The ideas of nutrition are changing. A lifestyle with quality plant-based foods can prevent, treat and reverse many major diseases, and improve overall health. Animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs can increase our risk of disease. Public awareness is growing over the impact of modern factory-style animal farming methods on our health and environment.
There are many benefits to a plant-based diet including fewer health problems such as heart disease, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. It’s important to know what foods to eat on a plant-based diet to make sure you get the nutrients easily missed such as protein, vitamin D, vitamin K, calcium, B12, and omega fatty acids.
Following a plant-based diet can lead to a higher consumption of carbohydrates. Gluten in grains like wheat, kamut, barley, rye and oats can be problematic for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
A strict plant-based diet can prevent you from getting enough protein. Your body requires a certain balance between all the essential and non-essential amino acids. Unfortunately, the protein found in grains, legumes, soy and nuts is incomplete and may cause malnutrition in some people so its important to keep up on your blood panels to stay in check with your body’s chemistry. Supplementation is sometimes key to maintaining balance on a plant-based diet.
Choose organic vegetables, especially non-starchy vegetables, and organic fruits–the most dense sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits provide different antioxidants, which can further contribute to your health and prevent diseases. Organic vegetables carry 35 percent more nutrients and taste 100 times better. Although whole grains are plant-based foods, they have a poor nutrient density and do not provide as much nutrition per calorie compared to non-starchy vegetables and fruits.
Vegans can usually get their daily needs of calcium from dark green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, swish chard, and bok choy), calcium-fortified soy (non-genentically-modified organisms), almond and rice beverages (unsweetened), whole grain cereals, calcium-fortified orange juice. Oranges, tahini, figs, and sweet potatoes also provide useful amounts of calcium. Nuts are another source of calcium, especially sesame seeds, almonds and brazil nuts. Try to consume over 535 milligrams of calcium a day for bone health.
In addition to calcium, the other components believed to protect the integrity of bone structure are potassium, magnesium and vitamin K. Certain culinary herbs, such as thyme, sage, and rosemary are beneficial.
Potassium- and magnesium-rich fruits and vegetables provide an alkaline residue which protects against bone loss. Vitamin K-rich leafy vegetables facilitate the formation of the essential bone protein called osteocalcin. Women with a higher vitamin K intake (from, for example, a green leafy vegetable at least once a day) had a 45 percent reduced risk of hip fractures compared to those women with a low intake (eating a leafy vegetable less than once a week).
Vitamin B12 is also a major concern. B12 supports production of red blood cells and prevents anemia. It allows nerve cells to develop properly and helps your cells metabolize protein, carbohydrates and fat. While meat, milk and eggs have ample vitamin B12 , plants contain none. Vitamin B12 deficiency can have serious consequences such as early dementia, lack of coordination, forgetfulness, nerve dysfunction, memory loss, disorientation and difficulty with concentration. A simple blood test can determine your B12 levels and B12 shots are available by prescription.
Vegans are particularly vulnerable to Omega 3 fatty acid deficiencies. Omega 3 fatty acids actually minimize inflammatory responses, lowering the risk factors for heart disease and cancer. The main reason fish oil supplements are the preferred source for these omega-3 fatty acids is because they contain high amounts of both EPA (docosahexaenoic acid) DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
To get EPA and DHA in their diets, vegans should concentrate on leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, walnuts and spirulina. One tablespoon of flax oil per day seems to provide enough alpha-linolenic acid or ALA for conversion to daily therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA.
As with any special lifestyle it’s important to stay focused and educated and always a good idea to see a nutritionist to set the foundation.