Vegan Diet: Being a Healthy Herbivore

09/02/2011 07:56 EDT | Updated 11/02/2011 05:12 EDT

When I announced I was making the change over from vegetarian to vegan I got a lot of questions about my diet: Where will you get your protein? What about your iron? And B12? As with any dietary choice, whether omnivore or vegan, you need to be aware of your nutrient intake. So all of this started me thinking, where might I get these nutrients?

Where do you get your protein?

The plant world is full of a wide variety of nutritious and complete proteins! Here are some of my favorites:

• Hemp seeds -- Two tablespoons of hemp seeds can contain roughly 10 grams of high-quality plant-based protein. In addition to the protein, I believe hemp is a source of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Hemp protein is great in smoothies and hulled hemp seeds can be sprinkled on any salad or pasta dish.

• Chia Seeds -- I think Chia seeds are small but mighty! Chia seeds can contain complete proteins and Omega fatty acids. Chia seeds can be added to smoothies and they also make great pudding! (

• Quinoa -- This nutty grain contains protein and can be used in a variety of ways. You can eat it for breakfast in place of oatmeal, use it as a base for stir-fry and you can even puff it and eat it like popcorn.

These foods, among others, can increase your protein intake. What about iron?

• Spinach -- I think spinach is a powerhouse when it comes to iron. One cup of spinach can contain around 6.4 mg of iron. I believe two cups of spinach is a good addition to a salad.

• Pumpkin seeds -- This small but nutritious seed can contain roughly 4.2 mg of iron per 1 ounce. Try pumpkin seed butter on toast with some cinnamon and agave. Pumpkin seed butter is a flavorful thickening agent for sauces as well. In this recipe simply replace almond butter with pumpkin seed butter and viola!

• Lentils -- Lentils are an extremely versatile bean and contain 7.5 mg of iron per cup. I like to cook a batch of lentils and store in the fridge to toss with salads or wild rice pasta.

Now what about B12?

• Nutritional yeast -- Nutritional yeast has a cheesy flavor and can be added to any sauce, pasta dish, or side of veggies. It's also a great topper for popcorn! Two rounded teaspoons of high-quality nutritional yeast can provide 2.4 micrograms of B12.

• Cultured and fermented foods -- I believe foods such as tempeh and miso are good sources of B12. Not sure what to do with your tempeh? Try this recipe for tempeh crusted steaks!

• Dulse -- Dulse is a red seaweed that grows on rocks. Dulse is one of the few sea vegetables that contains what I believe to be the proper bioavailable analogue of B12. Three grams of dulse can contain .39 micrograms of B12. There are a few ways to get dulse into your diet. I like to buy it in flake form and add it to smoothies and sauces. It is also great in vegan Ceasar salad dressing!

The foods I've listed are some of the sources for these nutrients however there is protein, iron, and B12 in many other foods in a plant based diet as well. By eating a wide variety of foods, and including the ones listed above, you can be a happy, healthy herbivore!