Nowadays different kinds of diets and eating lifestyles are emerging. No matter what diet you choose to follow, adding plants into your daily diet is very beneficial. Plants, such as fruits and vegetables,make the body stronger and healthier. This is because they contain essential vitamins and nutrients that the body needs.
Of course, going on a strict, plant-based diet is a different story. People who follow these diets stick to fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, as well as seeds and nuts. They can also consume dairy products and eggs at times if they choose to. However, the main concern of people who stay on a plant-based diet is getting all the essential vitamins and nutrients in the right balance.
Although fruits and vegetables are very healthy, not all of them contain these essential components. That’s why it’s very helpful to learn the different food sources so you can balance your daily meals correctly. But before going into the food sources, let’s take a look at the benefits of such a diet.
Benefits of Following a Plant-Based Diet
It’s quite beneficial to plan out meals focused on plants. These are the healthier food options, and they come with a lot of other advantages as well. Consider these benefits:
- Studies have shown that diets which are high in plants and plant products help people become healthier. Right now, a majority of the population suffers from illnesses related to poor dietary choices. This is an issue which can easily be solved by adding more greens to the daily food intake.
- It’s a fact that animal products are a lot pricier than plant products. Sostaying on this diet proves to be a lot more economical, as long as you know which products to buy.
- A lot of people who go on a plant-based diet do so because of ethical reasons. They usually have strong feelings about how the animals are killedas well as the person killing the animals. They may also have issues about how animals are treated in the food production industry.
- Other people also opt for this kind of diet because of their religious beliefs. Some religions prohibit the consumption of any meat. Others merely control the kinds of meat allowed. Either way, this can be a reason why people opt to cut out meat from their diet completely.
Most Common Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies
People who aren’t aware of the proper food sources may find themselves deficient in some of the major essential vitamins. To be able to avoid that, it’s helpful to learn from what kinds of food you can get these vitamins in such a diet.
Iron is one of the most common deficiencies of people on a plant-based diet. Fortunately, a lot of plants are rich in iron – you just have to know which ones they are. Leafy vegetables which are dark green have a lot of iron in them. Other sources include:
- seeds and nuts
- soybeans and lentils
- whole wheat
- dried apricots
- blackstrap molasses
- dark chocolate
- cocoa powder (dark or raw)
There are plenty of iron sources from plants. But there are debates on how well the iron from these sources gets absorbed as compared to the iron from meat or fish. Although there are no clear answers yet, it’s important to note that phytates affect the absorption of iron from these plant sources. A lot of plant sources contain phytates. These include some vegetables, seeds, legumes, nuts and whole grains. The phytates combine the minerals, making them more difficult to absorb by the body. Of course, there are different ways to release iron from these food sources. In doing this, the body can absorb the iron better.
Toasting seeds and nuts help break the phytates down. Soaking and sprouting the seeds and nuts does the same to them. Both processes release the minerals from their bonds, making them easier to absorb. Fermentation is another process which can effectively break phytates down. This is a common procedure for food such as miso, tempeh, sourdough bread, kimchi, and sauerkraut, all of which are excellent iron sources.
Including vitamin C to your daily meal intake also enhances your body’s ability to absorb iron. This is something to think about because a lot of plant sources contain vitamin C. It’s also helpful to avoid drinking coffee or tea when you’re consuming a meal which is rich in iron. This is because the tannins in these beverages bind minerals, making them harder to for your body to soak them up.
This particular vitamin is not common in a plant-based diet, that’s why people usually end up with a deficiency of it. So, it’s essential to take supplements or consume foods which are fortified. People who have a vitamin B12 deficiency are at risk for dangerous health complications. When looking at it long-term, it can even be the cause of neurological damages.
People who include eggs and dairy products in their plant-based diet may not be too concerned with this issue. This is because eggs and dairy contain vitamin B12. However, it’s a different story for people who don’t eat any animal products. They have to search for fortified foods to add into their diet. These include some kinds of cereals, non-dairy milk, yeast powder and meat replacement products. When searching for these food sources, it’s also important to go through the labels to ensure that it has vitamin B12. The recommended daily intake of this vitamin is 5-10 mcg for adults, daily. This is important to avoid the deficiency of vitamin B12 in the body.
It’s also worth considering supplements for vitamin B12, especially for people who are already low in this essential vitamin. The best choices for supplements are the sub-lingual or chewable ones. This is because the body absorbs them better.
This is another essential nutrient found in dairy products. So, people on a plant-based diet who don’t consume such may be at risk for a calcium deficiency. It’s important to find food sources which contain calcium because it’s essential for one’s health. It’s mainly vital to keep the bones healthy. Aside from that, it’s also essential for the transmission of nerve cells and the efficiency of muscle relaxation.
