What are the nutrients we may lack on a plant-based diet and how can we optimally source them?
On a plant-based diet, the meat consumption is reduced or eliminated, so we may have lower intakes of Iron, Zinc and Vitamin B12 – which are usually found in red meat.
The best source of Iron is found in meat, especially red meat (beef, liver) but also in chicken, pork, turkey, eggs, and fish. The recommended intake of red meat is about 300g per week or 40-50g daily. However, in some countries like the US, Australia, and Argentina, people consume much more red meat (about 275 grams daily, almost the equivalent of the weekly recommended quantity). And red meat is correlated with a high risk of diseases such as heart diseases and some types of cancers, especially colon cancer.
Plant foods like green vegetables (spinach, broccoli), beans, nuts and seeds, dried fruits, whole grains, and tofu are also good sources of iron – aim to serve them at least 2-3 times per day in your meals and snacks.
Zinc is a mineral that is essential for health. Besides meat, you can get it from legumes (like chickpeas, lentils, and beans), pumpkin, hemp, and sesame seeds, nuts (such as pine, peanuts, cashews, and almonds), whole grains (wheat, quinoa, rice, and oats).
Vitamin B12 – eat foods fortified with B12 vitamin, such as soy milk or take a supplement.
There are 2 things to consider when you are eating plant-based foods:
- Variety – one important matter to consider while on a plant-based diet is variety. Try to eat a variety of foods so that you can optimally balance all the nutrients in your body.
- Absorption is also an important matter regarding iron and other nutrients in general. No matter how much of a certain food or supplement we may ingest, the absorption can be difficult because of how our bodies process it. The iron in animal-based foods is easier to absorb than in plant-based foods.
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- Provides 250% of your Daily Value of Iron per serving
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- Rich in B vitamins (at least 200% of DV of each)
- Each serving provides 3,000 IU of vitamin D3, necessary especially during winter
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Protein – one constant debate is whether proteins from vegetable sources can supply the necessary protein amount. Is animal protein better? Yes, plant-based foods such as mushrooms, lentils, hemp seeds, almonds, broccoli, beans, spirulina, chia seeds, tofu, sprouts, and protein powders are good sources of vegetable proteins and some experts even consider them better quality than animal proteins.
Especially if you are a busy professional or an athlete with an intense lifestyle, you may consider to eat more protein bars and add powder proteins to your smoothies and shakes.
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Even if on a plant-based diet some nutrients (Iron, Zinc, proteins) may be more difficult to source, following the principles of the Diet of Common Sense and supplementing when necessary can get you closer to your goal of leading a healthier lifestyle.