Maintaining a healthy, adequate plant-based diet is possible, especially with the rise of fortified vegan products. There are several key nutrients that experts recommend those on a vegan diet to keep special track of. With plants and some delicious grocery items like almond milk and fortified cereals, you can hit all your nutrient benchmarks every day.
Below are four important nutrients to watch on a plant-based diet and what to eat to get them. This is not a comprehensive list of every nutrient we need in a diet, but rather a few key nutrients to especially watch and make sure you’re obtaining enough.
Protein is critical for every function in our body, and it helps build muscle and give us energy. Most people associate protein with meat and dairy products, but there are plenty of plant sources with protein as well. Vegans can obtain protein from beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, peas, soy products, and a bounty of fruits and vegetables. Adults should obtain 10 percent to 35 percent of their day’s calories from protein foods. That’s about 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams for men. To put that into perspective, one cup of edamame contains 29 grams of protein. For protein-packed, plant-based meals, try mini quinoa chickpea cakes, raw green pea soup and lentil veggie burgers.
Vitamin B-12 is responsible for red blood cell growth and nervous system maintenance. This is one of the hardest nutrients for vegans to obtain, since B12 is only found naturally in meat, dairy, and eggs. Vegans need to obtain B-12 from fortified vegan cheese, vegan yogurt, and non-dairy milk. Remember: very low B-12 amounts can cause anemia and nervous system damage, so don’t skip out on this nutrient. Though some claim that some plant foods contain B12, there is not enough scientific evidence at this time to prove it. The U.S. recommended intake of B-12 is 2.4 micrograms a day for ordinary adults and 2.8 micrograms for nursing mothers. Make sure you are eating your fortified vegan food products if you don’t eat dairy. Or, bite the bullet and get a supplement, since B-12 is the only vitamin that we cannot find in abundance in plant-based foods.
Iron is an essential aspect of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from our lungs to every part of our body through our blood. According to the Institutes of Medicine, vegetarian men and post-menopausal women need 14 mg per day, while pre-menopause vegetarian women should obtain 33 mg per day. Eating foods rich in Vitamin C with your meal will increase the body’s iron absorption. Fun fact: Dark chocolate (70-85 percent cacao solids) contains more iron, ounce for ounce, than beef! Other iron-rich plant foods include legumes, kale, broccoli, dried peaches, blackstrap molasses, spinach, and spirulina. Try a coconut spirulina energy drink in the morning.
Calcium is required for muscle and nerve functions, and it is one of the most important minerals for our bodies. The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies have recommended that men and women get between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium per day, depending on age. Calcium-rich vegan foods include fortified nut milks, blackstrap molasses, tahini, tofu, fennel, and collard greens. Though it is possible to get calcium from plant-based foods, the body needs a little help in absorbing that calcium. Vitamin D assists in the absorption of calcium, so be sure to pair the two together for optimum intake. You can find vitamin D in fortified cereals and non-dairy milks. For a tasty, calcium-packed lunch, whip up an arugula fennel salad with a tahini-based creamy lemon dressing.
All four of these nutrients can easily be made part of a plant-based diet with the right planning and tools. There are many other vitamins for all eaters to consider, but these four in particular worry most people and take some planning to get in a vegan diet.
Image Source: Quinoa and White Bean Burger
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