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, 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.
I know how it is because I’ve been there too, and it did in fact take me three attempts before things finally clicked into place and I became a life-long convert to the plant based lifestyle.
But, I have learnt a lot of crucial things over this time (after both much studying and personal experience), and I can safely say I finally have it right now I understand the 3 vital nutrient supplements you need on a plant based diet. Some lessons I learned involved not eating enough protein (classic one), and missing out on other vitamins and minerals that would have probably depleted further had I not realised my mistakes when I did.
Building a new body with food
I converted to this amazing lifestyle over 3 years ago, and it’s been an amazing journey for sure. But I just know I will never go back to how I was before because I now feel great – better than I have ever felt in my life! Well, most of the time at least, which brings me on to my next point. Almost every cell in your body is renewing itself constantly; some take longer than others, but eventually you will be a whole different person than the one standing here today.
Now, this has always been an intriguing thought to me – the fact that our whole bodies are literally made out of the food we eat, and the exciting fact that I am now building a whole new me out of mostly clean, live nutrients, enzymes and superfoods – I mean, this HAS to be a powerful thing right?
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 worse still – dairy – of which many people are intolerant to anyway. You will find when you take these two major food groups out, you will more than likely be 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 (but just to be clear, not all vegans eat junk foods, and most are extremely healthy. I don’t want to offend anyone, I am merely trying to explain the difference with the diet side of it).
Getting enough protein on the plant based diet
One of the first things I noticed within a couple of months of giving up all animal products was the fact that I started to lose a little muscle mass. And, I felt a bit flabbier even though I hadn’t gained weight. I don’t think this would necessarily happen to everybody, but as I am a big exerciser (power walking, gym, swimming, HITT etc, you name it I do it) it was probably the main reason why this happened. My body wasn’t getting the amino acids it was used to getting, and when I actually started to track my macronutrient intake I realised that I wasn’t even getting half the protein I was eating before. I was shocked to say the least.
This caused me to rethink my whole diet plan, at which point I could see that I was eating lots low protein meat and dairy substitutes. Here’s the thing you need to be wary of: unless soy based, most dairy alternatives to milk, cheese, yogurt or anything else are pretty much devoid of protein, or may only have tiny amounts. Most people don’t realise this, but that’s a big protein cut straight away; and again, unless soy based, then many plant based alternatives to meat, burgers etc are usually made from pulses. Although they are a good source of protein, they are not a complete protein, so you still need to be wary of your other sources.
So you can see how the problems can start to add up if you are not aware of the right way to combine foods from the very beginning. Having said that, I have found that with the rising popularity of the plant based and vegan diet, there is a much wider array of products available on the supermarket shelves. Also, I have noticed food producers have become much more aware about nutrition when preparing their meat and dairy free alternatives.
Don’t forget, we are all different! Many say that protein isn’t an issue with their plant based diet, and this may only affect you more if you are really into fitness (especially bodybuilding). So, be vigilant and watch your body and what is happening to it in the early stages, this way you can catch problems should they arise.
Tips on how to keep your protein intake up
- Make sure you add at least TWO portions of nuts, seeds, sugar free nut butters, lentils, pulses, or soy based protein to all of your main meals.
- Every day try to eat from the 5 plant foods that contain a complete amino acid profile. For example: it’s not enough to just eat pulses as your source of protein as they’re not a complete protein. You need to be eating at least a portion a day of either BUCKWHEAT, QUINOA, SOY, HEMP, AMARANTH OR CHIA too. You don’t necessarily need these at every meal as your body can recycle amino acids throughout the day, but you should eat them on as many days as possible.
- Keep a vegan protein powder to hand, especially if you’re an exerciser; trust me, you will need it. They are also just a great snack to boost your protein intake for the entire day. You don’t need to use them every day, but there will be days when you may need to boost your intake if you’ve struggled to meet your needs through diet alone.
- A good way to get those complete proteins in is first thing in the morning, is with either this homemade protein rich muesli , or quinoa porridge – both are delicious.
The 3 CRUCIAL nutrient supplements
Apart from understanding your protein needs, you will also find that you will more than likely need to supplement these 3 nutrients to to be on the safe side as you may well become deficient over time. You will find that this could be even more the case if you don’t eat a good array of different plant foods. So 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.
The following are also the best vegan supplements to use, as vegans too may be lacking in the same nutrients.
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; but 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, so 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. And 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, you will 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
I find that a good B-Vitamin complex works well for me and covers all bases, though I do use one that is predominantly B12 with smaller doses of the other B’s. Sometimes I find taking this every other day is enough, especially if it’s good quality and pretty high dose to begin with.
Other nutrients you may need
I 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 supplements 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. Remember you need adequate Vitamin D to absorb calcium properly.
- ZINC – Found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds (especially pumpkin seeds, wheatgerm, legumes).
Reasons to Join the Plant Based Revolution!
I hope I have given you some insights on how to live a plant based lifestyle as healthily as possible. You may well be thinking that with all the possible deficiencies that it is not as great as it sounds, but this is simply not true. The plant based diet, when done correctly, is SO worth the effort, and has been proven to be the healthiest in terms of possible disease prevention and longevity – plus, you will feel AMAZING too, and may also reap the following benefits of:-
- MORE ENERGY
- BETTER IMMUNITY
- CLEAR SKIN
- SPARKLING EYES
- CLEARER THINKING
- HIGHER FITNESS LEVELS
- LESS HORMONAL PROBLEMS
- LESS CHRONIC INFLAMMATION & SUBSEQUENT PROBLEMS
- FASTER RECOVERY AFTER EXERCISE AND ILLNESS
- LOWER STRESS LEVELS
Thank you for visiting Zestforever today. I hope it has helped you to understand how to convert to plant based eating the healthy way so you don’t miss out on nutrition. If you have any questions regarding this then feel free to drop me a line in the comments thread.
And don’t forget to join up below↓ so you don’t miss any important upcoming posts, diet plans, and other plant based health and fitness advice. Thanks again!