Plant-based diets are a sweeping trend and are slowly gaining popularity, despite the fact that only 2% of the world’s population attribute themselves to such a diet. You may want to be more environmentally conscious, saw one of those life changing videos of animal mistreatment, have religious reasons, or want to take a new approach to weight loss or general nutrition. Regardless of your reasons, plant-based diets are certainly a great way to go! If you are thinking about adopting a plant-based diet, or currently have one, there’s some essential facts regarding deficiencies and benefits that are important for you to know!
- Minimize greenhouse gases and animal waste
- Save water and agriculture (such as grain) used to feed mass amounts of livestock
- Support animal rights and contribute to lowering their consumption
- Intake of more antioxidants from plant-based foods, resulting in less chances of cancer, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and gastrointestinal issues.
- Adopt more whole, natural foods in place of processed ones
- Save money (if you know where to shop and select produce-start a garden!)
Common Nutrient Deficiencies:
Precision Nutrition (http://www.precisionnutrition.com/) has provided some common micronutrients often absent from plant-based diets and their suggested daily intakes.
- Zinc: Truly vital for the development and maintence of the immune system, protein synthesis (building protein structures for tissues such as muscle or injuries), and the forming of parts of the blood. While zinc is offered in plants, the way the human body absorbs it in comparison to animal products is slightly different. It has been found that drinking coffee or tea between your mealtimes can help absorbtion of zinc, Some foods that are rich in zinc are quinoa, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), goji berries, dried apricots, hemp seeds, almonds, lentils, and hummus.
- Calcium: Abosrbtion of calcium is also worse in a plant-based diet, but consuming 1000 mg/day will compensate. In addition to coffee and tea, a liquid calcium supplement drink can also help with zinc absorbtion in between meals, hitting two birds…or broccolis…with one stone! Some natural sources include lentils, tofu, nuts, leafy green veggies, and fortified foods.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: While you can get alpha-linoleic acids (ALA) from hemp seeds, walnuts, seaweed, and flax seeds, a lack of fish soruces may cause defficienes in docosahexonic acid (DHA). You can get DHA in supplements or algae sources (spirulina or other algae oils-this is what fish eat to get their healthy fatty acids!). Combine at least 2 grams of ALA/day with 1 gram of DHA/day.
- Vitamin B12: Often found in animal products, makes sure you get adequate B12 intake for nervous system health, red blood cell production, and the construction of DNA. Some foods have added B12 (aim for 3-5 mcg/day) while supplements for B12 and other B vitamins are common (if using supplements, aim for 10-100 mcg/day).
- Iodine: The human body does not produce it, but it is necessary for hormonal production and the thyroid. You can get a good source of iodines from the sea, from things such as kelp, seaweed, sea salt, and other green leafy veggies. Aim for 75-100 mcg/day.
- Vitamin D: If you’re excluding dairy, it will be hard to get enough Vitamin D in a plant-based diet. Have adequate sun exposure (20-30 min/day for 3-5 time/week) or supplement with 25 mcg on days when the sun don’t shine.
- Protein: With the exclusion of animal products, it can be hard to think-outside the box to get enough protein in your diet, which is essential. It is often recommended that an individual should get 0.8 gram/protein per kg of their weight, but a fair rule of thumb is to have 1 gram/lb or around that. There is a great availability of plant-based protein powders, such as Spiru-teen, and meal replacements. Here is a link to a list full of great plant sources rich in protein: http://thriveforward.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/03-Protein-for-Athletes-Ref-Visual-Guide-to-Plant-Based-Protein.pdf
There you have it, a survival guide to being a brontosaurus. Remember, don’t feel like you HAVE to abandon animal products to incorporate more plant-based foods. I definitely encourage everyone to do add them into your diet as much as possible, as they are continuing to show decrements in the risks of cancer and other disease. But consider lowering the amount of animal products and substituting one or two things for plants instead. If you make a big jump the next day, it might not stick. So if it sounds like it’s for you, power to the plants and good luck!
PS: Grow and buy locally and respect the bees!