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Q: How do I determine how many calories I really need?

A: Actually, you shouldn’t have to think about it, because your digestive tract does the counting for you. It has a complex set of nerves designed to give you a gnawing feeling in your stomach and scream, “Feed me!” when you need more food. These nerves signal you again when you’re full. Just as your lungs know when to breathe, your digestive tract knows when you need to eat. For the most part, the system works pretty well, which is why people eat nearly the same amount of calories each day, without counting. On average, American women consume roughly 2,000 calories each day, men about 2,500, although these numbers vary from person to person, depending on body size and activity.

Unfortunately, certain foods defeat this system. Chocolate, for example. We don’t eat chocolate because we are hungry; we eat it because we love the taste. It also triggers a release of opiates within the brain, causing a slight feel-good sensation. So even if you are completely stuffed after a wonderful dinner, you may still want a piece of chocolate. Ditto for sugar, cheese, and meat. They have very mild opiate effects, causing them to tempt us for reasons other than hunger, often leading us to overdo it.

Q: Should I cut calories if I am trying to lose weight?

A: To lose weight, you do have to eat fewer calories than you burn, but you don’t have to do it through willpower. If you change the type of food you eat, it happens more or less automatically. Here are three tricks you should know: First, bring on the high-fiber foods. Fiber holds water and tends to fill you up, tricking your stomach into thinking you’ve eaten more than you actually have. The fiber champions are beans, followed by vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

Second, keep fats, including oils, to a bare minimum. Fats pack 9 calories into every gram (compared with only 4 calories for a gram of carbohydrate or protein). Steer clear of fatty foods, and you’ll tend to eat fewer calories.

Third, avoid sugar. Although it has nowhere near the calories that fats have, sugar is the “stealth” nutrient. It hides in all manner of foods and drinks—such as the 150 calories worth of sugar lurking in a typical can of soda.

Q: Do my caloric needs change if I am more or less active?

A: Yes, but less than you’d think. Your brain, muscles, heart, liver, kidneys, and every other part of you are busily burning calories when you’re completely still—even while you sleep. These basic functions account for 60 to 75 percent of all the calories you burn. You burn another 10 percent of your calories in the process of digesting foods. Routine physical activity accounts for only 15 to 30 percent of our daily calorie burn. So if you suddenly were flat on your back with a broken leg, your calorie needs would fall only slightly. And if you lace up your sneakers for a race, you do not need a lot of extra calories.

Skeptical? Go to the nearest gym, jump on a treadmill, and run flat out for a mile. Then push the little button that tells you how many calories you’ve burned. It turns out to be only about 100. Caloric intake for serious athletes is another matter. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps works out five hours a day, six days a week. To keep up with his intense workout, he takes in thousands more calories each day than you or I would ever need.

Q: Does it matter when during the day I get my calories?

A: Yes, it does. People who skip breakfast and pack their calories into the later part of the day tend to weigh more than people who eat earlier in the day. Whether the issue is some sort of hormonal effect of late-night eating, or because late-night food choices tend to be especially fattening is not yet clear.

Q: Is my body’s metabolic rate genetic? Is there anything I can do to rev it up?

A: It is genetic, to a large extent. But, yes, you can rev it up, to a degree. First of all, the after-meal calorie burn that comes as you digest foods can be increased by a low-fat plant-based diet. The reason, apparently, is that such a diet causes the body to be more sensitive to insulin, which pushes nutrients into the cells where they can be burned. So, more of the calories you eat will be liberated as body heat, rather than stored as fat. Second, exercise. People who exercise vigorously tend to burn calories faster, not just while they are exercising, but afterward too, as their bodies repair stressed tissues.

Vegans are stereotypically skinny. But according to Neal Barnard, MD and his research team, it may not be because their diets are nutritionally skimpy. Vegan bodies may just learn to burn calories faster.

Dr. Barnard, who’s the founding president of the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) and a professor at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences, noticed that in one of his studies, after transitioning a group of individuals with chronic weight problems onto an entirely plant-based diet that was low in added vegetable oils, their metabolic rates (or how fast their body turned fuel into energy) seriously soared.

