If you’ve been vegan for a while or considering the transition to a more plant-based diet, first of all, that’s great! There is such a broad range of research available supporting the role of a plant-based diet in the protection of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
However, there are a couple of things worth considering. One of which, is to make sure you are still getting enough of a few key nutrients in your diet. The nutrients we will cover in this post are predominantly found in animal products. That’s not to say that we can’t get them on a plant-based diet. It just means we need an extra level of education and to play closer attention to them, than those who eat both animal and plant foods require.
Regular blood tests are also encouraged (6 monthly in initial transition). Particularly to check up on iron and vitamin B12.
Iron helps to transport oxygen around the body. It is also important for producing energy, optimal immune function and storing oxygen in our muscles. The type of iron found in plants (non-haem iron) is not as easily absorbed as that found in animal foods (haem iron). However, people following a plant-based diet can still get enough iron from plant sources such as: legumes, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts and seeds. To further boost the absorption of iron from these plant foods, it’s recommended to include a vitamin C rich food with iron containing meals e.g. berries, citrus fruit, kiwi fruit, capsicum, tomatoes or broccoli.
Vitamin B12 is essential for normal blood and neurological function. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products, so it’s essential to eat foods fortified with B12 such as some soy milks (e.g. Vitasoy original and calci-plus, all varieties of So Good and even Woolworths brand) and vegetarian sausages/burgers (e.g. vegie delights brand). The other alternative is to take a B12 supplement, however it’s best to consult your doctor or dietitian before doing so.
Calcium is essential for the development and maintenance of strong bones, as well as the healthy functioning of your heart, muscles, blood and nerves. A plant-based diet doesn’t contain dairy products, which for most people is the richest source of calcium in their diet. It’s important to make sure you’re replacing these dairy products with good plant-based sources of calcium, daily. Examples include: calcium fortified soy or almond milks, hard tofu (check the label, not all tofu is fortified with calcium), unhulled tahini and green leafy vegetables like kale, bok choy or Chinese broccoli.
*TIP* When choosing non-dairy milks, aim for calcium fortified options. Ideally containing at least 300mg calcium per 250mL or if not a minimum of 100mg calcium per 100mL.
Omega 3 Fats
This one is a little more on the complex side, so we’ll keep it simple. Our body can’t make omega 3 fats, so we need to get them through food. Marine sources (oily fish e.g. salmon, tuna, sardines) of omega 3, provide the most health benefits. Plant sources contain a different type of omega 3 to marine sources. Our body is able to convert some of this omega 3 into the more beneficial type found in marine sources. However, it’s important to know that the rate of which it’s converted is low. Plant sources of omega 3 fats include: linseeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, soy bean oil and canola oil. There are also vegan omega 3 supplements available – please personally consult your doctor or dietitian.
Check out this link: https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients to find out what your exact nutrient requirements are, according to your age and gender.
I hope that helps! Knowledge is power after all. Stay tuned in upcoming blogs for tips and tricks on how to start eating a more plant-based diet, including delicious recipes and snack ideas.