A plant-based dietary approach is becoming more popular as research reveals the numerous health benefits. But will you still get all the nutrients you need?
The greatest concern with any eating approach is ensuring intake of a wide variety of nutrient-dense, fresh, clean foods including the essentials:
- Essential amino acids
- Essential fatty acids
- Vitamins, minerals, trace minerals
- Sufficient fiber (soluble and insoluble fiber)
Moving to a plant-based diet requires knowing how to access the necessary nutrients.
Seek out whole foods: Mother Nature’s perfect package! Whole foods contain varying amounts of our needed macro and micro nutrients.
Top dietary concerns for vegans:
Protein - essential amino acids:
While most concerns with vegans seem to center on accessing sufficient protein sources, it’s important to understand that the composition of all foods includes varying amounts of protein. (See chart in the PowerPoint).
For vegans, sufficient essential amino acid intake is obtained from consumption of whole foods from various sources such as legumes, pulses, seeds, nuts, greens, ancient whole grains, and high quality, plant-sourced, organic, raw protein powders. Research reveals that food combing isn’t required to form complete proteins, you just need to be sure to consume a wide variety of plant based protein throughout your day.
Sufficient vitamin B12 intake is a genuine issue for everyone, not only vegans. Research shows us plants and fermented foods (such as spirulina, sea vegetables, tempeh, and miso) do not provide an active and reliable source vitamin B12. It must be obtained elsewhere in the diet.
Good sources include all high quality, organic, food-sourced multiple vitamins, fortified cereals, some nutritional yeast, and fortified non-dairy milks, fermented soy foods, bee pollen.
My favorite easy-access source of B12:
Liquid Rush goes into my smoothies and salad dressings daily.
Essential Fatty Acids
Although much controversy surrounds essential fatty acid intake in a vegetarian diet, the body can convert Alpha-Linolenic Acid to the long chain fatty omega-3 fatty acid DHA, yet it may not be sufficient or optimal.
Alpha-linolenic acid can be obtained from a variety of vegetable sources such as flax, chia and hemp seeds, walnuts, dark leafy greens, ancient whole grains, soy beans, and sea vegetables.
In addition to including these foods into your diet both for the essential fatty acids and numerous other health benefits, it is suggested to supplement daily with a much cleaner, sustainable, organic, humane, bio-equivalent source of EPA from micro-algae supplements.
Note: Sufficient nutrient concerns apply to everyone whether they be carnivore, omnivore, pescatarian, paleo, plant-based, or any combination of those. If you are not eating a diet consisting of a well-rounded variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods, or dealing with digestion and absorption issues, then you will want to educate yourself on how to balance your diet to include the nutrients you need. Needs vary from one person to another with numerous factors including specific food sources, choices and production methods.
Healthy nutrient intake for any kind of dietary approach requires planning and stocking up on the best quality whole foods you can. To make it easier I suggest sourcing out great guidelines, menu planning, big batch food preparation and food/feeling journaling to ensure your meal plan is working for you.
Fun Fact on Your Carbon Footprint: Going to a vegan diet one day per week reduces carbon footprint and greenhouse gases more than eating local 7 days a week.
Some of my easy plant based and balanced meals are:
Protein powered smoothies with nuts, seeds or raw vegan plant based protein
Great Plant Protein Sources:
- Tofu, extra firm (1/2 block): 22.5 g
- Tempeh (1/2 block): 19 g
- Lentils (1 cup, cooked): 18 g
- Edamame (1 cup, blanched): 17 g
- Split peas (1 cup, cooked): 16 g
- Oats (1/2 cup dry): 13 g
- Beans, various (1 cup, cooked): 13 g
- Whole wheat pasta (2 servings Y 4 oz. dry): 12 g
- Hemp seeds (1/4 cup): 10 g *Pignolia/Pine nuts (1/4 cup): 9.5 g
- Pumpkin seeds (1/4 cup): 8.5 g
- Quinoa (1 cup cooked): 8 g
- Almonds (1/4 cup):7 g
- Wild rice (1 cup cooked): 7 g
- Sunflower seeds (1/4 cup, hulled):7 g
- Sprouted grain bread (Manna brand, 1-inch slice): 8 g
- Un-hulled sesame seeds (1/4 cup): 6 g
- Pine nuts: 4 g Cashews (1/4 cup): 5 g
Source: J.A.T. Pennington, Bowes and Church’s Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 17th ed. (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1998).
There are so many reasons to make plant-based eating your everyday approach. Take my challenge and eat this way for two weeks and let me know how you feel. If you need guidance reach out to me. Enjoying fabulous health while eating fabulous foods is my passion and practice as an educator, advocate and author on whole-self-wellness and recipe creations.