“We found that not only did their calorie-burning speed jump up after a meal—but that extra burn was significantly higher than it had been when the study started,” Dr. Barnard writes in his book, The 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart.

To find out why this had happened, Dr. Barnard peeked inside some muscle cells and came up with this theory: Insulin escorts sugar and protein from your bloodstream into your cells, where calorie-burning mitochondria metabolize (or burn) fat.

“We found that not only did their calorie-burning speed jump up after a meal—but that extra burn was significantly higher than it had been when the study started.”

But in people with high-fat, meaty diets, tiny fat droplets crowd the cell and inhibit the insulin’s ability to shoot the nutrients in. It’s like a highway during rush hour: the commuters are fat droplets, and you, the insulin, are just trying to get your car moving down the freeway so that you can get to work.

What does this have to do with burning calories?

“You want to get sugar out of your blood and into your cells,” says Susan Levin, MS, RD, the director of nutrition education at PCRM. “The less fat there is, the faster this process happens.”

If the sugar can’t get into the cells, your body can’t convert it into energy fast enough, and it starts storing it. This is what happens if a cheeseburger is your go-to snack.

Vegans eat mostly plants, grains, and legumes, which are just generally way lower in fat than animal products. So, their cells are clear of metabolism-slowing fat globules. A vegan’s mitochondria burn fat at the speed of the Acela train.

So is it worth changing your diet (rather than your personal trainer)? It will certainly be less painful than upping your burpee reps. “You could pretty comfortably assume that if you change from a high-fat diet to a low-fat diet full of plant-based whole-foods, right away your cells are going to be able to function better,” says Levin.

And high-functioning cells equal a humming metabolism; your cells will be burning broccoli at lightning speeds.

If you’re vegan and have already worked your way through these 10 popular cookbooks, here are three mindblowing plant-based dishes from the trainer who inspired Beyonce to go vegan.

Originally posted March 1, 2012. Updated January 18, 2016.

To get the nutritional benefits of cashews, almonds, and walnuts— such as vitamin E, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids—without going overboard, Lipman suggests sprinkling them on salads. That will limit how many you eat, since you aren’t likely to excuse yourself from the table to pour on more. You can also count out 20 nuts and hide the rest of the container. Gullo sequesters his beloved cashews behind a steam pipe on the landing of his building (next to his neighbor’s emergency pack of cigarettes) to avoid temptation. Registered dietitian Lauren Slayton, the author of The Little Book of Thin (Perigee), arms her clients with an Altoids-size nut case to prevent them from “overnutting,” as she calls it.

Green Juice

Juicing used to mean a bodybuilder on ‘roids. Now it more commonly refers to a woman with a Breville. Here’s the problem: In order to make healthy vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard palatable, dieters blend in a lot of sugary fruit. “There are six teaspoons of sugar in the average green juice, which is almost as much sugar as there is in a can of soda,” says Slayton. And those trendy juice fasts that dictate you consume nothing solid for days? “You miss out on protein and other essential nutrients and get too much sugar. Finally, you dump the fast and put the weight back on,” says Janis Jibrin, a nutritionist in Washington, D.C., and the author of The Pescetarian Plan (Ballantine Books).

Dried Fruit

Dehydrated fruit may be even worse than liquefied fruit. “I gained five pounds in three months after I started snacking on dried apricots,” says Jessica Bailey, 35, a director of Connecticut’s clean-energy financing authority. “I figured it’s fruit—how bad can it be?” Well, pretty bad. Dried fruit naturally contains a lot of sugar and calories (a half cup of dried apricots has about 25 grams of sugar and 107 calories), and manufacturers often add sugar to tart fruits like cranberries and cherries. “It’s basically just like eating candy,” says Gullo. Choose fresh fruit instead, but limit especially sugary ones, like bananas, grapes, and mangoes.

