Plant-based eating is gaining momentum with more and more people interested or already practicing. If implemented properly, a plant-based diet has the ability to provide the individual with great health benefits. Many individuals think of it as simply deleting meat or animal products from the diet, but one must replace the lacking nutrients to achieve health with such diets. Below are a list of micronutrients that vegans and vegetarians are commonly deficient in.
Vitamin B-12: is only found in reliable amounts in animal foods. Supplementation on a plant-based diet is highly recommended. Aim for 10-100 mcg/day from supplements or 3-5 mcg/day from whole foods.
Calcium: is found in leafy green vegetables, tofu, nuts and legumes and fortified beverages. Unfortunately, excess protein, oxalate (in spinach, chard & berries), insoluble fibre and caffeine intake will hinder absorption so choosing to supplement may be beneficial. Aim for 1000mg/day.
Iodine: a high reliance on soy proteins or high consumption of vegetables such as cabbage, kale or cauliflower can impact thyroid function, so an iodine supplement may be recommended. Kelp, asparagus, green leafy vegetables and iodized or sea salt will improve iodine status, though supplementation is recommended in their absence. Aim for 75-100mg/day.
Omega-3 Fat: those trying to consume sufficient Omega 3’s are more likely to consume ALAs than EPA and DHA. ALAs are found in large amounts in flax, walnuts, canola, seaweed and perilla where as EPA/DHA can be found in higher amounts in hemp and algae oils. It is usually recommended to consume 2g of ALA and 1 g EPA/DHA daily.
Vitamin D: is found naturally in very few foods, supplementation is highly recommended. In Manitoba, because of our northern latitude, sun exposure does not allow for optimal Vitamin D absorption. Aim to supplement with 1000 IUs daily.
Zinc: is critical for many physiological functions and processes including blood formation, protein synthesis and immunity. Plant derived zinc appears to be less bioavailable with lower percentages of it being absorbed than are consumed. Plant foods rich in zinc include quinoa, wheat germ, lentils, nuts, seeds, cocoa, hemp, goji berries and apricots. Caffeine, tea, and calcium supplements can block absorption so it is recommended to consume these at different times.
The above nutrients are commonly deficient in those that eat even the best vegan or vegetarian diets. Additional deficiencies may arise if the diet is not sufficiently varied. Keep in mind that adopting a plant-based diet does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach; even small steps towards eating a plant-based diet can provide great results. Ask your strength coach today about how you can achieve better health through plant-based eating.
Pn1, CSEP-CPT, NSCA-CSCS