.   Remember, just because a food is vegan doesn’t necessarily mean it’s nutritious or good for your health!

Health benefits of eating vegan

Healthier Weight

In a long-term study of nearly 100,000 people on different diets (the “Adventist 2 study”) it was found that people consuming a vegan diet were the least likely to be overweight or obese. In fact, the vegans in this study were the only group with an average Body Mass Index in the healthy weight range. Studies where overweight people have been put on a low fat or wholefood vegan diet have found that people can lose weight while still eating until full and not counting calories when on this type of eating pattern.

Lower blood pressure

In the Advenstist 2 study, the people on a vegan diet were the least likely to experience high blood pressure, and several studies have found that people avoiding meat generally have lower blood pressure, and that changing to a plant-based diet can help in the treatment of high blood pressure.

Lower cholesterol

Only animal products contain cholesterol and most plant foods (other than coconut and palm oil) are low in saturated fats, so it is not surprising that people on a vegan diet tend to have lower cholesterol levels, and that switching to a vegan diet low in saturated fat can help reduce high cholesterol, which can reduce atherosclerosis (narrowing and blockage of arteries), the usual cause of heart attacks and stroke.

Lower risk of cardiovascular disease

Where diets rich in animal products and highly processed foods have been found to increase the likelihood of having a heart attack, stroke or other vascular disease, a vegan diet rich in whole plant foods can reduce the risk of these health problems.

Lower risk of diabetes

People on a vegan diet have been found to be much less likely to have adult-onset diabetes,  and eating a healthy vegan diet can be helpful not only in prevention but also in the treatment of diabetes.   The Canadian Diabetes Association has endorsed the use of a plant-based diet as effective for the management of Type 2 diabetes.

Better  gut health

Only plant foods contain fibre, and the higher fibre content of a vegan diet can be beneficial to gut health by reducing the likelihood of constipation, diverticulitis and hemorrhoids, as well as of bowel cancer.  A vegan diet has been found to increase the amount of beneficial microbes in our gut and create a more stable and diverse profile of gut bacteria, which can have multiple health benefits.

Still Not Convinced?

Keen to learn more? Learn about going Vegan 4 Animals

Vegan 4 Animals