Are You Eating Plant Based? Here Are Some Nutrients to Watch Out For:

The phrase 'Plant Based Diet' has become the current buzzword in the nutrition world, with the rise of  veganism going up by about half a million in 2018 and the participation in 'Veganuary' rising by 60%! 


The actual definition of a plant based diet from the British Dietetics Association is:
'A Plant-Based diet is based on foods derived from plants, including vegetables, wholegrain, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits, with few or no animal products' 

But I think the message that people miss is that plant-based doesn't actually mean that you only eat plants and nothing else. 



There are different variations such as:

Flexitarian:
You only occasionally eat meat or poultry
Pescatarian:
Eat fish and shellfish, but do not consume meat 
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian:
You eat dairy foods and eggs but no meat or fish 
Ovo-Vegetarian:
Includes eggs but avoids all other animal products, including meat, fish and dairy
Vegan:
Consumes no animal products at all, including honey, dairy and eggs 

So plant-based is what you make of it. There are no rules! It's all about encouraging people to eat more plants for their health, the environment or the welfare of animals. 


That said, because this means that a lot of food groups can be cut out or reduced, the level of nutrients that you are consuming can vary. Here are the main ones to look out for and make sure you get enough of: 

Calcium
Calcium is essential for bone health and each adult is recommended to consume around 700mg per day. 
We've been programmed to associate calcium with dairy, which is a good source, but if you are going to have plant based or vegan milk alternatives, then you need to make sure that they are fortified with nutrients, the same goes with some cereals. I have the Tesco own brand soya milk and it is fortified with calcium to the same levels as cows milk. 
Other calcium sources are leafy green vegetables, almonds, red kidney beans, sesame seeds and tofu. 
Try including a mixture of these in your meals. 


Iron
Iron is necessary to make haemoglobin which carries oxygen around the body. 
Iron in it's easiest to absorb source is in meat. However, it isn't difficult to get iron on a plant based diet. The trick is to consume iron with a source of calcium. 
For example, iron rich foods can include whole grains, nuts, seeds, green vegetables, and paired with things like red peppers oranges, lemons or grapefruit. 



Vitamin B12
B12 is so important to produce DNA in the body and is essential for red blood cell metabolism and formation. Consequences for not consuming enough B12 can include anaemia, and can even damage the neves. But this is a difficult nutrient to find as it is naturally food in animal products. 
If you are consuming dairy still then you will be fine. But if you are vegan then the only way to get B12 is to consume fortified products or supplements. 
A good source of B12 is nutritional yeast, just a sprinkle on top of your meals every now and again can really help to keep your levels topped up. 
B12 supplements are also widely available and recommended if you don't like nutritional yeast. 
However, if you are following a plant based diet, it is really handy to get tested by your doctor to make sure you have sufficient levels. 


Vitamin D
Vitamin D is there to help you absorb calcium, promoting bone health, but also supports your muscles and teeth. 
In the UK, between April and September, all you need is to make sure you are exposed to sunlight for 10-20 minutes during the day, and this will give you your daily dose of the vitamin. However, in the darker months, the whole country should be taking a vitamin D supplement daily to be able to keep these levels topped up and keep your body healthy. 
Ensure that your supplement is between 10-20 micrograms a day to keep them at an optimal level. 


Iodine
Often the nutrient that people forget about, iodine is used to make thyroid hormones that control how fast your cells work. The recommendation in the UK is around 140 micrograms per day. 
The best way to get iodine is through cheese, eggs and yoghurts, but if you are vegan then fortified foods, including cereals and plant based milks. When picking a milk always ensure that it has some iodine fortified in it to make it a really easy way. 
Seaweed is also a really good source of iodine, however, sometimes the levels can be too high. 
If you live near the sea and buy your vegetables locally then there is a good chance that you are consuming a good level of iodine as it is found in soil. 










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