Eating a more plant based diet or switching to a vegan diet is definitely on trend right now and whilst normally I’d not be recommending you jump onto the lastest fad in terms of nutrition, this is one I do agree with. I spoke about this at Womens Health Live so thought it was time I blogged on it too.
We all need to be doing our bit to help our planet. Eating more plants, preferably those grown locally and not wrapped in lots of plastic, is one step in the right direction towards a more sustainable diet.
But are there any nutrition concerns with eating a vegan, vegetarian or plant based diet? Whilst it is well known there are health benefits there are also some health risks if you are not consciously eating certain nutrients.
If you are reducing your dairy intake then you are also reducing your calcium. To help with this check that the milk you use is fortified and focus on non-dairy calcium rich foods being in your diet. The higher calcium content foods are chia seeds, fortified plant based milks, yoghurts and tofu.
An adult needs 700mg calcium per day, the requirements are higher if you are breastfeeding.
|Non dairy calcium foods
|30g chia seeds
|1/2 pint Calcium enrich plant milk (rice, oat, soya)
|1 pot Soya yoghurt
|1 tbsp tahini
|150g baked beans
|2 slices wholemeal bread
|1 large orange
|2 tbsp cooked greens
|3 dried apricots
|3 tbsp cooked lentils
|1 tbsp kidney beans
|1 tbsp hummus
The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which play a key role in metabolism. Iodine is also needed in pregnancy for proper bone and brain development. There is an rise in iodine deficiency in the UK so it’s a nutrient to be mindful of.
Iodine deficiency is a potential concern if you do not eat meat, fish or dairy, so it’s important to be aware of other sources of iodine. Symptoms of iodine deficiency can include a swelling in the neck where the thyroid hormones are struggling to be made so the thyroid gland is on overdrive, fatigue and weakness, inability to concentrate/recall information, hair loss and dry flaky skin.
All is not lost, you can get your iodine in. Firstly, check your plant based milk as some are now fortified with iodine. Iodised salt is a good option (but not too much salt of course 6g max a day), seaweed limited to once a week and dried prunes are other options.
See this great food fact sheet on Iodine.
A nutrient that comes up a lot in terms of vegan and vegetarian diets. Can you meet all your iron needs on a plant based diet? Yes, totally but you need to plan things and be on the ball.
The iron you get in plant based foods is less readily absorbed by the body so you need more of it (1.8x). If you focus on eating iron rich foods daily and utilise some top tips you should be fine.
|Iron Rich Foods
|Smooth peanut butter
Including vitamin C with a meal helps with absorption. So having a glass of fruit juice or a smoothie with an iron rich meal will help. Keep your tea and coffee away from meal times as these contain phytates which prevent the iron absorption. Cooking, soaking and sprouting your nuts, seeds and beans can help with absorption too.
For more on iron check out the British Dietetic Association Factsheet.
Mainly found in animal products with a few exceptions of fortified foods (fortified milks, nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals) this is one that you are going to need to take a supplement of if you stop eating animal products.
B12 is needed for nerves, for DNA production and for brain function as well as healthy red blood cell production. A pretty key nutrient. If you aren’t eating many fortified foods then you likely need a supplement which you can buy as part of a multivitamin and mineral over the counter. Chat to your medical team if you have any further concerns as there are also B12 injections.
So can you meet your nutritional requirements on a plant based diet? Yes with some careful planning and a couple of supplements. Remember you do not have to go fully vegan, eating a few days a week in this way has benefits.