Coconut Water

The refreshing juice of young coconuts is another superfood with weight-gain potential. Dubbed “nature’s Gatorade” by athletes, it contains electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, which can aid in exercise recovery. But a small carton has 45 calories—low by sports-drink standards but not insignificant—and some brands add sugar or fruit puree. What’s more, you don’t need extra electrolytes unless you are running for more than an hour, says David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise science at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. “Drink plain water,” he says.

Agave

Since natural-food eaters are generally horrified by the idea of artificial sweeteners, many choose to flavor their food and drinks with agave. Bad move. Made from the key ingredient in tequila, the syrupy sweetener has more calories than sugar—20 per teaspoon to sugar’s 15—although it’s a bit sweeter, so you use less. While it doesn’t make blood sugar spike as dramatically as table sugar (which explains its spot on the bottom half of the glycemic index), agave can sabotage in other ways. It’s primarily fructose, and research has shown that too much of that raises the level of triglycerides linked to diabetes and heart disease. “Use Truvia instead, which has zero calories,” says Gullo.

Gluten-Free Snacks

Going gluten-free is what you do when you have celiac disease or, like millions of Americans, you are sensitive to the wheat protein found in baked goods, pasta, and soy sauce. Many people also avoid gluten in an effort to lose weight, which was a reasonable strategy until food companies rolled out cookies, crackers, cereals, and pizzas that are free of gluten yet high in sugar and fat. “When I first went gluten-free, I ate only whole foods, nothing processed, and lost weight,” says Roxanne Ierino, 28, a publicist. “Then I started eating gluten-free baked goods and haven’t lost a pound since.” Lipman advises reading the nutritional information on packaging to make sure portions don’t exceed 4 grams of sugar.

What Are Healthy Sources Of Fat For Vegans?

For a well-functioning body, it is important that we eat a balanced diet of healthy fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates. When it comes to a vegan diet, there are a number of nutrient dense foods that are removed from the diet such as fish, grass fed meat, eggs and fermented diary such as kefir. That being said, you can still obtain all the important macronutrients, minerals and vitamins needed from consuming a plant based diet and knowing the best sources is important. Healthy fats are not only packed with energy and nutrients, they are important for satiety, hormone production, brain function, healthy skin and more loads more. They are also a great source of plant based protein making them a key source of nourishment for vegans.

Nuts – such as cashews, almonds and walnuts

Nuts are one of the healthiest foods let alone healthiest sources of fats. They are particularly beneficial for vegans as they are a source of protein, with ¼ cup providing approximately 5g protein. They also contain fibre, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer, reduces cholesterol, keeps your microbes happy and bowels flowing. Another way to enjoy the beautiful benefits of nuts is in the form of nut butters. These are great spread on sliced fruit, veggies or used in dressings for a creamier texture. Just make sure you look out for no added sugar, artificial flavours, hydrogenated oils and minimal added salt.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are originally from Mexico, consumed by the Aztec warriors to give them high energy and endurance. A 2 tablespoons serving of chia seeds provides you with approx. 8.5g fat, mostly in the form of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. This is particularly important as there are few sources of omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish being a key one so for vegans who don’t consume fish, chia is an important source. Furthermore, omega-3 fats are an essential fatty acid which means we need to obtain them through our diet as our body is unable to manufacture it itself. Omega- 3 fats are also important for the absorption of fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K. The same serving size will also provide 4.5g protein and a whopping 10.5g fibre! When consumed the chia seeds create a gelatin-like substance in the stomach due to its high soluble fibre content. Not only does this keep you feeling full and suppresses appetite, but it acts as a prebiotic. Chia are also a wonderful non-dairy source of calcium as well as potassium and magnesium.

Coconut

Coconut is a high source of saturated fat in the form of medium-chain triglyceride, which function differently to the long-chain fatty acids found in animal products. Medium-chain triglycerides are sent directly to the liver ready to be used as energy rather than be stored. In addition to their metabolism-boosting properties, medium-chain triglycerides may curb hunger more effectively than other forms of fat, leading to more appetite satiety and thus consuming fewer calories later. Coconut fat also contains anti-microbial properties thanks to the capric and lauric fatty acids, supporting the immune system. Enjoy these benefits in a number of forms such as shredded, ground to a flour, oil, milk and yoghurt keeping the dietary options interesting.

