Good sources of key nutrients for vegans in Bangladesh


The following recommendations are general guidelines for your orientation. You do not have to follow them in exact detail. The most important is to at least consume some vitamin B12. If you want to optimize your diet, follow the recommendations below.
[The numbers in square brackets are references. ūüėá]


Vitamin B12

In the pictures below you can see a vitamin B12 supplement which is commonly available in Bangladesh. It contains 200 ¬Ķg (= mcg = micrograms) per tablet. The cost should be about 240 Taka for 30 tablets. It's called "Neuro-B". 

If you are vegan, you can choose one of these options [1–4]:
  • About 1/4 tablet (50 ¬Ķg vitamin B12) every day (cost: 60 Taka per month) [5, 6,10–15]
  • 1 tablet (200 ¬Ķg vitamin B12) every other day (cost: about 120 Taka per month) [7,11,12,16–18]
If you want to make it cheaper, you can also nibble a little bit off the tablet every day and in this way consume only 1 tablet per month. That means, you would take ...
  • ... about 1/30 (one thirtieth) of a tablet (i.e. about 6 or 7 ¬Ķg vitamin B12) every day. Of course, you cannot do this precisely. But if you nibble off a small bit off the tablet every day, and you end up using 1 or 2 or 3 tablets per month, this would only cost you about 8 to 24 Taka per month [5, 6,10–15].

You can take vitamin B12 supplements with or without your meals.


Calcium

Choose at least one of the following options daily. These foods are rich in calcium and have good calcium bioavailability:
  • tofu made with calcium
  • Chinese cabbage (China kopi, pak choi, bok choy)
  • Napa cabbage (nati shak, petsai)
  • China shak (saishin, choy sum)
  • mustard greens (mustard spinach, sarisa shak, shorshe shak) 
  • Malabar spinach (pui shak)
  • turnip greens (shalgom)
  • radish greens (mula shak) 
  • water spinach (kolmi shak) 
  • broccoli
  • moringa leaves
  • sweet potato leaves
  • sweet bitter melon leaves (lau shak)
  • pumpkin leaves (pumpkin shak, kumra shak)
  • Jute mallow leaves (Jute spinach, pat shak) 
  • calcium-fortified bread - not very widely available, however
These foods are good sources of calcium - but only if you eat some of mthese on a daily basis and in medium-sized to large portions, for example about 1 cup (about 200 g) of tofu per day or about 1 to 2 cups of cooked dark green leaves vegetables (the ones listed above) per day.

Note that data shak (amaranth leavs) and palong shak (spinach) are not good sources of calcium because they are high in oxalic acid (which reduces calcium bioavailability).


Vitamin D

Get ...
  • ... about 15–30 minutes of sunshine (directly on your skin) every day – or more sunshine less often. Avoid excessive sunshine though, because it can increase your risk of skin cancer (and it can accelerate skin aging).

If you do not get enough sunshine ...
  • take a vegan vitamin D supplement with about 1000 IU (25 ¬Ķg) per day [2,3,23,28,43–50]
Do not avoid the sun completely because sunshine very likely has other health benefits apart from being a source of vitamin D.
Do not take more than 2000 IU (50 ¬Ķg) of vitamin D per day unless a medical doctor has prescribed this to you.
In Bangladesh there is no “vitamin D winter” at all, i.e. your body can produce vitamin D from sunshine on your skin throughout the year [51].


Iodine

Choose one (not all!) of the following options [2,3,45,52–60]:

Either ...
  • ... use iodized salt (1 teaspoon contains about 20–240 ¬Ķg of iodine – check the label) [61–63]. In Bangladesh, about 1/2 (one half of) a teaspoon of iodized salt (per day) should have a suitable amount of iodine for one adult. ... But try to avoid excessive salt intake and try to consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day (including all salt in processed foods).
... or ...
  • ... take an iodine supplement with about 75–100 ¬Ķg per day.
You could also ...
  • ... eat seaweed, such as nori or wakame, several times per week - however, seaweed appears to hardly be available in Bangladesh.
Iodine is very important for pregnant or breastfeeding women and for children.
Both iodine deficiency and iodine excess should be avoided.
Iodized salt is just used in food preparation as you would use non-iodized salt.

Iodized salt in Bangladesh (photo from July 2022)


Omega-3 fatty acids

Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they are commonly available and quite affordable in Bangladesh.

Choose one of these options every day [19,30,64–69]. Theses recommendations are for men, who typically eat more food (and more calories) than women. For women a little less is sufficient.
  • About 1–2 tablespoons of chia seeds per day [69,72–74]
  • About 1–2 tablespoons of tokma seeds (basil seeds, Ocimum basilicum) per day
Or you can choose one of the following options. But these are probably more expensive:
  • ~10 walnuts (=20 walnut halves; ~40 g) per day [64]
  • 1–2 teaspoons of linseed oil (flaxseed oil) [64]
  • 2 tablespoons of ground linseeds (flaxseeds) [64,70,71]
Hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, and canola (rapeseed) oil are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but these aren't commonly available in Bangladesh.

Vegan EPA/DHA supplements do not seem to be availble in Bangladesh, and there isn’t much evidence for recommending that average vegan should take such a supplement. However, just for information, for those vegans who have access to such a supplement and who wish to take it:
  • Use half of the above recommendations (for example, half a tablespoon of chia seeds per day) – and add a vegan DHA supplement containing about 200–300 mg DHA every two or three days (or every day if you like) [64,67–69,75–77].


Iron

Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts) are good sources of iron [26,78,79].

Iron is especially important for menstruating women and children.

Additional tips:
  • Consuming vitamin C 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].


Zinc

Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts), whole grains, and nuts are good sources of zinc [2,30,87,88].

These foods are especially rich in zinc:
  • Sesame seeds - These should be ground up. Otherwise you might not be able to digest them well.
  • Cashew nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds


Selenium

In some parts of the world (for example much of Europe), the soils are low in selenium. But this seems to be less of a problem in Bangladesh. 

These foods are probably quite good sources of selenium in Bangladesh: 
Especially ...
  • Sesame seeds - These should be ground up. Otherwise you might not be able to digest them well.
But also ...
  • Cashew nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Coconut "meat"
... and also (if available) ...
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pistachios
  • Macadamia nuts
Sesame seeds, peanuts, and cashew nuts are probably the cheapest option in Bangladesh.


Vitamin A

Dark green vegetables, orange-coloured fruits and orange-coloured vegetables are good sources of provitamin A which the body can convert to vitamin A [3,45,105].

Great provitamin A sources are, for example: 
  • cooked carrots
  • carrot juice
  • pumpkin
  • orange-coloured sweet potatoes
  • any dark green leafy vegetables
  • mangoes
  • papayas
  • red bell peppers


Protein

Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybean chunks, ...) are the protein staples of vegan diets. In addition, whole grains, nuts and seeds will supply protein [3,106–108]. 

Legumes and grains together (for example, rice and beans, bread and lentils, etc.) supply "complete protein" (like animal-source foods). We don't have to necessarily eat the legumes and grains at the same meal. 

You should also consume enough calories. Most vegans eat enough calories. But if you don’t 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.


What if you are overweight?

Have a look here.


What if you are underweight?

Have a look here.













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