Are you one of the one percent of Americans are vegan? Learn how to get protein and nutrients while going vegan.

Going vegan

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Former President Bill Clinton has learned something about heart disease: a fatty animal-based diet can clog arteries, and in 2004 he had quadruple-heart bypass surgery. He began eating healthier, but then in 2010 he had another fatty blockage resulting in a stent. What he did after that stent is somewhat drastic - he moved to a vegan diet and lost another 25 pounds.

A vegan diet contains no animal products at all. So where would you get your protein?

  • Soy products such as tofu, tempeh and veggie burgers
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Legumes such as pinto, kidney, black and Great Northern beans
  • Quinoa

With a vegan diet, it’s especially important to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients. A few to keep an eye on:

  • Iron - nuts, beans, legumes, dried fruit, dark leafy greens and baked potatoes
  • Calcium - dark leafy greens, bok choy and calcium-fortified drinks like soy milk or orange juice
  • Omega-3 fatty acids - flax seed and walnuts
  • Vitamin B12 - fortified soy foods and nutritional yeast

Why join the 1 percent of Americans who are vegan? This eating approach may reduce your risk for heart disease and certain cancers (prostate and gastrointestinal).

And with the usual weight loss that comes with a vegan diet, many folks with Type 2 diabetes find improvement in insulin sensitivity. Not sold on going vegan? That’s OK. Even serving a few meatless meals each week is a great start toward healthier eating:

  • A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with veggie soup is a favorite lunch.
  • Grilled veggie burger on multi-grain bun with spinach leaves, tomato slices and roasted bell peppers.

And you will find some tasty recipes at


About the Author

Rita Smith is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She's been working in the field of nutrition and disease prevention for more than 35 years, and currently works at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Va. Each week, Rita provides nutrition counseling to clients who have a variety of disorders or diseases including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroparesis and weight management. For these clients, food choices can help them manage their health problems.