Thinking of going plant-based? Plant-based diets have seen a massive surge in interest and popularity due to the benefits it has to for our planet, our health, and of course in animal welfare. It’s easier now than ever before to go plant-based as more supermarkets, shops, and restaurants offer plant-based alternatives. Going plant-based means that you need to pay special attention to your nutritional needs as there are some vitamins and nutrients that are more difficult to attain if you’re opting to go meat-free. Here are some vitamins and supplements to consider if you’re plant-based.
This vitamin is especially important for vegans as is not a vitamin that is not a vitamin found in naturally in non-animal products. Vitamin B-12 plays a vital role in the formation of our red blood cells and metabolic proteins meaning that a deficiency can leave you feeling very fatigued and weak. While anyone can be deficient in B-12, vegans are at a higher risk since B-12 is normally found in animal-based foods like fish, poultry, meat, eggs and dairy. A good source of plant-based vitamin B-12 can be found in nutritional yeast, seaweed, and is often added to many plant-based milks. Taking a supplement with vitamin B-12 is often strongly recommended for vegans and vegetarians.
Iron is another building block of healthy blood cells and is responsible for transporting oxygen throughout the body. Since the main source of iron is meat, especially red meat, which is the easiest way for our body to absorb iron. In addition, plant-based iron will be more difficult to absorb. Therefore, vegetarians are more likely to suffer from ischemia . Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron when taken with iron-rich foods.
A vital nutrient for our bones and teeth, calcium is easily attained through a variety of dairy products, meaning that vegans might be susceptible to deficiencies. Vegans should be eating plenty of dark leafy greens, fortified milk alternatives, and legumes. Calcium supplements are often supported by vitamin D, which is a vitamin that nearly everyone is at risk of being low in, regardless of diet, making this combination an important supplement to consider taking.
Long Chain Omega-3s
Omega-3s are essential for a healthy brain and eyes. There are two categories of omega fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is an essential fatty acid that we require from our food and is attainable through plants like flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, soybeans. The other is the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which can be derived from the animals we eat but can also be produced by ALA. Those who are vegetarian and vegan are likely not getting enough of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids so it may be helpful to supplement to ensure optimal brain health.
Iodine is an important element that supports the thyroid gland, which controls our metabolism. Because very few foods (such as iodized salt, seaweed, seafood, and dairy products) contain high levels of iodine, vegetarians, especially vegans, are more prone to iodine deficiency. Iodine is an easy-to-take supplement that usually comes in liquid form and can be added to any liquid.
Zinc is an important mineral that helps to sustain our immune system, metabolism, and our cells. There are very few plant-based foods that contain sufficient amount of zinc so vegetarians and vegans need to get enough zinc by eating plenty of whole grains, tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds and follow up with supplementation if needed.
Dietary Tips for Vegetarians and Vegans
While it's not difficult to get protein from non-meat alternatives it is important if you’re plant-based to be conscious of getting enough. Protein is what makes us feel full, keeps us energised and is a key component in muscle and tissue regeneration. If you are active and athletic, this is especially important if you’re plant-based. Tofu, nuts, and beans are high in protein and fibre and are easy additions to any meal.
Getting Enough and a Colourful Variety
It is also important to make sure that you’re getting the required amount of fruits and vegetables each day, as well as in a wide array of colours to meet your nutritional needs.
Avoid Excess Consumption of Processed Alternatives
Processed food is still processed, just because its plant-based doesn’t mean its necessarily healthy. Try and avoid consuming too much pre-packaged and processed alternatives and focus on whole foods, vegetables and fruit.