Avocado

Aside from being absolutely delicious, avocado has an impressive nutrient profile. They are 80% fat, in the form of heart healthy monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid, which is also the main fat in olive oil. Oleic acid is not only anti-inflammatory but it lowers LDL cholesterol and increases the healthy HDL cholesterol, reducing your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease. Avo is also a great source of vitamin K, important for bone health, folate particularly important for pregnant women and vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant and boosts immune health. Avocados also boast twice the potassium of banana!

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a key part of the Mediterranean diet, which is regarded by many as the healthiest way of eating. Thousands of research studies have been done on the Mediterranean diet, many of which associate it with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. Aside from the same benefits of avocado, due to the mono-unsaturated fats, olive oil is a rich source of phenols, which are potent antioxidants. Antioxidants scavenge free radicals in the body, lowering inflammation. Chronic inflammation is believed to be among the leading drivers of chronic diseases.

Adding these forms of fats to your diet daily is an easy task. Simply throw some nuts or avocado onto your salads, chia seeds are great in smoothies giving them a thick shake consistency, olive oil drizzled on veggies ensures you absorb all their fat soluble nutrients and coconut oil is great for baking and high heat cooking.

Where you can, combining two or more of these fats in the one meal means even greater nutritional benefits. That’s why Tinkernick snack bars are a wonderful option, containing coconut, chia and nuts jam-packed in a perfect pocket sized bar. Perfect for vegans and anyone looking for a delicious, all natural on the go snack.

You can find tinkernicks on our GoodnessMe Box Shop

Image: jessbicknellphotographer

What a glorious day it is when you are sent out in search of something fatty to eat! Granted, we’re talking about the healthy stuff, all those mono-saturated and omega-3 rich sources, the middle chain triglycerides — the fatty fats that actually do the body good.

A quick lesson before we get into it: All fats are not created equal. Unfortunately, most of the fats in the modern diet live in the lower, unhealthy spectrum of totem pole. Saturated fats and trans fats are the problem children, causing heart clogging, disease, and those dreaded cholesterol spikes. These naughty fats are found in things like dairy, beef, and bacon, as well as in packaged treats and fast food.

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On the other hand, there should be a spoonful of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which actually are instrumental in controlling weight, lowering cholesterol, and even keeping us in a good mood. These good fats are found in a plethora of delicious treats — things we all enjoy but may have been foolishly avoiding because the age-old horse-phooey about a low-fat diet being healthy.

Here are five-plus super sleek choices for eating fatty the vegan way (that is to say knowledgeably and healthfully):

1. Seeds

Seeds are absolutely delicious accouterments to all sorts of stuff — salads, sweets, and breads — or just nice by the handful. Saviseeds are actually the highest source of omega-3 on the planet. That’s right — fatty fish, step aside. Also, following closely behind on the omega-3 bandwagon are super food celebrities like hemp and chia seeds. Even sunflower seeds, a good provider of monounsaturated fats, are on the list of fatty foods we should be eating.

Omega fats are a bit of a byword these days. The skinny on them is that we should try to have a balanced amount of omega-3 and omega-6, but that balance is horribly askew. What should be one-to-one is actually closer to one-to-fifteen, respectively, in the average person. In other words, the word omega doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat more.

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2. Nuts

Nuts are probably the best thing going for straight up snacking. They are filling, unlike potato chips, and they are healthy, unlike potato chips. Nuts are a great source of vegan protein, but just as relevant, they are a plant-based gold mine in monounsaturated fats, thereby reducing the risk of heat disease. The top nutty providers of the good stuff are walnuts, almonds, and Brazil nuts.

In recent days, nuts are undergoing a fantastic reputation makeover. For too long have they been viewed as unworthy of our consumption, when, in fact, nuts are very healthy.

