A vegan nutrition guide for Egypt

The following short guide was made to support the vegan community in Egypt. The recommendations included here are general guidelines for your orientation. As a vegan, you do not have to follow them in the smallest detail. But I recommend sticking to the vitamin B12 recommendations quite closely. The here recommendations are meant for adults or teenagers.

Why is a "vegan nutrition guide" needed?

The problem with a lot of (most?) nutrition information out there (on the internet but also in books, magazine, etc.) is, well, that it's wrong. But, there are two kinds of wrong: "wrong & harmless" and "wrong & harmful". And I don't mind the first too much because it's harmless. But "wrong & harmful" information can really cause serious harm. Typically such harmful effects would occur in the long term. But for vegan babies these effects could occur very fast. 

The components of a healthy vegan diet (and lifestyle)

Of course, not all vegan foods are healthy. Coca Cola, energy drinks (like Red Bull or Monster), vegan candy, vegan donuts, etc. aren't very healthy foods - most people know this already. That doesn't mean that a healthy diet should NEVER include these foods. But a healthy vegan diet - or any healthy diet - can be said to be based on healthy plant foods: fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as mushrooms (if you like; not plants!) and herbs and spices too.
However, such a healthy vegan "dietary pattern" can have some disadvantages, namely that there are certain nutrients which are found in animal products (meat, fish, eggs, and dairy) and which CAN be low in vegan diets ... You CAN easily avoid this problem. But for this you need to know good VEGAN sources of these important nutrients, AND you need to actually EAT them (or take a supplement depending on your situation).  

10 key nutrients for vegans

Vitamin B12 is the most important nutrient for vegans to be informed about.

1) Vitamin B12

There are three options you can choose from [1–4]:
  • 2–5 µg twice per day (from fortified foods or a supplement) [5–12]
  • 10–25 µg once per day from a supplement [6, 10–15]
  • 2000–2500 µg once per week from a supplement [7, 11, 12, 16–18]
Until more is known, it is best to take a vitamin B12 supplement that contains "cyanocobalamin" (the most commonly found form of vitamin B12 in supplements). 
The reasons why the amounts in these three options are so different is based on some complicated mechanisms of vitamin B12 absorption in the human intestine. If we take the supplement less often, the amount needs to be much bigger. But with all of these recommendations, roughly the same amount of vitamin B12 will be absorbed per day.
These recommendations are not very country-specific. Vitamin B12 supplements are available in practically every country worldwide. The vitamin B12 in these supplements is always vegan and is never extracted from animals, and it isn't chemically synthesized in a laboratory either. This vitamin B12 is produced by certain species of bacteria which are used in the commercial production of vitamin B12.

This here seems to be the most common vitamin B12 supplement available in Egypt:
DELTAVIT B12; it contains 1000 µg per tablet; you can take 2 tablets every week.

If you have already been vegan for a few months (or longer) and you have NOT taken any vitamin B12 during all this time, it's best to take one of these tablets EVERY DAY for about 20 or 30 days. After that you can just follow the normal recommendations (above).

2) Calcium

Official recommendations (by nutrition science organizations or governments) often state that we should consume about 1000 mg of calcium every day. Even many people who consume dairy products daily do not achieve this amount. But still, in order to build up and keep our bones strong - and to lower our risk of colon cancer - it is recommended to eat a calcium-rich diet [2, 19–28]. Almost all vegan foods contain some calcium, but the amounts are often quite low. Because of this, vegans should include calcium-rich vegan foods in their diet (more or less) daily.
There are many vegan foods around the world which are good calcium sources. But these foods are not always commonly available in every country. Very good calcium sources are, for example, calcium-fortified plant milks (such as soya milk, oat milk, rice milk, almond milk, etc. - only if they are fortified with calcium) [3, 23, 28–31] or other calcium-fortified foods (such as fruit juices, soya yogurt, rolled oats, bread, etc.) [23, 28, 30, 32]. More very good calcium sources are some (but not all) dark green leafy vegetables, including pak choi/bok choy, kale, Collard greens/Spring greens, broccoli rabe/rapini, turnip greens, mustard greens, broccoli, dandelion greens, nettle leaves, and Napa cabbage. Unfortunately, these foods are not very commonly available in Egypt at the moment. 
One green leafy vegetable commonly eaten in Egypt which is a good source of calcium, is rocket (arugula). But it's only a good source if you eat it, of course. If you only eat a few leaves, it is not a going to be a good source of calcium for your body. But eating a big arugula salad (for example, 100 g of arugula), this would be a great daily calcium portion. 
To keep your bones strong in the long term, it would be a good strategy to include such an "extra portion" of calcium-rich foods in your diet every day (more or less).
Let's look for other calcium-rich vegan food options:
Another relatively good source of calcium is purslane - but only if you eat relatively large amounts of it. About 2 cups of boiled purslane would make a great daily calcium portion.
Grape leaves are very high in calcium but they are usually only eaten in relatively small amounts. If you were to eat about 20 grape leave in one day, that would be a great daily portion of calcium.

