Switching to a vegan diet is one of the best things you can do for your health. You will feel more energetic, and lower the risk of developing a number of diseases, leading to a longer and healthier life. Plant based foods have different nutritional compositions to animal products, so knowing what to eat can help limit the chances of nutritional deficiencies.
Common Nutritional Deficiencies
Cutting out animal products completely may make you question where you are getting certain nutrients from. One of the most commonly asked questions is how to consume enough protein on a plant based diet. Research has shown that if you are consuming enough calories and are not malnourished, than you will be getting enough protein. But for those who are concerned, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains all contain copious amounts of protein. However, there are a few other important nutrients that are less abundant in a plant based diet.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 has a plethora of benefits, from heart health to brain function. Basically, it is extremely important that you get enough.
One of the best sources of omega-3 is seafood. Fish oil contains enough omega-3 to meet your needs. But where can you get omega-3 on a vegan diet?
The 3 most important omega-3 fatty acids are EPA, DHA and ALA. The latter, ALA, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds. But EPA and DHA are mostly found in fish oil. However there are a few great vegan sources, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and leafy greens like spinach and kale. So make sure you get these in your diet.
Vitamin B12 is used in the making of DNA, the building blocks of every cell in our body. It is also used to keep your nerve and blood cells healthy.
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal sources like fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. So as a vegan you will need to eat foods fortified in vitamin B12 such as breakfast cereals and nut milk.
Used in the production of haemoglobin, 70% of the iron in your body is in your blood cells. It is used for carrying oxygen from your lungs to the tissues all over your body.
A lack of iron can cause a condition known as anaemia, where there are not enough healthy blood cells in your blood. Eating a healthy, varied diet can help you lower the risk of developing anaemia.
There are two types of iron, heme-iron and non-heme iron. Heme-iron is found only in meat, mostly in red meat, and it helps you to absorb any non-heme iron which is found in plants. So on a plant based diet ensure you eat varied foods to reduce the risks of a deficiency. Iron can be found in leafy greens, lentils, whole grains and dried fruits.
Vitamin C helps to absorb iron, so eat fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, red peppers and green peppers.
Zinc is used throughout the body for multiple uses. It helps to enhance the role of insulin, breaks down carbohydrates, used in cell division and immune health. Zinc can even help to fight cancer.
Even just a small deficiency can lead to issues such as diabetes, so make sure you regularly eat the right foods.
Zinc is found in a range of foods, but as with iron it is absorbed more easily through meat sources. Some of the best vegan sources of zinc include legumes such as chickpeas, soybeans, lima beans, pomegranates, avocados and blackberries.
99% of calcium is stored in our bones and teeth. It is also used to prevent blood clotting, and in the movement of muscles.
It is important to keep in mind that vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium, and too much sodium, caffeine and alcohol can decrease absorption.
It is more important for adults to reduce calcium loss than increase calcium consumption.
“Protein from animal products is much more likely to cause calcium loss than protein from plant foods. This may be one reason that vegetarians tend to have stronger bones than meat-eaters.”
Just in case you needed another reason to avoid meat!
Plant based foods that are high in calcium include almonds, kale, pak choi, spring beans, chia seeds and dried figs. You can also get calcium from calcium fortified foods such as calcium fortified tofu, calcium fortified milk and cereals.
Need Some Extra Help?
Our lives are so fast paced that it is not always easy to maintain a balanced diet. Luckily we live in a world where supplements enable to us increase our intake of certain nutrients if we are unable to meet our requirements through diet alone.
So if you find yourself in need of an easy source of vitamins, take some tablets to boost your intake. Remember that it’s best to avoid relying too heavily on supplements and, whenever possible, eat a healthy and balanced diet.