This post has been reviewed by our registered dietitian Celine Maetti
If you’re new to plant based eating, then you are probably still in the process of understanding how the whole thing works. You’ll be finding meat free substitutes for the dishes that you love, and maybe even feeling a little overwhelmed about how you will keep your diet varied and interesting for a lifetime.
But, did you know that there are 3 vital nutrient supplements you may need on your plant based diet to keep yourself healthy and firing on all cylinders and we shall discuss them in this post.
Building a new body with food
Plants are amazing and can completely transform your body, mind and soul. Seriously, the amount of testimonies we have seen in our large Facebook groups from plant based converts is just awe-inspiring. Daily people are healing themselves from all kind of chronic diseases such as high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
That’s why the plant based diet is becoming so big. It’s good for you, the planet AND the animals. It’s a win win situation to start this lifestyle and you’ll find it’s good for your food budget too as eating whole foods plant based is one of the least expensive ways to eat out there.
Plant Based Vs Vegan
Building out a stronger, healthier body is your long term reward for putting in all those nutritious plant foods, instead of too many acid forming foods such as meat and dairy. You will find when you take these two major food groups out, you will more than likely naturally be eating more healthy plant food products. As long as you don’t become a junk food vegan that is. Yes, that’s a thing.
Plant based eating is different to vegan eating in the respect that it promotes the eating of lots of plant based foods, and takes out the refined sugars and trans fats that can still be abundant on a vegan diet. Just to be clear, not all vegans eat junk foods, and most vegans are extremely healthy.
However, vegan or plant based, you may find yourself lacking in certain nutrients over time, of which we shall explain below.
The 3 CRUCIAL nutrient supplements
To begin, always keep your diet as varied as possible and eat a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables for high amounts of nutrients and antioxidants. This is by far the best way to obtain your nutrients, but you will find plant foods lacking in the 3 nutrients listed below and so you may wish to consider supplementing.
1. LONG CHAIN OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
There are 2 types of omega 3 fatty acids:-
- ALA is an ESSENTIAL omega 3 fatty acid that can only be obtained through the diet alone.
- DHA and EPA are non-essential, meaning the body can produce its own through our ALA omega fats. However, they are still essential in the sense that we need them in our body. Non-essential in the sense that we don’t need to consume them from outside sources. Animal products are naturally high in these two, and so are a direct source with no need for conversion.
Lots of plant foods contain ALA such as chia, flax, hemp seeds, walnuts, and soy products. You would think that we could make plenty of our own DHA and EPA from these, but this is not actually the case. Unfortunately, the conversion rate for plant based ALA into EPA is only around 5% and the conversion to DHA is practically zero.
This is the reason why studies show that vegans are consistently lacking in these vital nutrients.
Possible symptoms of low omega 3
- Dry or flaky skin, hair and nails
- Night blindness
- Cardiovascular problems in the long term
Luckily, you can easily buy a good quality omega 3 supplement specially designed for vegan and plant based diets, therefore this should be an easy problem to fix.
2. VITAMIN D
Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D and the ones that do are mostly fish, seafood or egg based, and therefore not eaten on the plant based diet. Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem among meat eaters and plant based eaters alike, but worse so for the latter.
If you’re lucky enough to live in the sunshine, then you may not need to supplement vitamin D (though do be mindful of the fact that as a plant based eater you won’t be getting ANY through food). But, if you are not getting a good 15 minutes of midday sun on at least a quarter of your body every day then you may need to supplement, even if it’s just low dose.
Don’t forget to be mindful of the fact that it may not be good for you to have such exposure to the mid day sun anyway.
For the rest of us who live in less sunny climates, then buy a quality supplement of 1000 iu daily is a must. FYI, vitamin D3 is the most highly absorbable form to buy.
Possible symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency
- Low immunity
- Low energy
- Aches and pains in the bones due to lack of absorption of calcium (vitamin D is needed in the body to absorb calcium).
- Depression and low mood
- Slow healing times
- Bone loss
- Hair loss
- Muscles aches and pains
3. VITAMIN B12
Vegans and plant based eaters who do not use a B12 supplement are among the highest group to be deficient in this nutrient. Although it can still be found in spirulina, chlorella, unwashed organic vegetables (though, who’s going to eat an unwashed carrot?), certain mushrooms, fortified nutritional yeast, and other fortified, processed vegan foods.
But, you may find that you probably still aren’t getting enough due to how much, and how rarely you eat these foods.
Possible symptoms of low B12 levels include:-
- Low energy and fatigue
- Pale skin
- Unexplained pins and needles
- Changes in the way you move around and walk
- Mouth ulcers
- Disturbed vision
- High temperature
A good B-Vitamin complex works well and covers all bases. It’s best to use one that is predominantly B12 with smaller doses of the other B’s. Sometimes taking this supplement every other day is enough, especially if it’s good quality and pretty high dose to begin with.
Other nutrients you may need
We won’t go too much into this as you will probably find that if you’re eating a healthy diet filled with fruit, veggies, green powder drinks, nuts, seeds, pulses and the other foods on the list below then you will probably get enough of these already.
But, if you don’t take the time to ensure a good quality diet, then you may also find you will need to sporadically supplement these too. ONLY supplement the following nutrients under a professional nutritionist or herbalist as they can be dangerous if used for too long or at incorrect doses. Try to get your quota by eating them in the food form.
- IODINE – Found in seaweeds and iodised salt.
- IRON – Found in beans, green peas, nuts, seeds, cruciferous vegetables, fortified cereals and nut milks.
- CALCIUM – Found in Green leafy veg, watercress, broccoli, butternut squash, oranges, tahini, sesame seeds, figs, chickpeas, fortified tofu and nut milks. Check out this high calcium foods list. Remember you need adequate Vitamin D to absorb calcium properly.
- ZINC – Found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds, wheatgerm, legumes).
Eat an array of plant based foods to ensure you are getting high levels of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and you won’t need to worry about becoming deficient in anything except maybe the 3 vital nutrients on the above list.
Eat a balanced diet of wholegrains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables and you can’t go far wrong. Keep refiend oils, carbs and added salt to a minimum to reap the highest health benefits.
Check out our amazing smoothies and slushie recipes to get lots of life giving, nutritious fruits into your body.