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Can Vegan Food Fuel Your Body?

By Stephanie Booth
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman

teen eating a salad

Some vegetarians go a step further and give up eating -- and even using -- all animal products. It can be a strong way to take a stand against animal cruelty. But it’s also a big change in the nutrients that your body and brain rely on for fuel. If you plan to stick with it for the long run, there are some things you should know.

What does vegan mean?

If you decide to go vegan, you’re choosing to eat a totally plant-based diet, free of all animal products. That means giving up:

  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy

You’ll also give up all foods that have these food groups. That means no cookies that were made with eggs and butter, and no more cheese pizza.

Some vegans also give up using products that come from animals. You might decide to stop wearing wool, leather, and silk. And you might avoid products made with animal-based ingredients, like some soaps, toothpaste, and makeup.

Is going vegan good for you?

Eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is a good thing. They’re full of fiber and other nutrients that give you energy. Unlike sugary, fatty, processed foods, they fill you up and fuel you for hours.

But your body and brain also rely on protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients that come in meat and dairy products. Cutting out so many foods when you’re still growing can make it harder for you to get important vitamins and minerals like B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and calcium. Those are what your nerves, bones, muscles, and immune system need to keep you going. Having no meat, eggs, and dairy products could mean your body and brain have less fuel to work with.

If you try it:

Make healthy choices. Just because you found vegan marshmallows at the store doesn’t mean they should be a part of your daily diet. You’ll still need to reach for lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains and make them into well-balanced meals and snacks.

Pay attention to protein. Every day, teens need about half a gram of protein for every pound they weigh. So if you’re about 110 pounds, that means 55 grams of protein. To get to that goal as a vegan, aim to eat a variety of foods like nuts, seeds, beans, and tofu every day. Want to get the most fuel out of these protein sources? Pair them with a whole grain. Try brown rice and beans or a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread.

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