Another way to add some calcium to your diet is to eat plenty of figs and oranges [23]. These are not the world's most calcium-rich foods. But they do add relevant amounts of calcium to your diet. Let's say, eating about 6 figs and 3 oranges would be a good daily "extra portion" of calcium. But smaller amounts will help too.
One very good source of calcium is calcium-set tofu, that means tofu which is produced with calcium [23, 28–31]. You can usually see "calcium" (for example, calcium sulfate) listed in the ingredients, and this is the traditional Chinese way of making tofu. The traditional Japanese way is to use magnesium (typically, magnesium chloride/nigari) instead. 
Another good source of calcium is calcium-rich water. If there is any bottled water available and the label states that it contains 300 mg calcium per litre, this would be a good source [33, 34].  
I'm still looking for other good vegan calcium sources commonly found in Egypt - and I will add them here if I find them.
Unfortunately, spinach and Swiss chard are NOT good sources of calcium. They contain a lot of calcium - but the bioavailability of the calcium from these vegetables is very low. Unfortunately, "molokheya" (Jute mallow leaves) and romaine lettuce are not good calcium sources either because they are not very rich in calcium. Mint and chervil are green herbs which are quite rich in calcium - but because mint and chervil are only eaten in smaller amounts, these herbs would typically not be very good sources of calcium. All of these are still very healthy foods. But they aren't good sources of calcium.
Also note that for healthy bones vitamin D is very important too (see below).

3) Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a strange vitamin. Usually all vitamins, by definition, have to be consumed by humans from food (or supplements). But humans could theoretically also get all their vitamin D - the "sunshine vitamin" - from sunshine. But this only works of (1) you live in a sunny climate and (2) you get some direct sunshine on your skin regularly.

Egypt and all of Africa is located in a region relatively close to the equator. Because of this you can get enough vitamin D from sunshine all year round [51].

Because of this, you have two options:
  • Get about 15 to 30 minutes of direct sunshine on your skin (for example, face, neck and forearms; or another area of skin of a similar size).
Alternatively, you can get more sunshine, for example 1 hour, less often (for example, 2 or 3 times per week). But it's important to avoid sunburn

The other option is:
  • Take a vitamin D supplement: about 20 to 25 µg (= 800 to 1000 IU) of vitamin D per day [2, 3, 23, 28, 43–50].
I recommend AGAINST taking more than 50 µg (= 2000 IU) of vitamin D per day, unless a medical doctor has prescribed this to you.

There are two common forms of vitamin D: Vitamin D2 is always vegan. It's made from yeast exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. Vitamin D3 is typically not vegan because it's typically made from lanolin (which typically comes from sheep's wool). But vegan vitamin D3 exists. It doesn't really matter too much which type of vitamin D (D2 or D3) you take. The bioavailability of D3 is slightly higher. So, let's say 20 µg of vitamin D3 would be equivalent to 25 µg of vitamin D2. But really, do not worry about such small details.

Vitamin D is not typically found in vegan foods, or only in very small amounts.

Vitamin D is also particularly relevant also for people who cover most or all of their skin because of religious reasons. 

4) Iodine

Iodine is commonly found in dairy products but only because "dairy cows" received iodine-fortified fodder and because the udders and milking machines are cleaned with iodine-containing disinfectants. That's where the iodine in cow's milk comes from mostly. Cow's milk is not naturally rich in iodine.

For vegans, there are three good sources of iodine. So, choose one of the following options [2, 3, 45, 52–60]:
  • Iodized salt (1 teaspoon contains 40–240 µg of iodine – check the label on the packaging) [61–63]. Avoid excessive salt intake because it can increase your blood pressure which can damage your arteries.
  • Take a supplement of about 100 µg iodine per day (250 µg if you are pregnant or breastfeeding).
  • Eat nori seaweed (about one sheet daily, more or less) or eat wakame seaweed several times (about 3 times) per week.
Many other seaweeds are very high in iodine. So, you should ideally only eat small amounts of these.


