Plant-Based Nutrition: Protein, Calcium, Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, Omega-3 and Iron

This article is written by Beyda Beteri ANutr.

This article is the second part of Plant-Based Nutrition article. You can read more about what a plant-based diet is and types of plant-based diets by clicking here.

Despite the fact that most macro- and micro-nutrients are abundant in plant-based diets and scientific evidence has accumulated to support their health benefits, there are a few nutrients you need to watch out for avoiding deficiencies [1].

Plant-Based Sources of Protein

The most common concern with plant-based diets is not getting enough protein. However, you can still get high-quality and sufficient amount of protein from plant-based foods.

Proteins are the ‘building blocks’ of life as they help the body repair and grow. 

Plant-based sources of protein include;

  • Beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, nuts and nut butter
  • Meat substitutes such as soya mince, plant-based burgers/sausages and other alternatives 

“Meat substitutes can help switch to a plant-based diet but these alternatives should be consumed in moderation as they are highly processed and high in salt and saturated fat” [12].

Plant-Based Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is needed to maintain healthy bones and teeth.

  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale and broccoli are good sources of calcium.

“It is important to note that, although spinach contains a high amount of calcium, it is not digested and is not completely absorbed in the body”.

  • Tofu, tahini, sesame, pulses and dried fruits such as figs, prunes and apricots 
  • Oat drinks are good alternatives to calcium-rich drinks
  • Calcium-fortified bread 

Vitamin D is needed to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.

  • Vitamin D-fortified cereals, spreads, and plant-based beverages such as soy milk 

Since it is not enough to get vitamin D from food alone, it is recommended that everyone should take vitamin D supplements in the fall and winter months, and be exposed to sunlight from late March to the end of September [3].

Plant-Based Sources of Iron

Iron is required for the production of red blood cells (RBC). RBC contains a protein called haemoglobin which carries oxygen from the lungs to all parts of the body. 

  • Wholemeal bread and flour
  • Pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans
  • Nuts
  • Iron-fortified cereals
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli, watercress and spring greens (kale, spinach) 
  • Dried fruits such as apricots, figs and prunes

However, iron from plant-based foods (non-haem iron) is less absorbed by the body than iron from meat (haem iron). In order to increase iron absorption in plant-based diets, foods rich in vitamin C can be consumed with meals and the consumption of tea and coffee (contain polyphenols, antinutrients), which may prevent iron absorption, should be avoided with meals. [3-4].

Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is required for red blood cell formation and healthy nerve cells.

  • Fortified cereals
  • Fortified plant-based drinks such as soya milk
  • Nutritional yeast flakes and yeast extract

As plant foods are limited sources of vitamin B12, supplements may be needed [3-4-5].

Plant-Based Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 fatty acids, especially from oily fish, help maintain heart health and reduces inflammation in the body [3-4].

  • Walnuts
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseed and rapeseed oil
  • Hemp seeds (shelled) 

To conclude, a carefully planned plant-based diet including wide variety of plant-derived foods can provide all the nutrients necessary for healthy living at any stage of life. However, if all dairy products are excluded, make sure to consume other calcium-rich foods and if you follow a vegan diet, make sure you consume a reliable source of vitamin B12.



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