In addition to being compassionate and helpful to the planet, a plant based diet can be healthy IF you pay attention. Simply eliminating animal products from your diet is not necessarily healthy; many junk foods such as cookies and potato chips are vegan, but definitely not healthy. Paying attention to certain nutrients that may be lacking in a plant based diet can help you stay healthy.
B12 – This nutrient is primarily found naturally in animal products. B12 is important for nervous system function and the manufacture of red blood cells. Even if you aren’t plant based, absorption decreases in everyone after age 50. The best way to get this important nutrient is through fortified foods, such as cereal, and nutritional yeast, mushrooms and some algae. A B12 supplement is recommended. Symptoms of a deficiency may include fatigue, breathlessness, numbness, poor balance, and memory trouble.
Calcium- Contrary to popular belief, dairy is not the only, nor the best source of this nutrient. Calcium is important for bone health. Non dairy sources of calcium include chia, almonds, dried figs, tofu, white beans, sunflower seeds, broccoli, edamame, kale and other leafy greens, oranges and butternut squash. It is not recommended that you use a calcium supplement because research has shown that there is little to no benefit to bone health, and calcium supplements have been linked to an increased rick of colon polyps, kidney stones and hardened arteries in the heart due to calcium buildup. (hopkinsmedicine.org) Weight bearing exercise is also beneficial for bone health. Symptoms of a deficiency may include muscle cramping, spasms or weakness as well as fatigue, irritability or a “pins and needles” sensation.
Iodine – This helps to make your thyroid hormones. Seaweed, prunes, strawberries, lima beans and iodized salt. Symptoms of a deficiency include swelling or lump in the neck, constipations, difficulty thinking and understanding, fatigue or sensitivity to cold.
Iron – Iron is responsible for transport of oxygen throughout the body. Plant foods have non-heme iron which isn’t as easily absorbed as opposed to heme iron from animal products. Consuming vitamin C with plant based iron sources helps to increase absorption. Beans and legumes are the highest plant-based sources of iron. Menstruating women may also need to take a supplement, but have your levels checked or speak to your doctor first. Iron supplements can cause constipation, so make sure to have plenty of water and fiber. Symptoms of low iron include dizziness, fatigue or lightheadedness, heart palpitations, brittle nails, pallor and shortness of breath.
Omega 3s – This essential fatty acid is important for the brain and eyes as well as reducing inflammation and blood pressure. Rich sources include microalgae, chia, hemp, walnuts, and flaxseed. You can also supplement with a good quality vegan product.
Protein and Amino Acids– “Where do you get your protein” is something that’s often heard constantly. It is not hard at all to get enough protein, as long as you pay attention. It can be a little harder, however, to get all 9 essential amino acids. You need protein for your skin, bones, muscles, and organs. Beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, quinoa, tofu, nut butter are all good sources of protein. However, you need to pay attention to getting “complete proteins” such as food combining or quinoa. Some people find it easier to supplement with essential amino acids. Symptoms of a protein deficiency include meat cravings, hunger, weakness and fatigue, loss of muscle mass, slow healing injuries and impaired immune function. In addition to those, an amino acid deficiency can add depression, digestive issues, and lower mental alertness to the mix.
Vitamin D – Responsible for the immune system, muscle strength and absorption of calcium, this nutrient isn’t available from food (except fortified) and even omnivores can be deficient. We can make this from sunlight, but you can’t depend solely on it. A supplement is recommended. Fatigue and muscle weakness are the most common symptoms.
Zinc – This is important for your immune system, healthy skin, and wound healing. Protein helps with absorption. Good sources are pumpkin seeds, cashews, beans and legumes, and other nuts and seeds. A deficiency shows up as hair loss, changes in the nails, diarrhea, infections, feeling irritable, loss of appetite, impotence and eye problems.
If you are feeling unwell in any way, look at these nutrients and assess if perhaps you may be deficient in any. You can often correct a deficiency yourself, and if not, seek medical advice. I had experience with someone who was feeling depressed and mentally foggy. After 2 days of amino acid therapy those symptoms were gone and there was no need for antidepressants.
Contact me if you would like more info or individualized nutrition counseling.