So begins the third week of my experiment. To be honest, aside from a bit of weight loss, I’m not experiencing a massive change in how I feel. That being said, I am acutely aware that all dietary changes have to be viewed as lifestyle changes, not a short-term fix and most benefits will be felt in the long-term.
Generally, my diet is pretty good, I eat loads of fruit and vegetables and I do also supplement those with whole food capsules that give me a further boost of nutrients – however, I do have a fondness for dark chocolate that I can’t seem to overcome…
But onto the main topic – what a plant-based diet generally lacks nutrient-wise and how to make sure that you are getting enough of the good stuff.
For me, the hardest part of following a plant-based diet is cramming in the protein without over-eating all day and therefore over-doing my caloric intake. I’ve continued to include eggs and a limited amount of dairy in my diet, but the majority of my protein has been coming from legumes, lentils, seeds and nuts. Luckily, I love all of this stuff! I won’t bore you by reiterating the reasons protein is so important to have in your diet as I did that last week, suffice to say, make sure you are getting enough.
Let’s take a look at the other nutrients that are most often lacking in a plant-based diet: Iron, B12, calcium and zinc.
The importance of iron:
- It is an essential component of haemoglobin, the bit of the red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body. Two-thirds of your iron intake goes to your haemoglobin.
- It helps maintain healthy cells, skin, hair and nails.
What happens if you do not have enough iron in your body: you may feel fatigued, short of breath or have cold hands and feet.
Foods high in iron include:· Fortified cereals, dried fruit, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds, pulses and leafy green vegetables.
Top tip: Iron absorption is increased when taken with a source of vitamin C such as citrus fruits or mango and certain veggies like red peppers.
The importance of Vitamin B12:
- Works together with folate to create two essential chemical reactions crucial for cell growth, DNA production and development and contributes to the healthy function of the brain and nervous system.
- B12 may also enhance bone health and normal immune function.
Deficiencies in B12 can present as cold hands and feet, may affect your balance and cause fatigue. It may also contributeto depression and confusion.
Getting B12 into your diet: Unfortunately, plants do not contain B12, therefore you must get it through consumption of dairy, eggs, fortified cereals or bread, or in supplemental form.
The importance of Calcium:
- 99% of calcium taken into the body contributes to bones and teeth health, and supporting skeletal structure and function.
- It also plays a crucial role in cell signalling, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function.
A deficiency in Calcium can lead to rickets in children or osteoporosis in adults.
Foods high in Calcium: Dairy, green vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage, certain seeds and nuts (almonds, sunflower, brazil nuts), soya products, fortified bread or cereals, and fish (those where you can eat the bones such as sardines or pilchards).
And finally, the importance of Zinc:
- Utilised by the body to make new cells and enzymes
- Aids in processing macronutrients
- Supports wound healing
- Also linked to antioxidant activity and immune system response, growth and development
- May aid in reducing inflammation and improving acne symptoms
It is unusual to have a zinc deficiency but in those rare cases it may result in impaired growth and development, skin rashes, chronic diarrhoea and behavioural issues.
Foods high in Zinc: Whole grains, pulses, seeds and nuts, dried fruit (apricots, dates and raisins), legumes, eggs and dairy, fortified bread and cereal products, and certain vegetables such as mushrooms, kale, peas and asparagus.
If you feel you may need specific supplementation, please speak to your GP or other health professional before taking any store-bought supplements.
And if you are interested in discussing whole food supplementation, please feel free to contact me to arrange a chat.