How to Get the Proper Nutrients on a Vegan Diet

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A vegan diet eliminates meat, fish, poultry, and other animal by-products like eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, cosmetics, and anything else derived from animal products. (via The Vegetarian Resource Group) Whether you've gone vegan for your health or for environmental and ethical reasons, it is not always easy to meet your nutritional needs although it is certainly possible. A vegan diet can help lower the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. There other ways to get important nutrients like protein and calcium besides milk and chicken, you just need the proper resources. Here are some tips for getting everything you need to fuel your vegan journey and never find yourself lacking any of the right nutrients.

Use the Vegan Food Pyramid as a guide. Just like the food pyramid you grew up with, this version shows you what foods to eat and how much — just vegan style. It's a great place to start when you're trying to get everything that your body needs, but don't get caught up on following it obsessively. The recommended servings are just that: recommended. Learn what's best for your body and use the Vegan Food Pyramid to make sure you aren't totally omitting entire food groups and bringing your progress to a screeching halt.

>> Read more: Is Veganism Safe for Kids?

Avoid convenience foods. Frozen vegan burritos might seem like the quick fix for a vegan dinner, but as is true in many cases, the good ol' fashioned homemade vegan burrito is probably going to be far more satisfying than anything you can get out of the freezer section at the grocery store. In addition, prepackaged foods can have additives and preservatives that take away from the health benefits. For example, vegan margarine isn't necessarily better for you than regular butter just because it's vegan. Think whole foods and nutritious foods.

>> Try this recipe: Vegan Cauliflower Tots

Focus on variety. Okay, so you've shunned the frozen foods section. Now it's time to get creative and try the craziest vegetable on the shelf in the produce section. The more colorful your diet, the more vitamins and nutrients your body gets. So try it all and don't stick to the vegan staples. Tofu, beans, rice and soy can get old fast. Check out The Vegan Connection for some recipes that will tickle your fancy for vegan.

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Take time to plan. A vegan diet doesn't have to be limiting. Just think about a healthy diet, regardless of what it includes, and then find substitutions to make it vegan. This can take time and you might have to sit down every now and then to do a little research and make a game plan. After a while, shopping and cooking vegan will become second nature. Until then, make sure you're hitting all those food groups and vital nutrients.

Cook your veggies. An all-raw diet of veggies and fruit might be super easy and maybe you think that's the only way, but cooking your vegetables helps break down tough fibers, strip away bitterness and stir up some nutrients. According to Happy Cow, you shouldn't allow uncooked food to make up more than one third of your calories. So breathe a sigh of relief. You don't have to munch raw carrots all day, every day. You're welcome.

In general, eating healthy takes work and the same applies for living vegan. You can take the easy road and live on Pop-Tarts and Teddy Grahams, but that won't get you anywhere. Everyone has to maintain a balanced diet to get all the nutrients they need. As a vegan, you might just have to get a little more creative. But that's the fun part!

>> Read more: How to Pack a Good School Lunch