Tag Archives: vegan nutrition

Nutrition Tips for a Plant based Diet

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.

CALCIUM

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 foodsCalcium mg
30g chia seeds178
1/2 pint Calcium enrich plant milk (rice, oat, soya)330-370
100g tofu350
1 pot Soya yoghurt150
1 tbsp tahini130
150g baked beans
80
2 slices wholemeal bread75
23 almonds75
1 large orange70
2 tbsp cooked greens70
30g cashews28
3 dried apricots20
3 tbsp cooked lentils25
1 tbsp kidney beans25
1 tbsp hummus12

IODINE

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.

IRON

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 FoodsIron/mg
Baked beans1.4
Butter beans1.5
Chickpeas2
Kidney beans2
Tofu1.2
Dried Figs3.9
Dried Apricots3.4
Almonds3
Brazil Nuts2.5
Smooth peanut butter2.1
Hazelnuts3.2
Sesame seeds10.4
Sunflower seeds6.4
Broccoli1
Spinach1.6

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.

VITAMIN B12

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.

Should I eat more plant based diet?

What are the benefits?

Plant based diets (PBD’s) are better for the environment and provide a more sustainable way of eating. There are also health benefits due to eating more plants altering the nutritional profile of your body. 

PBD’s tend to be lower in saturated fat due to less meat. They usually contain higher amounts of fruit and vegetables which means higher fibre content for digestive health (those bowels) and a greater range of antioxidant plus phytochemicals. 

The inclusion of wholegrains provides B vitamins and fibre, beans/pulses for soluble fibre and these help with blood sugar control, soy products provide phytoestrogens that can be helpful in the menopause plus nuts and and seeds that are packed with antioxidants and micronutrients.

Some specific health benefits:

Research shows us that PBDs can lead to lower levels of total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. This is going to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

 Also improvements can be seen in serum glucose levels which helps in overall health and in type 2 diabetes control. 

There has been shown to be a lower level of overall inflammation in the body. These factors combines are thought to contribute to a reduced risk of chronic diseases. 

Does this mean we should all go vegetarian/vegan? Well not necessarily. What I do think it means is that having a greater emphasis on eating plants sources of food is helpful and healthful. As with all ways of eating there are many ways to do it, so the benefits you see on paper will depend on how you actually approach this way of life. This in my mind is about adding in plant foods more than taking things away. 

Will I be missing out nutrients?

It is perfectly possible to meet your nutritional needs on a PBD. However you will need to be more intentional about it. Planning and being thoughtful about some key nutrients plus a couple of supplements will ensure you get all your body needs.

Protein : It can be easier to get protein from animal sources. However this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be eating plant proteins! Most people in the UK are exceeding their protein needs, especially with the focus on protein in so many snack foods right now.  When calorie needs are met it is more than possible to meet your protein requirements on a PBD. However it is a good idea to vary your protein sources through the week so that cover all those essential amino acids the body needs.

  • Mycoprotein, soya protein and pea protein 
  • Beans and lentils
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Tofu
  • Eggs and dairy (if these are eaten)

Iron : The recommended daily amount of iron for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher that for non-vegetarians, as iron which comes from plant sources (non-haem iron) is less efficiently utilised in our body than iron which comes from animal sources. Eat iron rich foods daily and all should be well. 

  • Iron fortified breakfast cereals
  • Beans
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Wholegrains 
  • Dried fruit 
  • Green leafy vegetables 
  • Yeast extract 
  • Eggs, fish and poultry (if these are eaten)

johnny-mcclung-702726-unsplash

Calcium: one of my hobby horses, as I like to look after my bones. Calcium can be lower on a plant based diet but there are plant foods that will help those bones stay strong. Check your plant based milk is supplemented and get on those leafy greens. Some studies show a lower bone mineral density in those not eating dairy, so this is definitely a nutrient to think about. 

  • Fortified dairy alternatives (like: soya or nut milks and yoghurts)
  • Fortified juice drinks
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Dried fruit
  • Tofu
  • Beans, lentils and chickpeas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Bread

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Vitamin B12: as this is mainly found in animal products it is one of the nutrients you may end up lacking. It is found in yeast extract and most multivitamins/minerals.

Omega 3 : mainly talked about as being in oily fish but also found in seaweed, linseeds and walnuts. If you know you won’t take in many of these foods you could take a supplement.

  • Seaweed (not recommended more than once per week) 
  • Chia seeds, linseeds/flaxseeds, hemp seeds 
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Walnuts and walnut oil
  • Soybeans and soybean oil
  • Tofu
  • Spreads and breads which are fortified with omega 3
  • Oily fish (if this are eaten)
  • Eggs and dairy which are fortified with omega 3 (if these are eaten)

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Iodine: highlighted in some studies as a nutrient that can be low on a PBD, but also on a meat eaters diet too!

  • Iodised salt
  • A limited amount of fortified dairy alternatives (e.g. specific brands of oat milk) 
  • Seaweed (but this is not recommended more than once per week) 
  • Dairy products and seafood (if these are eaten)

Selenium: mainly found in Brazil nuts so not necessarily a problem on  PBD but a good one to be aware of.

  • Brazil nuts 
  • Eggs and fish (if these are eaten)