At a glance
• A Look At Being Vegan
Have members of your family, friend group, or even coworkers said they’ve transitioned to a vegan lifestyle? Maybe it seems even more people beyond your personal and professional circles have switched too. Well, you’re not wrong, as veganism’s popularity over the last couple of decades has seen a steady increase. Today, an estimated 79 million people practice veganism around the world. In fact, the term, “veganism,” has seen a similar uptick in popularity in the last 20 years, as it recently passed both “beef” and “meat” as a search term.
Multiple factors such as personal health, animal welfare, and even climate change have driven more people to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, and there’s evidence to prove it.
Plant-based foods have transcended into a booming business, and multiple metrics are used to measure the increase in popularity. According to Good Food Institute, plant-based food sales grew at a rate nearly 2.5X faster than total food sales from 2018 to 2020. What’s more, the industry saw an impressive 43% boost in plant-based food dollar sales in the past two years.
Veganism is on the rise — but participating in a strict plant-based diet is not as easy as it may appear, especially for meat eaters who seek to make the switch. And though a vegan diet shifts your focus to colorful and delicious plant-based options that are enjoyed by millions, the notion that maintaining this lifestyle — especially when it comes to getting enough essential nutrients each day — is anything but a breeze.
You see, it might be easy to eat vegan, but it is not easy to be vegan. Consuming yummy fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other plant-based goodies is the fun part. But making sure you nourish your body with essential fatty acids, as well as fueling your body’s the ability to build collagen, may present a challenge for new vegans.
That’s why we put together a guide on how vegans can utilize key plant-based nutritional sources to achieve what meat eaters via their daily diets. But instead of counting on meat, we’ll focus on the vegan way to build collagen, as well as getting enough fatty acids such as Omega 3, 6, and 9.
How Vegans Build Collagen
Collagen is the main structural protein of multiple connective tissues including your skin, bones, cartilage, and tendons. It is widely abundant in the body, and it accounts for 30% of your body’s total protein content. Plus, collagen is the primary building block for skin, muscles, bones, tends, ligaments, and other connective tissues. Collagen is also present in your blood vessels, organs, and even intestinal lining.
Your body has produced collagen your entire life. It utilizes the amino acids you get from eating protein-laden foods such as chicken, beef, fish, eggs, and dairy. Other nutrients such as Vitamin C, Zinc, Biotin, Silica, and Copper assist your body in the production of collagen. In fact, Vitamin C is a key simulator of collagen synthesis.
However, natural production of this important protein declines with age, which can contribute to wrinkled skin, stiff and less flexible tendons, and weakened muscles. Aging isn’t the only contributing factor to blame, as poor diet plays a role in why people don’t have enough collagen as well.
That is why many turn to alternative methods of supplementation such as dietary supplements, powders, and tablets.
There are multiple ways to supplement with collagen these days, especially through powders. And though the research on collagen supplements is still evolving due to new studies, many Americans turn to collagen powders for supplementation. However, these powders are made from animal protein, so Vegans who seek to maintain healthy body collagen and stimulate collagen production must seek alternative sources.
You’ve probably asked yourself, “why should meat-eaters be the only ones to enjoy the beauty benefits of healthy collagen?” Well, they aren’t — because Vegans can build collagen as well!
Here are some top non-animal-based nutrients that can help produce the collagen your body needs for healthy skin, joints, eyes, and more.
Amino Acids: Known as the building blocks of protein, Amino Acids are a key factor in collagen synthesis in your body. Amino Acids such as glycine, lysine, and proline all are used by your body to build sturdy and tough collagen fibers, which, in turn, help keep your connective tissue strong.
Silica: Studies have highlighted silica as a key mineral for healthy hair and nails. Research has shown that soft and brittle nails can indicate a systemic deficiency of silica. The findings also suggested high levels of silica content in hair resulted in lower rates of hair loss, and even yielded an increase in hair brightness.
The comparative absorption of silicon from different foods and food supplements published by the British Journal of Nutrition features a comprehensive table of plant-based foods that contain silica, including bread, flour, rice, fruits, vegetables, and nuts and seeds.
Vitamin C: We all know what Vitamin C can do when it comes to supporting a healthy immune system. However, this powerful antioxidant plays a role in protecting the tissue in your skin from the effects of cell-damaging free radicals. Furthermore, recent analyses suggest Vitamin C is a key simulator of collagen synthesis and may be a viable supplement to enhance soft tissue healing.
