Key vitamins and minerals for plant-based dieters
When embarking on a vegetarian, vegan, or mainly a plant-based diet, there are certain adjustments you need to make—starting with the food choices. This includes swapping your usual meat-rich meals for healthier alternatives while ensuring that these substitutes deliver the same nutrients that your body requires.
But more often than not, plant-based dieters are still left overwhelmed and worried if they’re really getting enough of something.
Truth is a well-planned plant-based diet can help fulfill your nutritional needs for as long as you know these key vitamins and minerals you need to take, and how to incorporate them into your eating pattern.
Vitamins For Plant-Based Dieters
Your red blood cells, muscles, and tissues love iron as it’s their daily carrier of oxygen for them to function.
There are two kinds of iron that you can get from foods: heme (coming from animals) and non-heme (coming from plants). Although healthier and more sustainable, non-heme iron isn’t absorbed efficiently by the body as heme iron.
One way to increase iron absorption is by combining iron-rich foods such as dried beans, lentils, whole grains, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and dried fruits with foods high in Vitamin C. Drinking coffee and tea in between meals, and using cast-iron pots and pans when cooking can also boost the process.
Protein, known as the building blocks of life, produces amino acids that promote the growth and repair of muscles, tissues, and skin. So, if you love doing exercises or any strenuous activities, make sure to supply your body with protein to recover and be protected from any injuries.
It’s usually obtained from animal products, but you can also get enough protein from plants, especially when you’re eating a variety of them—plus, it’s safer and healthier! Some protein-rich foods you can add to your diet are legumes, peas, nuts, seeds, soy, and whole grains.
When you consume enough protein, you’ll get another mineral that supports the immune system and helps in wound healing—zinc. It also assists your body in DNA regulation and antioxidant protection from free radicals.
However, like iron, zinc from plant sources is less easily absorbed by the body because of the natural phytate content. That is why eating a variety of zinc-rich foods is important to help increase your daily intake. These include whole grains, tofu, tempeh, miso, and nuts and seeds soaked overnight.
Apart from strengthening teeth and bones, calcium is also notable for its prime role in nerve transmission, blood pressure regulation, and blood clotting.
And guess what? Not only do you get this nutrient from dairy products, but from plant-based sources as well—think of kale, bok choy, broccoli, watercress, chickpeas, black beans, and almonds. Adding fortified products such as non-dairy milk, breakfast cereals, and other vitamin D-rich foods into your overall balanced diet can help boost your calcium intake.
These essential fatty acids maintain the health of the eyes, brain, heart, lungs, immune system, and endocrine system. However, they aren’t naturally produced by the body and are usually obtained from your diet.
There are three types of omega 3-fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To have enough supply of EPA and DHA, you need to boost the absorption of ALA, which you can get from plants.
Examples are flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, leafy greens, algal oil, and walnuts. But since the body doesn’t always convert the ALA efficiently, dieticians often advise taking omega-3 supplements.
Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in protein metabolism and proper nerve function. But unlike other nutrients, this is the only vitamin that you can’t naturally get from plants.
Good thing, science lets us enjoy its benefits through several foods fortified with Vitamin B12! It can be from fortified plant-based milk, fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, and B12 supplements.
It may look daunting at first, but notice how the same food groups contain three or more vitamins and minerals. You’re like hitting more than two birds with one stone!
And in case you need to pair your diet with supplements, it is always better to consult your dietician first.