Our bodies require numerous nutrients to function correctly, from carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and many minerals. Some of them our bodies can produce themselves and others we must obtain from the external environment (such as... food, the sun, supplements, etc.).
The good news is it is totally possible to get all the nutrients you need as a vegan or vegetarian. And yes, you can do it without spending a small fortune. It just requires a little nutritional knowhow, planning and basics food preparation skills.
I will be covering the basics here, this is by no means a full explanation, but it will give you the basics to get started.
The reason I am sharing this post as one of the first blog posts here is due to the fact I have eliminated animal produce from my diet this year and feel the benefits, therefore I want to address the basic key nutrients what they do and where to find them. Its has been an exciting learning process so far, I hope you enjoy it as I do if you start to incorporate the following.
For a more indepth nutritional guidance, be sure to reach out to a vegan registered dietitian nutritionist is you feel this is something you would like to get more into.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Long chain omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA are linked with lower rates of heart disease and some cancers.
Fish are spoken about as a great source of omega-3s. Only... did you know that fish get their omegas from eating algae? Therefore, so can vegas!
Algae-based supplements are a direct way for vegans to get DHA and EPA. Our bodies can also make DHA and EPA from ALA, another kind of omega.3 fatty acid found in chia, flax and walnuts. However, many people have low conversion rates and without a way of knowing how good your body is at converting ALA to DHA and EPA, it is highly suggested to take a supplement.
For most who are either contemplating or are already living a vegetarian or vegan eating plan, you will know that you can get sufficient protein from plants. For those of you who are new to this idea here’s a quick explanation.
Protein can be found in all types of plants. Most notably in legumes which includes lentils, peas, beans, peanuts and soy foods such as tofu, tempeh and soy-based vegan meats. Nuts, whole grains, seeds and vegetables also contain protein while fruit on the other hand contain very little.
When you consume a variety of these foods every day, you can be confident you are getting enough protein and essential amino acids.
You should aim to consume at least three servings per day of legumes (this includes beans, lentils, peanuts and soy-based foods such as tofu and tempeh), emphasize whole grains over refined grains, and get a couple servings of nuts and seeds a day and you should be good-to-go on the protein front.
Eating enough protein is also crucial, this way your body can use the protein you eat for important building functions and not for just for energy.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin meaning you need to eat some fat with it so your body can absorb it. Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, immune function and reproduction. It is not one single nutrient, rather a group of nutrients known as retinoids. There are two kinds found in food: provitamin A and preformed vitamin A.
Let me explain the difference...
Preformed vitamin A come from animal foods and provitamin A are the carotenoids found in orange vegetables and fruits such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and green vegetables including spinach, kale and broccoli to name a few.
Our bodies can convert the carotenoids into vitamin A. For that reason, we do not need to consume animals in order to get enough vitamin A.
By eating a few servings of green leafy vegetables and orange vegetable daily to ensure you get enough vitamin A.
Do not forget to use a little fat when you cook these foods in order to help you body absorb the carotenoids.
Vitamin C is essential for the immune system and collagen production. You will find that fruits and vegetables contain plenty. Vegans especially should not have any issues about lack of Vitamin C if they are eating several servings of vegetables and fruits daily. White potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C for those of you who are not worried about the carb quantity and starch in potatoes.
It is essential to consume enough Vitamin C in order to help our bodies absorb the iron from plant foods. Vitamin C rich foods such as bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, kiwifruit, cauliflower and tomatoes are an example of foods that should be consumed when eating iron-rich foods. By adding a dash of lemon juice, this can help the body absorb iron from plants. So many of nature's food sources work in harmony when consumed correctly.
Most will already know that Calcium is key for bone health. Yet many people incorrectly assume you have to consume dairy products to ensure you get enough calcium.
Fortunately it is possible to consume calcium in numerous plant foods! Although, not in amounts as high as dairy products.
Consuming enough calcium-rich plant foods daily (6 to 8 servings) is very important! You can make up any lack of calcium via a supplement.
Calcium can be found in calcium-fortified plant-based milks and juices, calcium-set tofu, collard greens, kale and figs. Smaller amounts of calcium are available in black beans, chickpeas, tempeh, almond butter, sesame seeds, broccoli and oranges.
When you consume a calcium fortified plant based mily, be sure to shake it well beforehand to ensure you have blended all the ingredients in the container before pouring.
Vitamin D is necessary to help our bodies absorb calcium which fat-soluble. Many people need a vitamin D supplement regardless of whether they are vegan or not.
