A plant based diet can offer so many benefits! A diet centered around plants tends to be rich in antioxidants, heart-healthy fats and certain vitamins and minerals. It also provides plenty of fiber. However, there are some key nutrients that you should keep your eye out for, if your diet consists primarily of plants, as it can be tricky to get the adequate amounts. Nevertheless, all it takes is some nutritional knowledge and some practical tips. That's what we will help you with this time.
It's a common belief, that plants cannot provide as much protein as products of animal origin. There are plenty of protein-rich sources in the plant kingdom, such as different kind of beans, peas, lentils, quinoa, soy and it's many derivatives, seitan, nuts, seeds and so many more. For example, uncooked lentils have as much protein as beef for the same amount. similarly a cup of cooked quinoa has nearly the same amounts as a cup of yogurt.
Another thing you might have heard and be concerned about, is that plant sources are considered “incomplete” protein, meaning that they lack some of the essential amino acids. Variety and adequate amounts are key when it comes to getting the full range of amino acids. To ensure that your protein sources complement each other and cover your needs, try the following combinations:
-Grains and legumes
-Grains and nuts or seeds
-Legumes and nuts or seeds.
Despite the common conception that vegans and vegetarians often lack iron, studies show that people following these diets don't have higher deficiency rates, compared to meat-eaters. Iron is needed for our red blood cells to transport oxygen to all parts of our body, making it an essential nutrient, regardless of the diet you choose.
Some foods from the vegetable world that are rich in iron are lentils, beans, peas, soy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds. There are two types of Iron, heme and nonheme iron. Plant-based foods carry only nonheme iron, which is more difficult for the body to absorb, compared to heme iron, which is found in foods from animal origin. Aside from this, plants often contain oxalates, a compound which hinders iron absorption. Nonetheless, the most important factor affecting how much iron your body absorbs, is your need for it. The more iron your body needs, the better it will be at absorbing it. Keeping this in mind, there are some things you can do, to ensure that your body absorbs iron most efficiently:
-Avoid drinking tea or coffee with plant-based meals that are rich in iron, as they hinder it's absorption.
-Combine foods high in vitamin C whenever eating plants rich in iron. These are citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers, broccoli and cabbage, among others. Vitamin C helps release more iron from the non-heme sources for your body to absorb, thus increasing its effectiveness.
If you are a vegetarian, you should not be too worried about your calcium intake, as you probably get enough. It is a little bit more tricky if you are a vegan. The best sources of calcium are dairy, eggs, white beans, soy beans, leafy greens and vegetables in the cabbage family. Remember oxalates, the natural compound occurring in plants? They hinder not only iron absorption, but likewise calcium. Calcium in, for example, spinach or swiss chard, is absorbed less efficiently, which means it's a good idea to rely on other sources, mentioned above.
Interestingly, vitamin D is closely related to calcium, and is shown to play an important role in how our body absorbs calcium. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, and we can cover most of our needs from exposing our skin to sunlight. Try to find at least 15 min a day for a walk in the daylight with exposing as much skin as possible. In return it will not only improve your mood, as vitamin D is responsible for us to feel happy, but also helps body absorb calcium from foods you eat.
You might wonder why there is nothing mentioned about vitamin B12 in this post. We have a lot more to say about it, so we think vitamin B12 deserves a post on its own. Look out for that one!