5) Omega-3 fatty acids

Choose one of these options every day [19, 30, 64–69]. The following recommendations are for men, who generally consume more calories than women. For women a little less is sufficient. Most of these foods seem to be quite uncommon in Egypt. But chia seeds and walnuts seem to be commonly available.
  • 1–2 tablespoons of chia seeds [69, 72–74]
  • ~10 walnuts (= 20 walnut halves; ~40 g) [64]
  • 1–2 teaspoons of linseed oil (flaxseed oil) [64]
  • 2 tablespoons of ground linseeds (flaxseeds) [64, 70, 71]
  • 1–2 tablespoons of hemp seed oil [64]
  • ¼ cup of hemp seeds (with shell)
  • 1–2 tablespoons of shelled hemp seeds
  • 2–3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil (canola oil) [64]
There are many discussions about "long-chain omega-3 fatty acids". These are only found in certain fish species and in vegan algae oil omega.3 supplements. There isn’t much evidence for recommending such supplements for the average vegan at the moment. It is not known if they would be helpful or harmful or just useless to most vegans.
If you choose to take such a vegan "long-chain omega-3 fatty acid (EPA/DHA) supplement, then only eat half of the amounts recommended above (for example 1/2 a tablespoon of chia seeds) and take a vegan EPA/DHA supplement which contains about:
  • 200–300 mg of DHA every two or three days [64, 67–69, 75–77]

Now, basically, you do not need to know more. But with the following five nutrients it may also be "good to know" the basic info.

6) Iron

In men, iron deficiency is very uncommon. But iron deficiency is relatively common among menstruating women, independent of their diet. 

For consuming enough iron as a vegan, the recommendation is simple: eat legumes daily [26, 78, 79].

Commonly available legumes in Egypt include: fava beans, lentils, black-eyed beans, lupini beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), white beans, peanuts (groundnuts), and also soya products and all other types of beans.

Additional tips:

  • Consuming vitamin C (for example, an orange) at the same time as iron-rich foods increases the absorption of iron from plant sources [78, 80–83].
  • Drinking coffee or tea with meals lowers the absorption of iron [80–84].
  • Cooking tomato sauce (or other sauces that are slightly acidic) in cast iron cookware increases the amount of iron in the sauce [83–86].

7) Zinc

Good sources of zinc for vegans are: legumes, nuts and seeds, and also whole grains [2, 30, 87, 88].

That means, good sources of zinc include: fava beans, lentils, black-eyed beans, lupini beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), white beans, peanuts (groundnuts), and also soya products and all other types of beans, as well as ground sesame seeds/tahina, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, walnuts, and pine nuts.

8) Selenium

In Egypt, getting enough selenium is less of an issue (than, for example, in Europe). Soil selenium levels in Egypt are very likely higher (on average) compared to most places in Europe. The situation is probably comparable to soil selenium levels in Canada and the United States. That means that vegans who live in Egypt probably do not have to even think about selenium at all.

This is an excerpt from a publication by Gerald F. Combs Jr, who is a selenium expert.

Brazil nuts are one of the most selenium-rich foods in the world. They contain much more selenium than other nuts. Eating one Brazil nut per day is like a "selenium supplement". But consuming too much selenium is also bad. So, it's best not to eat Brazil nuts in large amounts (at least not very often).

9) Vitamin A

To get enough vitamin A is easy. Eat plenty of dark green vegetables, orange-coloured vegetables and/or orange-coloured fruits (but oranges don't count in this case) [3, 45, 105].

Great beta-carotene (= provitamin A) sources include cooked carrots, carrot juice, pumpkin, orange-coloured sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables (including spinach, Swiss chard, and grape leaves), romaine lettuce, and orange-coloured fruits like mangos, papayas, apricots, nectarines, tangerines, cantaloupe melon, plantains, persimmons (kakis) as well as pink grapefruits and also beetroots and red bell peppers.

10) Protein

To get enough protein on a vegan diet is very easy. Just eat legumes (see above) and grains (ideally whole grains because they are healthier) daily. Also (ideally) eat some nuts and seeds more or less daily [3, 106–108]. Nuts and seeds will add protein but will also add many other nutrients. 

If your body weight is low, try to achieve a healthy body weight (see here) and make sure to eat enough food (enough calories). Most vegans consume enough calories. But if you do not eat enough calories, your body will use the protein you eat as calories, and you might end up with too little protein, and then you might lose muscle mass.


Amount of protein

½ cup of soybeans (boiled)

~15 g

½ cup of lupini (lupin beans; boiled)

~14 g

½ cup of (~60 g) pistachios

~12–13 g

5 pieces of falafel

~11 g

½ cup of lentils (boiled)

~9 g

½ cup of split peas (boiled)

~8 g

250 ml plain soymilk

~7–9 g

½ cup of chickpeas (boiled)

~7 g

½ cup of navy beans (small white; boiled)

~7 g

½ cup of navy beans (big white; boiled)

~7 g

½ cup of fava beans (boiled)

~6 g

½ cup of black-eyed beans (boiled)

~6 g

1 large egg (~50 g) [for comparison]

~6 g

5 pieces of chicken nuggets [for comparison]

~11–14 g

50 g beef [for comparison]

~13 g

50 g lamb meat [for comparison]

~12 g

250 ml cow’s milk [for comparison]

~8 g


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