Transitioning to a plant-based diet isn’t always easy and the first few weeks can be a minefield deciding what you should eat.
As with all diet types, there are potential downfalls of a plant-based diet but providing you're aware of them, a plant-based diet can be healthy, nutritious and delicious! It can improve your energy levels, mental performance and sleep quality, and you have the peace of mind it's helping protect our environment.
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
Plant-based diets can be very rich in essential vitamins, minerals and most other nutrients your body needs to support all your body's needs.
It is the variety of foods you eat that is important because they all combine to improve their individual and collective benefit.
Make sure your diet includes a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, pulses and wholegrains. Most plant foods are good sources of fibre, which supports digestive health and balances your cholesterol levels.
What you could miss out on in a plant-based diet
A balanced plant-based diet can provide good sources of most vitamins and minerals. However, there are a few nutrients that may fall short in even the healthiest plant-based diet, so watch out for the following:
Vitamin B12 is found in almost all foods of animal origin and levels tend to be very low or non-existent in plant foods.
Known as 'The Energy Vitamin', B12 is essential for creating red-blood cells, digesting proteins and releasing energy from your food, and supporting your nervous system.
The biggest symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency is fatigue and low immunity. If you're not eating animal foods, you should consider a B12 supplement.
The Iron in animal foods is relatively well absorbed. By contrast, less than 20% of Iron from plants is absorbed by your body.
One of the first signs of iron deficiency is tiredness and fatigue. As well helping maintain energy and reducing tiredness, Iron is essential for a healthy brain function and immune system.
Good plant sources of Iron are wholegrains, dried fruits such as figs and apricots, green leafy vegetables, seeds and nuts.
The best sources of Iodine are white fish, shellfish and dairy so it is a mineral that can be low in plant-based diets.
If you are following a plant-based diet, the best way to keep your Iodine levels up is through using seaweeds in your food, or take Iodine in a Daily Multi-Vitamin supplement.
Calcium is an important nutrient for our bone health as well as the health of our teeth and our muscles.
A recent study by Oxford University showed that non-meat eaters are at a higher risk of bone fractures, which may be due to lower intake of Calcium and Protein in their diet.
If you are following a plant-based diet and not eating dairy products, ensure you get a good intake of Calcium rich plant foods such as kale, bok choy, broccoli, almonds and oranges, or consider a supplement.
Zinc, like Magnesium, is a mineral 'Superhero'. Classed as an essential mineral because it can only be obtained through your diet or supplements, Zinc is involved in hundreds of processes in your body and is vital for our metabolism and immune system.
The best sources of Zinc are meat and shellfish. Plant-based sources include wholegrains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, however absorption isn't as good as it is from meat. To make matters worse, Phytates contained in plant foods impair the absorption of Zinc.
Just because food is vegan or vegetarian doesn’t mean it is healthier
Some foods that are vegetarian or vegan can actually be heavily processed. They can also be high in salt or sugar. Some “meat” alternatives can also be full of processed ingredients or chemicals. As with any food, make sure you read the label.
A plant-based diet can provide you with all the nutrients you need so long as you avoid simple mistakes, follow a varied and healthy diet, plan your meals well, and where necessary consider a Daily Multi-Vitamin or individual supplements.
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