A question I get asked more and more frequently is "How to eat well on a plant based diet?" And, "What vitamins could I be missing out on when going vegan?"
Following a colourful plant-based diet can lead to more creativity in the kitchen (which I love) and can be a great way to increase variety in our diet (which our gut bacteria love). But more thought may need to go into meal planning to ensure we're getting the right balance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients and in some cases supplementation is definitely advisable.
So below are my top six nutrients to really focus on when eating a plant-based or vegan diet. If you feel you could benefit from some help and support getting this balance right or some expert advice on supplementation, get in touch with me.
Iron is essential for the formation of healthy red blood cells and it carries oxygen to tissues all around our body. When we don’t eat sufficient iron, we are at increased risk of experiencing:
Low iron levels and anaemia are very common, especially in women with heavy periods, menopausal women and those that follow a plant based or vegan diet.
Iron is most readily available in animal produce such as red meat, eggs and fish. Iron is also available in many plant based foods including:
Following a well-balanced, plant-based or vegan diet you should obtain sufficient iron if cooking routinely with whole foods. However, if the diet is not well planned, or you're relying heavily on processed vegan products, you could become susceptible to iron deficiency.
If you are unsure, ask your doctor to test your iron and ferritin levels. Ferritin levels are helpful because it’s an indication of your stored iron levels. Digestive problems, such as low stomach acid can also impair iron absorption.
Best sources of plant based protein
We need protein for our skin, cell and muscle formation and as fuel for our bodies. When we aren’t getting enough protein, symptoms may include:
These are called incomplete proteins as they don’t contain all the amino acids and we need to ensure we get a good mix. Getting the balance right, can sometimes be difficult especially when starting out on a plant based diet. An issue I see regularly is the over-reliance on mass produced ‘fake meat’ products. These are highly processed. Focus on natural sources of protein where possible.
Vegan sources of vitamin B12
This important B vitamin helps to support our blood cells and without it, we’re at increased risk of memory problems, mood disorders, and fatigue. Joint pain or digestive problems such as diarrhoea and nausea are other common symptoms.
Animal produce including yoghurt, fish and meat is the best source of vitamin B12 and it will be very difficult to maintain good vitamin B12 status from plants alone. It can take a few years for vitamin B12 levels in the body to deplete so get your levels checked regularly.
It can be helpful to supplement with vegan B12. Ensuring you have optimal stomach acid will also help with vitamin B12 absorption and reduce the risk of deficiency. As a Nutritional Therapist, I am trained in nutritional supplementation and can tailor a supplement plan specific to your unique needs. Find out more about how we can work together here.
Where do vegans get calcium?
Well known for its role in healthy strong bones, calcium is also involved in maintaining healthy teeth, nerve and muscle function. Most people think of dairy products when they hear the word calcium but other great sources of calcium include:
Vegan sources of vitamin D and DHA
Without vitamin D, we cannot absorb and utilise calcium. Vitamin D deficiency isn’t just a risk for vegans and vegetarians. Most of us are at risk and the advice is to test once yearly and to supplement, especially during winter months. If you are vegan double check you are using a vegan vitamin D supplement as many are sourced from lanolin, which is from sheep’s wool.
To support a healthy brain and memory, we need DHA which comes directly from oily fish. If you are plant based, vegetarian, or vegan I recommend using a plant based supplement from sea algae which will support optimal brain function, memory, concentration and learning.
Recipe ideas for plant based or vegan eating
We definitely don't need to be eating meat at each meal or even on a daily basis but you don't need to go vegan to benefit from eating more plant based meals. Having meat-free days is a great way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet and increase your fibre intake.
Here are a few recipe ideas to help you incorporate more energising and balanced plant based meals into your life.
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