Getting a Balanced Diet
Q My son, who is 19 and lives in a college apartment, has been vegan for about a year and a half. How do we know that he is getting the proper, balanced diet that he needs? What medical tests can determine this?
A A well-balanced vegan diet can be a great aid in maintaining overall health and preventing chronic disease. However, there are plenty of less than healthful foods that happen to be vegan. (You’ll find one in a blue package that rhymes with “Boreo”). Depending on which college your son attends, he may have access to a dietitian on his campus, who he can consult with regarding his diet. Another option is for him to track his current intake of foods, and then enter it into a nutrition software program. There are quite a few online programs that can provide information on what vitamins, minerals and other nutrients he is getting, if he is interested in finding this out.
He should also be aware of nutrients of concern with the vegan diet: Calcium, zinc, vitamin D, iron, and especially B12. I hesitate to recommend a multivitamin, as many vitamins and minerals can be well met in a vegan diet (Vitamin C, for example). The best advice is for him to focus on his overall diet with meeting the nutrients of concern, as well as his protein intake. He should also make sure he is consuming adequate calories for his body type and activity level – check out mypyramid.com for an easy calculation of caloric needs. Blood tests can sometimes show certain deficiencies, but it is best to be proactive and prevent them before they occur.