Vegans need plenty of grains, fruits and vegetables each day.
A vegan diet is one that eliminates all animal products, including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, eggs and honey. This type of diet can enhance your health, help prevent disease and fulfill all of your nutritional requirements, as long as it is designed to provide you with the essential vitamins and minerals you need, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Carbohydrates from grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds are the basis for a healthy vegan diet. When you're following a vegan lifestyle, you should be careful to include enough of these foods in your diet daily, advises the Boston Vegan Association. Before you begin eating vegan, talk to your doctor or a dietitian about any special nutritional considerations you may require.
Recommended Carbohydrate Intake
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends that, on average, a healthy adult should get about 45 to 65 percent of daily calories from carbohydrates. This means that if you're following a 2,000-calorie diet, you'll need 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates daily, though the exact amount depends on your age, gender and activity level. While this is the base carbohydrate intake advised, the typical vegan diet supplies far more per day. One study, conducted by George Washington University School of Medicine physician Neal Barnard, showed that vegans can receive as much as 75 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates.
There are four basic food groups in a balanced vegan diet: grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, which includes beans, nuts and seeds. All four of these categories are rich in carbohydrates. A vegan should aim to have four to six servings of grains daily, with the majority being whole grains, like one slice of whole-wheat bread or 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or quinoa. Vegans should have at least four servings of vegetables -- 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw is the serving size for most -- and two to three servings of fruit, such as one medium-sized apple, 1 cup of berries or sliced fruit and 1/4 cup of dried fruit. From the legume group, the Boston Vegan Association recommends four servings, like 1 cup of soy milk, 1/2 cup of cooked beans or 1 ounce of seeds or nuts.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine says it's common for people to assume that a diet featuring a high intake of carbohydrates -- like that recommended for a vegan diet -- leads to weight gain. However, PCRM asserts this isn't true. Since carbohydrates have fewer calories and less fat than foods such as meat, vegans who increase their intake of complex carbohydrates while cutting out meat are more likely to lose weight. Barnard's 2009 study, published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," showed that vegans getting 75 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates while on a low-fat diet had better cholesterol and blood sugar levels and a lower risk of heart disease than people on a low- or moderate-carbohydrate diet.
If you're just starting on a vegan diet, be careful not to eat too few carbohydrates. New vegans may be surprised to learn that they need to eat a larger volume of food when they eliminate meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products and eggs from their meals in order to maintain the same number of calories they habitually consumed on a traditional diet. You may not be getting enough calories from your vegan diet if you're regularly feeling fatigued, irritable, hungry, weak or have difficulty concentrating. Ask a physician or a nutritionist to help you determine if your vegan diet is both adequate and balanced.