Tips To Get Essential Omega Fatty Acids
The word “fat” is stigmatized as an unhealthy ingredient featured in nutrition fact panels on the back of all your favorite foods. But not all fats are bad!
Granted, industrial-made trans-fats are considered unhealthy, but their healthy counterparts such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are considered good. Plus, the essential omega-3 fat known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) — as well as the essential omega-6 fat known as linoleic acid (LA) — are both used by your body to perform a range of vital metabolic functions. Then there’s oleic acid — the most common monosaturated omega-9 fatty acid — which also plays a role in a variety of health benefits, including support for cardiovascular wellness.
But similar to collagen, these essential fatty acids are found in fish such as anchovies, mackerel, and oysters. With that in mind, we will focus on the top plant-based sources of these essential fatty acids.
All three fatty acids are important, but essential Omega-3 is perhaps the most well-known of the bunch. These unsaturated fats help keep your heart healthy, which is why it is important to seek external supplementation of Omega-3, especially if you do not eat fish. Plant-based foods such as flax, trail mixes, and fortified crackers are all sources of omega-3.
Chia seeds are another source of ALA, and can be used in your favorite cereal, salad, shakes, smoothies, and more. Other sources of this essential fatty acids include walnuts, soy, pumpkin seeds, and canola oil.
Omega-6 fatty acids play a key role in brain function, normal growth and development, skin and hair growth, and bone health. These essential fatty acids mostly come from vegetable oils in the form of LA, and once consumed, are converted to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and then to arachidonic acid (AA).
Borage oil is mostly comprised of GLA which is an Omega-6 essential fatty acid. It contains between 18% to 26% GLA content. Other plant-based oils such as evening primrose oil and black currant seed oil are also sources of Omega-6.
Olive oil contains Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids — but it is mostly comprised of Omega-9, as it is 55% to 85% oleic acid by volume. 100 g of olive oil contains an impressive 83 grams of Omega-9. Other plant-based sources of Omega-9 include cashew nut oil, almond oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, cashews, and walnuts.
Two Vital Nutrients for Vegans
While collagen building and Omega fatty acid supplementation are essential parts of a Vegan's everyday health routine, there are 2 other nutrients that Vegans must keep an eye on...
Vitamin B12: This B-Vitamin’s calling card is its status as an energy powerhouse – but it is also known to support your heart, brain, bones, and vision, as well as your hair, skin, and nails. What’s more, it is needed to make DNA, red blood cells, and even certain neurotransmitters.
But did you know Vegans are often deficient in Vitamin B12?
B12 is commonplace in meat, milk, and dairy products, so Vegans must seek alternative sources of this important vitamin – including algae, certain types of mushrooms, fermented soybeans, nut milks, and meat substitutes.
Symptoms of a B12 deficiency include problems with movement and sensation, memory loss, mood changes, and confusion – so be sure to supplement with enough Vitamin B12 every day.
However, the National Institutes of Health states one of the leading causes of anemia is Iron deficiency. Compromised immunity and impaired cognitive function are other downfalls of a diet deficient in Iron.
Look for plant sources such as grains and vegetables for Iron intake. Keep in mind these iron sources are less easily absorbed by your body but adding citric acid or other Vitamin-C-laden foods helps convert non-heme Iron into a more absorbable form.
Veganism Is a Viable Lifestyle!
Millions of people embrace the plant-based lifestyle, but everyone encounters their own set of obstacles when it comes to consuming enough essential nutrients more commonly found in animal-based foods. And since vegans do not eat meat, poultry, or fish — nor do their diets feature eggs, dairy, cheese, etc. — they must find alternative ways to supplement with fatty acids such as Omega 3,6, 9.
Vegans also must seek nutrients that will help their body promote collagen production, maintain healthy connective tissue, and more.
So, whether you’re begrudgingly transitioning to a vegan lifestyle under your doctor’s orders, or you have made the conscience decision to no longer use any animal-based products — or you simply want to make the change in your diet — going vegan can be an exciting challenge. And though everyone has their own beliefs when it comes to veganism, we all must nourish our bodies with the nutrients needed to function all day long — even those of us who follow a plant-based diet. And with the tips above, you can!