Whether you’ve been plant-based for a while or you’re simply voicing your interest in eating a predominantly animal-products free diet, questions related to nutrition are likely to pop-up. In fact, out of all the concerns that you might hear surrounding the adoption of a plant-based diet, a deficiency in vitamins and minerals is quite possibly the biggest one.
Aside from discussions about vitamin B12 which is, as you know, naturally absent in most plant foods, the topic of getting enough calcium, iron, and other minerals is also one that is often raised. Thankfully, not only is there a general consensus among experts about the health benefits of following a plant-based diet but deficiencies are of low concern. Indeed, studies suggest that with proper supplementation in vitamin B12 and a carefully planned diet, a plant-based lifestyle is nutritionally adequate for people of all ages.
While a ‘carefully planned’ diet may sound like a hassle, getting all of our nutrients from plants is actually a lot easier than you might think. After all, we bet that some of your favorite foods contain vitamins and minerals you don’t even know about. Don’t believe us? How about this: chocolate is packed with B-vitamins, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and copper. You probably didn’t need another incentive to indulge in chocolate but now you do (you can thank us later!)
Intrigued about how easy getting all your nutrients might be? Here are five mineral deficiencies often associated with a plant-based diet and simple food additions and recipes from the Food Monster App you can make to cast your worries aside once and for all!
Did you know that calcium makes up one to two percent of an adult’s body weight? Mostly stocked in our bones and teeth, this mineral is essential not only for our bone density but also for muscle function, nerve transmission, hormonal secretion, and a host of other important metabolic functions. While consuming proper amounts of calcium-rich foods is paramount to prevent our bodies from extracting the mineral from our bones, it’s important to consider getting enough vitamin D as well. Vitamin D regulates calcium metabolism in the body through the endocrine system. Consuming enough vitamins K and B12, fluoride, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium is also advised as these vitamins and minerals play a role in bone metabolism.
When it comes to getting enough calcium on a plant-based diet, variety is key as it raises the odds that calcium will be appropriately absorbed by our body. An easy thing you can do to make sure you get your calcium from grains, beans, nuts, and seeds, is to soak them or sprout them before eating to lessen the effect of the phytates they contain, which are compounds that may inhibit absorption. It’s also good to note that having a diet high in sodium, caffeine, and protein can lead to calcium excretion.
The best sources of calcium in the plant kingdom include leafy greens — bok choy, broccoli, nappa cabbage, dandelion greens, watercress, collard greens, and kale — fortified plant milks, tofu, tempeh, dried figs, sesame seeds, and tahini. Oranges, almond butter, sweet potatoes, and beans are also examples of plant-based foods that contain a good amount of calcium.
Want recipe ideas featuring these delicious calcium-rich foods? We suggest trying out this Kale and Pumpkin Salad, pictured above, this Asian Healthy Broccoli Salad, this Roasted Chickpea Stuffed Sweet Potatoes With Tahini Sauce, and this Seared Tofu With Chinese Eggplant and Baby Bok Choy. You can also check out these 15 Tasty Tahini Recipes You’ll Love, these 25 Super-Rad Recipes Made With Tempeh, and these 10 Saucy and Flavorful Ways to Cook Tofu.
You might not be as familiar with this mineral but zinc is actually really important as it supports our immune system and plays a role in protein synthesis and DNA synthesis. While a zinc deficiency might be difficult to detect by means of a blood test, it can manifest through hair loss, acne or other skin problems, a suppressed appetite, and a weakened immune system.
It is generally recommended by experts that people on a plant-based diet aim for 50 percent or greater than the RDA of 9 milligram per day (11 mg for men) because plant sources of zinc have a lower bioavailability due to their content in phytates which are compounds that reduce absorption rates of certain minerals.
Thankfully, getting enough zinc is easy to achieve as long as legumes, soy products, whole grains, nuts and seeds are consumed on a regular basis. Other sources of zinc include oats, quinoa, wheat germ, and nutritional yeast. Similar to calcium, soaking, fermenting, and sprouting beans and grains improves the absorption of zinc in our bodies.
Making sure you get all the zinc your body needs is not a hassle though when you have recipes like this Kidney Bean and Lentil Curry, pictured above, this One-Pan Cheesy Mexican Quinoa, this Cheesy Mac n Yeast, and this Ratatouille White Bean Casserole. Also, check out these 30 Unbelievable Recipes Made with Cashews and these 30 Delicious, Nutritious and Filling Vegan Recipes With Whole Grains.