It is known that those who live in countries with little or no natural sunlight for months a t a time and suffer from lack of vitamin D.
Our local doctor here in Southern Spain even highlighted how many people who live in warm climates and do their best to avoid being in the direct sunlight can also suffer from a lack of Vitamin D, so you can imagine those living in Northern Europe for example will have more difficulty in ensuring they have the correct amount needed.
Our bodies can make vitamin D when skin is exposed to direct sunlight, but there are so many factors that affect this, as I just mentioned, therefore it is always key to rely on fortified foods and supplements other than natural sunlight.
As a vegan or vegetarian, be aware that most vitamin D used in fortified foods and supplements is from animal sources, so be sure to check the label to ensure the vitamin D is coming from a plant source such as lichen.
Note: Again, for recommendations be sure to check out "Digital Jungle Secrets" in The Shop.
Iodine essential for thyroid health, therefore it should not be ignored. Especially as it can often be left out of many vegan nutrition conversations.
Iodine is commonly found in seafood, therefore if you are only eating a plant based diet such as vegan or vegetarian, it is advisable to eat sea vegetables several times throughout the week. Sea Vegetables such as dulse, kelp, contain iodine. Obviously these are not common products found in your average supermarket, therefore you will need to get iodine from iodized salt or a supplement.
Avoid thinking you need to consume large amounts of salt to get enough iodine. With only 1/2 a teaspoon of iodized salt, you will have enough iodine that you need for one day as well as 1,000 milligrams of sodium.
Something you should understand, the salt used in processed foods is rarely iodized. That is why it is so important to get most of your salt from natural foods seasoned with iodized salt.
Essential for growth, development and cellular metabolism, zinc is a mineral found in protein-rich foods.
Good plant-based sources include pumpkin seeds, fortified cereal, wheat germ, tahini, peanuts and cashews. It is found in smaller amounts in quinoa, oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, tofu and tempeh.
Our bodies don’t absorb zinc as well from plant foods as they do from animal foods and vegans need to eat more zinc than those who eat meat. You should make sure you are Make sure you are eating a variety of these foods every day to meet the zinc requirements. To be on the safe side, i would always recommend taking a supplement.
Iron is needed to help our red blood cells carry oxygen around our body parts.
As we know red meat is a good source of iron, iron can also be found in plant foods. The type of iron in plant foods is called nonheme iron and is more difficult for the body to absorb than heme iron found in animal foods.
Here are a few sources of good vegan iron options. Black-eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, white beans, soy beans, lentils, spinach, tofu, fortified cereal, swiss chard, sea vegetables and cashews.
By consuming vitamin C, this helps the body absorb iron from these foods. Be sure to eat a food containing vitamin C with these foods, the above suggested iron options.
Take note: calcium inhibits iron absorption so if you’re taking a calcium supplement, do so at a time when you’re not eating iron-rich foods.
An extra tip: one which I am very passionate about due to having experience over 3 years analyzing hundreds of individuals with a laser scanner (BioPhotonic Scanner) to review the levels of antioxidants in the system and how by consuming the actual supplement I have personally been using for 10 years, increased the level of antioxidant protection for our DNA.
Anti-oxidants help to neutralize harmful free radicals that attack our bodies. in doing so, our DNA is protected which reduces the risk of cancer and other illnesses.
Nutrients which act as antioxidants and found in plant food are vitamin C and E and carotenoids.
Unfortunately, both Antioxidants and Phytonutrients are not considered "essential" like the nutrients mentioned prior. Phytonutrients are powerful plant compound substances found in plants that benefit humans in being able to help prevent cancer, heart disease and other diseases.
There are so many benefits from eating a high plant based diet that includes plenty of colorful vegetables and fruits, whole grain, legumes, nuts and seeds which are full of healthy phytonutrients.
Now we have a better understanding of plant foods, fortified foods and supplements, you can easily consume all the nutrients you need to live an enjoyably healthy vegan/vegetarian life!
If you are finding it difficult to eat a plant based eating pan without feeling drained or like you are missing out on something, be sure to reach out to me direct and lets see what you are missing out on.
We need to remember that our lifestyle, including our physical activity, sleep, and eating habits are key to us living the best life possible, never take one for granted, they all work in sync.
For those of you who would also prefer to consume a natural supplement to guarantee you are getting the right amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, I personally consume two products that is measurable to confirm my body is benefiting from what I am taking. For more details you can reach out to me direct via Whats app (HERE)