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 .
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” .
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 .
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
- 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].
- 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.