Daily Recommended Intake (DRI)
Daily Recommended Intake (DRI)
The DRI is 1000 mg for most adults, slightly more for elderly people and teenagers. This mineral is important for bone health as well as muscle and nerve function. It’s important to note that an adequate intake of vitamin D (more on that below) is essential for proper calcium absorption. Soy products and plant-based milks are often fortified with calcium.
Foods that contain high amounts of calcium:
Vegetables: Rhubarb Stalks, Collard Greens, Spinach, Kale, Broccoli
Fruit: Navel Oranges
Legumes: Calcium Fortified Soy Milk, Calcium Set Tofu, White Beans
Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, Tahini
The DRI is 8 mg for males and 18 mg for females in their reproductive years due to the monthly blood (and iron) loss. Iron is necessary for oxygen transport throughout the body, the immune system, and DNA synthesis. Our bodies can store iron and increase absorption when the stores get low. Non-home iron (from plant sources) isn’t absorbed as well as home iron (from animal products), though it is safer to consume and linked to a decreased risk of disease. We can enhance the iron absorption by adding vitamin C to iron sources and not consuming tea or coffee with or right after our meals.
Foods that contain high amounts of iron:
Vegetables: Spinach, Swiss Chard, Collard Greens
Fruit: Dried Figs
Legumes: Lentils, Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Green Peas
Nuts & Seeds: Tahini, Almonds
The DRI is 8 mg for females and 11 mg for males here. It’s an important mineral that plays a role in the structure of DNA and the immune system. The bioavailability can be diminished by inhibitors in nuts, grains, and legumes, so you might want to consume a little more than the DRI as a vegan.
Foods that contain high amounts of zinc:
Grains: Wheat Germ, Oatmeal, Brown Rice
Legumes: Tofu, Chickpeas, Lentils, Peanuts, Peas
Nuts & Seeds: Pumpkin Seeds, Cashews, Sunflower Seeds, Almonds
The DRI here is 150 mcg for adults, more when pregnant or lactating. Iodine is used in the production of thyroid hormones and important for our metabolism. It’s unclear yet whether or not vegans and vegetarians are really at risk for a deficiency here but better safe than sorry. Especially those who eat a high amount of raw cruciferous vegetables need to make sure they consume enough iodine, since these foods may block the thyroid’s absorption of this mineral.
Foods that contain high amounts of iodine:
Vegetables: Nori or Dulse Seaweed (content varies & possible contamination)
Ah, the holy nutrient! Let’s tackle the protein fear here really quick – for a more in-depth answer, find our article here. This essential macronutrient has important functions, such as maintaining muscle and bone mass, or supporting the immune system. The original source of all essential amino acids (the building blocks that protein consists of) come from the plant kingdom, and no specific combination of foods is needed to get a “complete protein”.
The average Western person eats way too much protein, as the DRI for adults is only 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight (which comes to around 50 grams per day for a person at a healthy weight). While vegans can get all of the protein they need from plants, lysine (one essential amino acid) is a little harder to come by but is found in many legumes.
It’s not hard to meet daily protein needs while eating a varied whole foods vegan diet since every unprocessed food contains at least some amount, but just to be sure, here’s a list of some high protein vegan foods:
Grains: Seitan, Amaranth, Quinoa, Whole Wheat Spaghetti
Legumes: Tempeh, Peanuts, Tofu, Soy Milk, Lentils, Beans
Nuts & Seeds: Pumpkin Seeds, Almonds
Fish-free omega 3? Yes, that’s possible. The essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) originally comes from plants and is converted to omega-3 in our bodies. These conversion rates may improve when omega-6 consumption is lower (reducing your intake of most oils and some nuts/seeds), so choose certain fat sources over others.
Omega-3 fatty acids are linked to heart health, brain development, and other benefits, so I definitely don’t want to miss out here! Newer research suggests that some people, especially the elderly, aren’t so good at converting ALA to the long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA and should, therefore, take an algae-based supplement. 200-300 mg DHA every 2-3 days is a good guideline. The DRI for ALA is 1.1 g for females and 1.6 g for males.
Foods that contain high amounts of ALA:
Nuts & Seeds: Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Walnuts
This vitamin is rather a hormone produced in the kidneys and promotes calcium absorption as well as bone growth, immune health, and muscle function. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, like fatty fish or egg yolks. Luckily, we produce it after sunlight exposure – which is why everyone, vegan or not, should supplement during the colder and darker months of the year.
You will also find that many foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as plant-based milk, orange juice, or cereals. There are also some mushrooms which were exposed to light that can provide you with this nutrient (it will say so on the package). The most reliable source, however, is taking a vitamin D supplement. The DRI is 15 mcg or 600 International Units for adults.
Good sources of Vitamin D:
Sun exposure for 10-15 minutes (white skin color) or 15-20 minutes (dark skin color) on a day when sunburn is possible
Vitamin D2 or Vegan Vitamin D3 Supplement
Alright, so this is the only essential nutrient that is not made by plants, I’ll give you that. But the thing is, it’s not really made by animals, either! Vitamin B12 is created by bacteria and fungi that would naturally occur on our food and in our drinking water – but through sterilization practices and cleanliness standards in food production, it is being removed (along with all the “bad guys”).
The reason why we can get B12 from animal-based foods is that their feed or water is either contaminated with these bacteria, they are being supplemented, or they eat their own poop. Yes, B12 can be made by the gut and excreted. Over one-third of the general population is low in this essential nutrient and should take a supplement – vegan or not.
Everyone over the age of 50 should supplement. Vitamin B12 has many important functions, such as red blood cell formation, central nervous system maintenance, and a few more. There are no reliable, unfortified plant sources of vitamin B12 (including fermented products, sea vegetables, or organic produce) – though our B12 stores can last up to a few years, the consequences of deficiencies aren’t funny and supplementation is cheap, easy, and safe.
Despite the low DRI of 2.4 mcg, it’s good to take a larger dose of B12 since only a fraction is absorbed and it’s impossible to overdose on a water-soluble vitamin. The preferred form of B12 is cyanocobalamin and the recommendations for a daily dose is 250 mcg, a weekly dose is 2500 mcg (depending on how often you want to take a supplement).
Good Sources of Vitamin B12:
Daily Dose of 250 mcg Cyanocobalamin
Weekly Dose of 2500 mcg Cyanocobalamin
Fortified Plant Milks or Nutritional Yeast, though direct supplementation is a more reliable source