A lot of people may not know this, but a lot of plant-based food sources contain calcium. So it’s good to consume at least 4-5 servings of these food sources daily. Vitamin D must also be consumed along with the calcium-rich food. This is because vitamin D makes the body more efficient at absorbing calcium. Here are some of the best calcium-rich foods:
- leafy vegetables which are dark green
- oranges and dried figs
- sesame seeds and chickpeas
- tofu and sweet potato
- fortified milk (non-dairy)
Here’s another essential component which isn’t present in many foods in the plant-based diet. A majority of plant-based foods contain incomplete proteins. This is because of the absence of all the essential amino acids. Some of these foods contain a low amount of these or some of them are even lacking. Without these amino acids, it affects the amount of protein the body can absorb.
Unlike protein found in plants, animal proteins are complete. This is because they have a good amount of all of the essential amino acids. Fortunately, there are also a few options for plant-based food sources which have complete proteins. Because of this, the food sources should be part of the daily diet. These food sources include:
Quinoa. This is a type of grain that has a somewhat nutty taste. It’s a protein-rich food which also contains iron, fiber, manganese, and magnesium. It’s one type of food which is gradually growing in popularity because of how healthy it is.
People often consume quinoa in place of rice. It’s prepared the same way and can be eaten with different sides. This versatile food is great on its own or even used as an ingredient indifferent dishes.
Quinoa flour is also rich in protein, making it excellent for baking. Nowadays, different food products also contain quinoa. These include crackers, snack bars and even some types of cereals.
Soya. This is another food source which is rich in protein. However, it’s important to “go natural” when consuming soya products. A lot of products which contain soya are highly processed, making them less healthy.
It’s a good thing tofu is also made from soya beans. This is another natural and versatile food source. People eat this on its own or put add it to more complicated dishes. There are different kinds of tofu. People use these varied types in making savory or sweet dishes.
Buckwheat. This comes in flour form and grain form. The gluten-free flour is ideal for baking. It’s combined with other types of flour to come up with different baked creations. The grain form is usually boiled then used as a stuffing for other vegetables. Some people also soak then cook the grains then make it into a breakfast pudding.
Amaranth. This is another type of grain which has a nutty taste. It’s often toasted to enhance the delicious natural flavor. Once toasted, it’s a great addition to salads – giving them a different flavor and texture. Just like buckwheat grains, amaranth can also be made into a pudding for breakfast.
Other Essential Vitamins and Nutrients
Aside from the previously enumerated vitamins and nutrients, there are other essential compounds to look out for. These vitamins and nutrients are important in keeping the body healthy even while staying on a plant-based diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential. They have a wide variety of amazing health benefits. These benefits are essential for the brain and the whole body.This is why omega-3 fatty acids are always a
In fact, few nutrients have been studied as thoroughly as omega-3 fatty acids. In plant food sources, omega-3 is found in Alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. There are some plants which contain ALA. These include:
- chia seeds
- linseed or flaxseed
- other types of seeds and nuts (they contain minimal amounts)
- leafy vegetables with a dark green color
People following a plant-based diet must consume any food source which contains omega-3. The seeds mentioned above go great in salads, soups, porridges and even cereals. Chia seeds, in particular, can be used for making pudding for breakfast and some desserts. Sometimes, people also choose to take omega-3 supplements just to meet the daily requirement. This is okay too, but of course, it’s better to get the vitamins and nutrients from the most natural sources.
This vitamin is important because it gives the body a lot of health benefits. Just like calcium, vitamin D keeps the bones and teeth healthy and strong. It’s also effective in protecting the body against serious illnesses. These illnesses include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and even cancer.
The best source of vitamin D is sunshine! And the best part is, it’s always readily available. Vitamin D is easily acquired from exposure to the sun. Just make sure to do it at the right time and limit your exposure too. Remember that too much time under direct sunlight is harmful too.
Although the daily requirement for zinc isn’t much, the human body still benefits from those small amounts. Zinc helps the body stay healthy and carry out essential body functions daily. It ads in the production of hormones, it helps in body repair and growth, it makes digestion easier and it even boosts the immune system.
Different types of legumes, whole grains, and beans contain zinc. But just like with iron, it’s better to soak or sprout these food sources first to break the phytic acids down. Then the minerals become easier to absorb.
Finally, we have iodine. This is another important compound which aids in body’s normal development and growth. The majority of iodine in the human body is found in the thyroid gland. This is in charge of producing and secreting hormones which control the body’s metabolism.
Plant-based food sources which contain iodine are leafy vegetables, asparagus, sea vegetables, and kelp, as well as iodized salt.
Getting the Most out of Your Plant-Based Diet
As you can see, following a plant-based diet doesn’t mean you’re missing out on anything. Finding the right food sources is key to be able to balance the daily vitamin and nutrient requirements. Here are more useful tips:
- Instead of meat, go for healthy meat substitutes. These include tempeh, tofu, wheat gluten and even edamame beans. These will provide the body with protein and add texture to the dishes too.
- Legumes are a rich source of different vitamins and nutrients. They contain carbohydrates, proteins, and fiber. They also keep the body feeling full while keeping the energy up and maintaining the weight. Legumes are also great in maintaining the blood sugar levels.
- Aside from meals, smoothies are also great sources of vitamins on a plant-based Choosing the right fruits and vegetables and blending them up will surely make a great snack or light meal.