Although iron is one of the most abundant metals found on earth, iron-deficiency is, ironically, one of the most common nutritional deficiencies both in vegans and non-vegans. Since plant-based sources of iron are nonheme which means that their absorption can either be enhanced or inhibited by certain compounds found in plants, it’s important to consume a wide variety of iron-rich foods to ensure we surpass our RDA. Combining those foods with fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C also helps with iron absorption as vitamin C improves solubility. Another tip to ensure proper absorption of iron is to avoid coffee, tea, cocoa, and certain spices like turmeric, coriander, chilies, and tamarind as they contain polyphenols and phytates (compounds that prevent absorption).
That said, as long as you include good amounts of leafy greens and legumes in your diet, your iron needs will be met. Other sources of iron in the plant-based world include soy, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and dried fruit.
Not sure how to include iron-rich foods to make delicious dishes? We’ve got you covered! You have to try this Buckwheat With Collards and Mushrooms recipe, pictured above, these Kidney Bean and Pumpkin Seed Sliders, this Blackstrap Tofu, and this Spinach Falafel With Tahini Dressing. We’ve also rounded up these 15 Mind-Blowing Recipes Packed With Plant-Based Iron to make your life easier. Last but not least, you can check out From Chocolate to Kale: Little Known Sources of Plant-Based Iron.
Although we don’t need a whole lot of iodine in our diet — a mere 150 micrograms a day (one microgram is equivalent to one-millionth of a gram) — this mineral, mostly found in the ocean, is essential to thyroid function and its deficiency can lead to miscarriage and serious problems in children.
The main sources of iodine are sea vegetables such as dulse, nori, kombu, and kelp as well as ionized salt. Since iodine levels in sea vegetables are quite variable with some of them being on the higher side (kombu contains 7,000 micrograms per serving), including them occasionally in your diet is sufficient to cover your needs.
Unfamiliar with sea vegetables? Check out this Chinese Seaweed Salad, pictured above, this Edamame Seaweed Salad, these Sunflower Seed ‘Rice’ Nori Wraps, and this Seaweed and Tofu Poke. We also suggest reading up on Why Seaweed Should be a Staple in Your Kitchen.
Phosphorus, along with calcium, is a mineral essential to bone density. It also supports our kidneys in filtering out waste and plays an important role in how our body uses and stores energy. Not only is getting enough phosphorus needed for these functions but the mineral helps balance and use other vitamins and minerals in our bodies. While an excess of phosphorus is more often observed in the general population, people on a plant-based diet have to be mindful of consuming enough because plant sources of phosphorus have a lower absorption rate. As a general rule, you should aim for at least 700 milligrams per day. It is also important to ensure that you get enough calcium in your diet as these two minerals need to be consumed in a 1:1 ratio for their proper hormonal regulation.
Fortunately, there are many great sources of phosphorus in the plant-based world. The main ones are tofu, whole grains, beans and legumes, peas, nuts, potatoes, dry fruit, and garlic.
If you’re looking for meal and snack ideas featuring phosphorus-rich foods, look no further. You have to try this Pumpkincredible Hummus, pictured above, this New Potato and Pea Curry With Yellow Split Peas, this Brown Rice Casserole, and this General Tso’s Tofu. You can also make any of these 15 Vegan Recipes For the True Potato Lover and these 21 Protein-Packed Vegan Recipes for Lentil Lovers.
Want to know more about essential vitamins and minerals and how to get them on a plant-based diet? Here are a few articles that might interest you:
- Nutrients Found in Meat That You Can Get From Plants Instead
- The Importance of Chromium For Your Health and How to Get it in Your Diet
- Magnesium: How to Get Enough and Which Foods Are Best
- Nutrient Pairings That Improve Your Health
- Top Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin K
- B Vitamins: How to Get Them in a Vegan Diet
- Vitamins, Minerals and Nutrients…Decoded for Vegans and Vegetarians!
- Meeting Vitamin D Needs on a Vegan Diet
If you’re looking for more delicious plant-based recipes that will cover all your nutrients needs, as well as cooking tips, then we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead image source: Coconut Milk Braised Collard Greens