A vegan and vegetarian diet has become an increasingly popular way to eat. This way of eating can have many benefits, if done correctly. A diet high in fruits and vegetables provides the body with great amounts of fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants which can help prevent and protect your body from many diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity.
There is however, a problem in eating this sort of diet if it is done incorrectly. The exclusion of animal products can potentiate certain nutrient deficiencies; thus, it is important to be well prepared and educated OR work alongside a professional to help get the best out of a plant-based diet.
If you are wanting to embrace more of a plant- based diet or strictly follow a vegetarian and/ or vegan diet I have outlined some important things to consider below when planning your meals.
Combine your Protein Sources
Protein should be an essential component of everyone’s diet. Its plays many roles in the body including energy production, maintenance of skin, muscles, hair and nails, helps digestion and nutrient transport, hormone production, immune system function, mental health and regulation of mood as well as satiety and weight management. Protein is made up of important amino acids which can be classified into two categories.
Essential amino acids: these include those that cannot be manufactured by the body and thus must be consumed through the diet.
Non- essential amino acids: these include those that can be made by the body.
Certain foods (mainly animal products) are considered “complete proteins” as they contain all the essential amino acids. Vegetarians and vegans must combine protein sources to enable them to get all of the required essential amino acids. For example; combining brown rice with legumes or chickpeas. These protein sources do not specifically have to be eaten in the same meal, however it is more beneficial for our body to absorb these nutrients together as a full protein source.
Some examples of vegetarian foods high in protein include: Soyabeans, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, quinoa, amaranth and microalgae such as spirulina, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
Eat the Rainbow
To ensure you are getting adequate vitamins and minerals it is important to eat a variety of different vegetables of different colours and textures. For example, brassica vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage contain different fibres which help our digestion and liver to what starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato and pumpkin would provide. The simplest way to ensure you are getting a great variety is to try and incorporate all the different colours (red, yellow green, orange, purple, brown and white)
Open your eyes to the world of health food stores. They contain a different variety of foods that you cannot get from your everyday supermarket. This includes (but is not limited to): different types of seaweeds and algae, mushrooms, miso pastes, alternative soy products, fermented vegetables, dairy free yoghurt, cheese and kefir, sprouts, grains, legumes, jackfruit and flours. Try staying clear of any vegetarian meat substitute that is heavily processed (these are often found in supermarkets and can include things such as vegetarian sausages- which are often also high in preservatives). Having a diet which incorporates variety will help you to achieve great nutritional levels.
Consider important nutrients
As mentioned above vegetarians and vegans are prone to nutritional deficiencies due to the absence of full protein sources and animal products.
The most 3 common nutrient deficiencies include:
Iron which comes from plant sources is less easily absorbed and bioavailable compared to those in found in animal products. Vegetarian sources of iron include: wholegrains, legumes, dried fruit (particularly dried apricots), nuts, seeds, dark leafy vegetables, seaweed and avocado. The absorption and bioavailability of iron from these foods can be enhanced by adding vitamin C rich foods such as lemon.
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
A vegan or vegetarian diet which excludes fish and seafood must rely on the poor conversion of Omega 3 fats. Vegetarian sources include seaweed and microalgae. Vegan sources can include different nut and seed oils, as well as chia seeds, flax seeds and nuts (particularly walnuts).
There has been speculation that savory yeast flakes, brewer’s yeast, fermented foods, fermented soy bean products and sea vegetables contain B12, however there is discrepancy around whether our body and microbiome can utilize this form of B12. Generally speaking, not enough B12 can be obtained through a vegetarian diet, to keep optimal levels it is recommended to supplement under the guidance of a practitioner.
Deficiencies in these nutrients can present as fatigue, shortness of breath as well as changes in memory, mood and concentration.
If you are tired, fatigue, frequently ill or if you suspect you have a nutrient deficiency (or it has been diagnosed by a GP) OR perhaps you are just wanting some more guidance and education around eating a plant-based diet it is best to seek some professional advice by a Naturopath to get you back to optimal health.
Tanika is one of our Naturopaths here at The Sana Co. She has a special clinical interest in mental health, stress and sleep disturbances as well as womens health and hormone imbalances. Book your appointment with Tanika HERE