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3. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is fantastic to cook with because not only does it have a distinctively delicious flavor, but it also handles whatever temperatures are thrown its way. The stuff can get hot and just keep on going. As for fats, it once was degraded for having high levels, but scientists have recently discovered that coconut oil is a great source of medium chain triglycerides, which turn to fuel in the liver and forgo stomach storage, unlike butter or — eww —lard.

Coconut oil has a unique combination of fats that has been found to be wildly nutritious. Check out this article, “10 Amazing Health Benefits of Coconut Oil,” for additional information.

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4. Avocados

I had the privilege of working on an avocado farm for two years, and rarely do I tell someone that without an envious sigh of awe following. Avocados are simply delicious in whatever form they come: guacamole, the half shell, or even chocolate mousse. Yes, they’re fatty, but luckily for us avocado lovers, we can fall back on the old “good fat” argument. Avocados are packing monounsaturated, a healthy trait.

Don’t settle for just guacamole. Avocados are extremely versatile and can be used for salty sides as well as creamy desserts.

5. Cacao Nibs

The good news is out, and don’t ignore it: chocolate, when done right, is a health food. But not to deceive, cacao nibs are not the sugary, milk-laden candy bars separating check-out lines, but they are chocolate. Dark delicious chocolate, packed with anti-oxidants and, what’s that, good monounsaturated fat. That’s right, chocolate fights cancer and helps with cholesterol. It’s a great source of the fats and nutrients we need, but we just need to stop ruining it with our additions.

Check out this infographic on the benefits of raw cacao. It may just do more good than you realize.

As you can see, there are many delicious and nutritious plant-based clean fat options available for all of us!

Image source: David Monniaux / Wikimedia Commons

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Vegans: Don’t Forget the Fats

Many people new to veganism, especially in Western countries, overlook the nuances that come with this healthy diet. Perhaps they decide to become vegan after discovering yoga but don’t fully understand how to live out their new eating plan. For example, they might reject almost all fats, including unsaturated varieties. They’re unaware of or ignore the potential benefits of incorporating these important nutrients in their diet.

A Famous Example of a Vegan Bashing Fat

Once overweight and struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle, former U.S. President Bill Clinton continues to keep the pounds off years after first adopting a vegan eating plan. Clinton traces his conversion to February 2010, when a surgeon placed stents in his heart during emergency surgery. As he touted his new eating habits in the following months, he said during an interview on CNN that he had virtually abandoned oil.

This statement is not surprising. The former president wanted to drop weight and reverse damage done to his heart. In such an overzealous state, he went too far in dismissing unsaturated fats that play a crucial role in the body’s digestion system. However, it seems Clinton has seen the error of his ways. In a recent AARP article, the reporter described the president as enjoying a vegan feast that included vegetables tossed in extra-virgin olive oil.

Good Fat Versus Bad Fat

In the landscape of fats, it can be challenging to distinguish the good from the bad. In general, saturated fats, most of which come from meat and dairy products, raise the amount of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in your blood. According to the American Heart Association, the sustained consumption of saturated fats makes it more likely you’ll suffer from a stroke or heart disease. Blood type and disease risk should also be considered. By choosing to be vegan, you’re automatically reducing your saturated fat intake.

It’s worth noting that some plant-based foods, such as coconuts, palm oil and cocoa butter, do contain saturated fat. Because there are so many tasty and healthy foods rich in unsaturated fat, it’s best to avoid eating these few plants that are high in saturated fat. However, if you’re impressed with the potential benefits of coconut oil, make sure it comprises 30 percent or less of the fat you eat. That’s the widely accepted dietary limit for saturated fat, regardless of the source.

A variety of plants also contain monounsaturated fat, which is good for your health. Monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol and thus lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Almonds, Brazil nuts and walnuts, for instance, have this kind of fat. Another food to try is tahini, a product made from sesame seeds. Don’t overlook avocados, olive oil and soybeans, all of which have the kind of beneficial fat you want to incorporate into your nutrition plan.

