Tuesday, 24 March 2015

How to Get Enough Nutrition on Plant-Based Diet

Heather McClees 
For whatever reason we decided years ago that we had to eat animals to get our nutrients, it’s time to put that nonsense idea to rest. We weren’t meant to survive off
other species to keep us strong and healthy. We also needn’t harm animals, the environment, or our bodies through mass productions of meat, dairy, eggs, and even processed foods that all just contribute even more to the problems at hand.
Our bodies don’t require us to eat animals to get enough nutrition. Period.
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Just like animals get their nutrients from plants (which we end up eating them for), we can do the same. Why not cut straight to the source of our vitamins and minerals and save all those steps in the middle? Some of the biggest concerns when it comes to nutrition on a plant-based diet involve protein, iron, and zinc found in meat, along with some other nutrients found in foods like dairy, eggs and fish. Everyone knows where to get their vitamin C, fiber, and magnesium – plants – but what about other nutrients?

How to Get Enough Nutrition on Plant-Based Diet

Below are some nutrients found in meat that are also found in plants. If you’re worried whether you’ll be able to get enough, don’t be. It’s completely possible to get enough nutrients in a plant-based diet when you eat a variety of whole foods. There is also some information included about other nutrients found in animal foods, plus controversial nutrients you can also learn more about.

1. Protein

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Why not start with the biggest issue first? The human body is incredible; let’s not undermine it so much that we believe we have to eat animals in order to keep it thriving. Before animals were even considered as a protein source, people ate plants. Why not do that now? Seeds are one of the easiest to digest sources of plant protein, but vegetables are also a great source, not to mention leafy greens, beans, legumes, and even whole grains. The key isn’t to look at just protein grams on a label, but to also consider if that food has amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Your body can use amino acids to form protein that you need to stay healthy and strong. Too much protein has actually been found to be harmful, specifically animal-based protein which is inflammatory. Plant-based foods (especially raw seeds, raw nuts, greens, veggies, and soaked whole grains) can actually reduce inflammation and keep the body alkaline.
Here are some options: hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, oats, almonds or almond butter, leafy greens, broccoli, green beans, lentils, black beans, chickpeas, green peas, and even raw plant-based protein powder if you enjoy smoothies. And of course, tofu and tempeh are also great choices if you tolerate soy.
See our Green Monster’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition: Protein for more information and to get some delicious recipes!

2. Iron

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Iron is necessary by the body for energy, muscle mass preservation, red blood cell function, cognitive function, and it can even affect your digestion. Red meat is not the best choice, nor any animal protein for that matter. Iron is actually very easy to obtain enough of on a plant-based diet. One reason being that plant-based sources, despite being non-heme sources, seem to digest just fine in the body and are easy for the cells to use, though consuming iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods will help with absorption even more. Since vitamin C is abundant in a plant-based diet, this is easy to do without much thought if you eat enough fresh fruits, vegetables and leafy greens.
Here are some of the best sources: hemp seeds or hemp protein, raisins, cashews, kale, pumpkin seeds, kaƱiwa, spirulina, beans, prunes, legumes, oats, quinoa, amaranth, teff,chia seeds, blackstrap molasses, cacao, tempeh, and sunflower seeds.
3. Zinc
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What about zinc? It keeps our immune systems running well, and yes, it is found abundantly in meat. However, it’s also found in many plant-based foods and requires no special food pairings for your body to absorb. Your best bet for obtaining enough zinc lies in nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains (specifically oats and quinoa). Since these foods are also sources of iron and protein, it’s very easy to get enough nutrition.
Here are some specific foods high in zinc: pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (or tahini),  cashews, hemp, pintos, lentils, almonds, oats, quinoa, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, cacao, tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans and green peas.
See our Green Monster’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition: Zinc here for more information and for zinc-filled, immune-boosting recipes!

What About …?

If you’re wondering about calcium,  B vitamins and even controversial items like Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D, here’s what you should know:

Calcium

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While not found in meat, many people struggle with giving up dairy in order to get enough calcium, though people are starting to realize now that dairy is not the best source. Greens, seeds, some vegetables, and even some fruits are all great sources. These foods do not contribute to inflammation, interfere with magnesium absorption that puts stress on your joints,or cause calcification in the bones that can impair with good bone health like dairy. They’re also helpful for strengthening the body and very nutritious in other areas too.
Eat more: kale, collards, spinach, Swiss chard, oranges, dried figs, chia seeds, almonds, teff, navy beans, fortified non-dairy milk, most beans, and tofu.
See our Green Monster’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition: Calcium here for more information and recipes!

Vitamin B12

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One exception to getting enough nutrition through our food on any diet (even those from animal-based sources) is Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is derived from the soil- not animals. While meat eaters may obtain more, supplements ensure everyone is getting enough and can even offer additional benefits. While it would be nice to depend on plants from the soil to get us there, that’s not a smart choice due to the way our soil quality has greatly changed. It’s also hard to tell how much of this crucial nutrient we’re consuming through our food. It’s incredibly important for vegans to take a supplement to get enough vitamin B12. Choose sublingual forms, which are easily absorbed in the bloodstream in minutes since they dissolve under the tongue. You can also use liquid forms (choose vegan options) or get a B12 patch from a trusted health professional.
Controversial Options: You may have heard that nutritional yeast, fortified non-dairy milk, and spirulina contain B12. This is true, but there is a great deal of controversy with these options  since they are a different form of vitamin B12 that your body may not absorb as easily.

Other B Vitamins

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No need to worry here; though meat is packed with B vitamins, so are plants! They’re also very easy to absorb and you’ll never have to worry about obtaining enough if you eat whole foods. B vitamins provide energy, enhance mental function, help relieve stress, mild depression and anxiety, red blood cell function, and some also help with digestion.
Here are of the best options: greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, avocados, legumes, and whole grains.

Vitamin D

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This vitamin is so important for your health; do not disregard it. It acts like a hormone in the body, can greatly affect your mood, helps your body use calcium to build strong bones, and has even been shown to reduce the rates of colon cancer. It’s important to know what forms of vitamin D the body can use. It absorbs D3 the best, not D2 which is found in the form of yeast, mushrooms and fortified non-dairy milks. Meat does not contain vitamin D, and even milk is fortified with vitamin D, therefore it’s not a natural source either. Though fish may be a food source, the risks that come with eating fish are not worth it or necessary. Vitamin D3 comes from the sun, so your best option is to get 15-20 minutes of sunlight daily if possible or take a vitamin D3 supplement (no more than 10,000 I.U. a day). Of course, you can still use mushrooms and drink non-dairy fortified milk, but you shouldn’t rely on one (or even two) food sources alone.
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We hope this will inspire all of you to choose vegan every time you eat. Be smart about your health; avoid processed foods, meat and meat products, dairy, eggs and other animal-based foods, and learn to prepare your meals from whole, plant-based foods. Don’t be afraid to supplement with vitamin B12 and vitamin D, get enough sunlight and exercise, and choose organic when you can. Though all these seem like a lot of tips, taking it meal by meal each day is really so easy and less stressful than you think.
What’s your next plant-based meal going to be?
Lead Image Source: Lentil Quinoa Burgers
This content provided above is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.