Beyond Monounsaturated Fat

While some foods stand out as monounsaturated rock stars, others make their mark for having a high amount of polyunsaturated fat. This nutrient comes in two varieties: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Food containing abundant amounts of these nutrients include flaxseed, chia seeds and green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli. Walnuts pull double duty because they’re rich in both mono- and polyunsaturated fats. The polyunsaturated fats can also lower your bad cholesterol and bring down your likelihood of developing heart disease, but they also provide essential nutrients that build and maintain your body’s cells, including omega fatty acids. One reason it’s so critical to eat foods containing these fatty acids is because the human body can’t produce them on its own.

It’s important to know there are three kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, all of which help the body stay healthy: eicosapentaenoic (EPA), alpha-linolenic (ALA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA). Based on a typical vegan diet, you’re likely to get ample amounts of ALA. The other two fatty acids come primarily through certain meats and seafood.

Because the body takes ALA and turns it into the other two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, vegans don’t usually need to worry about not getting DHA and EPA through food. However, if you’re concerned and want to make sure you have adequate amounts of these two compounds, find a supplement containing marine algae. This is one of the few ways to get plant-based DHA and EPA.

Understanding Cholesterol

Though the media has vilified cholesterol, it’s essential to your body’s ability to function properly. It helps build cell membranes, insulates nerves and contributes to hormone production. Your body relies on the liver to turn fat into cholesterol, which travels around the body through your blood.

Cholesterol comes in two forms. One protects the body, and the other has the potential to damage it. Problems arise when there’s too much harmful cholesterol in your bloodstream, putting you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. So, this is the heart of the matter: The dangerous cholesterol comes from saturated fat, and the good cholesterol comes from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.

Healing and Health from Good Fat

Plant-based fats not only enhance the taste of your food, but they also help make your body healthier. Take a look at omega-3 fatty acids €” they contribute to the normal functioning of the nervous system, eye health and healthy brain development.

Some doctors and nutrition experts suspect these fatty acids might lower your chances of developing blood pressure problems, certain cancers, arthritis and artery blockage. These potential benefits might be connected to fatty acids’ ability to help cells rid themselves of waste. Capture these benefits from omega-3 fatty acids through seed oils that come from plants such as chia, flax and hemp.

Another major benefit of healthy fat is its anti-inflammatory properties. Fats are excellent at fighting muscle soreness and the hardening of arteries. In addition, they enhance your memory by supporting neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine. Some researchers say they even play a role in fending off Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

All fat, including saturated, increases serotonin levels. This neurotransmitter guards against depression, enhances sleep and relieves anxiety. So, eating plant-based fats means you get all these benefits without the added risk of raising your cholesterol levels.

In addition to providing direct health benefits, good fat enables your body to absorb certain nutrients. Vitamins such as A, D and E play a role in making your immune system work, creating hormones and maintaining healthy skin. These vitamins are fat-soluble, meaning your body won’t absorb them without fat being present.

How Can You Access the Benefits of Healthy Fat Within Your Vegan Diet?

  1. Eat plants with fat-soluble vitamins and a healthy fat. One easy way to do this is to use olive oil to prepare carrots, winter squash and mushrooms
  2. Grab a handful of almonds or another nut that’s rich in unsaturated fat after your workout. You might find your muscles are a little less sore thanks to the fat’s ability to reduce inflammation
  3. Choose flaxseeds over flaxseed oil. Both offer healthy fat, but the seeds come with the added benefit of fiber. Tip: Mash the seeds, so you get the oil as well as the fibrous exterior
  4. Lower high cholesterol by increasing polyunsaturated fat in your diet. This compound lowers all cholesterol, though both the damaging and protective kind
  5. Target harmful cholesterol levels with larger quantities of monounsaturated fat such as olive oil
  6. Keep rice and oat milk in your diet because they contain little saturated fat and are high in polyunsaturated fat
  7. Learn the added nutritional benefits that come from foods rich in healthy fat. For example, sesame seeds are high in calcium and iron, two nutrients that are sometimes elusive for vegans

For more ways to ensure you’re getting the ideal balance of nutrients in your vegan eating plan, check out the wide range of resources on Gaia. For questions or concerns about health and diet, please seek the help of a medical professional.

How many calories should a vegan eat

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