There are a lot of misconceptions about switching to a plant-based diet. They are skeptical that they won’t obtain enough calcium, protein, iron, or other nutrients from plant-based foods, so omitting animal products from their diets can prove to be quite the obstacle. Little do they know that these nutrients, and many more, are easily obtained while consuming plant-based foods.
Consuming animal products makes the body work extra hard because the body was not designed to process those foods. It takes the body two to three times longer to digest animal products than it does to digest plant-based foods. Now, plant-based can be interpreted as a balanced combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes, or it can be potato chips, bread, and French fries. By omitting the former foods and focusing on the latter foods, the body will have an equally difficult time digesting and absorbing nutrients. The body can easily absorb the nutrients from fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes because it doesn’t have to fight through hormones, saturated fat, or antibiotics that are in animal products or processed foods.
We encourage you to experiment with more plant-based foods to see how your body benefits from them. Explore the following nutrients that you can obtain from these foods.
Good sources of plant protein include beans, lentils, legumes, nuts, seeds, tempeh, and pea protein, according to Vandana Sheth, R.D.N., C.D.E., spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Most official nutrition organizations recommend a fairly modest protein intake. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. It is said that the average sedentary American man is recommended to eat 56 grams of protein a day, while the average sedentary American woman should eat 46 grams of protein a day. These numbers are, of course, subject to body weight and physical activity.
People who are physically active do need more protein than people who are sedentary. Try to avoid soy-protein products because the majority of soy is genetically modified. Soy is actually one of the most processed and genetically modified foods in the world
There have been a number of health concerns raised concerning the risks associated with protein derived primarily from animal sources. Primarily, these health risks include cardiovascular disease (due to the high saturated fat and cholesterol consumption) and bone health issues (from bone resorption due to sulfur-containing amino acids associated with animal protein). Vegetable proteins, on the other hand, provide essential proteins that will likely result in a reduction in the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol. Here is a list of some great plant proteins:
- Chickpeas, 12 grams per cup
- Lentils, 18 grams of protein per cup
- Tempeh, 41 grams per cup
- Black beans, 15 grams per cup
- Nuts and nut butters, varied
- Quinoa, 9 grams per cup
2) Amino Acids:
A common belief is that most plant foods are completely devoid of at least one essential amino acid, but the truth is that all plant proteins have some of every essential amino acid. To ensure adequate protein intake, plant-based diets should include 3-4 servings of the following foods, which are both high in protein and the amino acid lysine:
- Legumes—1/2 cup cooked
- Beans—Garbanzo, kidney, pinto, or navy
- Peas—Split or green
- Soy foods—Edamame, tofu, tempeh,
- Peanuts—1/4 cup
- Quinoa—1 cup cooked
- Pistachios—1/4 cup
- Pumpkin seeds—1/4 cup
3) Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
Omega 3 fatty acids are extremely beneficial for the brain and cardiovascular health. ALA is an essential fatty acid because it cannot be synthesized from saturated fatty acids. Some of the best dietary sources of ALA include flaxseeds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil.
DHA is the most abundant and essential omega 3 fatty acid present in bodily tissues. Because only a small amount of ALA can be converted to DHA and a minimal amount is converted to EPA, other options need to be utilized by vegetarians and persons who do not eat fish. Other options for increasing the intake of EPA and DHA for persons who do not consume fish are seaweeds like wakame or spirulina.
Here is a list of plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids:
- Chia Seeds
- Brussels Sprouts
- Algal Oil
- Hemp Seeds
Iron is essential to carry oxygen and nutrients into your blood. Some of the best plant sources of iron include:
- Legumes: Lentils, tempeh, lima beans
- Grains: Quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal
- Nuts and seeds: Pumpkin, squash, pine, pistachio, sunflower, cashews
- Vegetables: Swiss chard, collard greens
- Other: Molasses, prune juice
The key is how well your body absorbs iron. Eating smaller amounts throughout the day is a great way to increase absorption. The iron in beans, grains, and seeds is better absorbed when combined with the vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables. Think black beans and brown rice with homemade salsa, or falafel with tomatoes and hummus with lemon juice. Some iron sources like leafy greens already contain vitamin C.
The primary function of zinc is to enhance the immune system. Zinc is poorly bioavailable on a plant-based diet, though traditional methods of food preparation (soaking, sprouting, fermenting, even roasting) can go a long way to neutralize these effects. Zinc can be better absorbed by the body with the inclusion of fermented foods into your diet. Primary sources of zinc in a plant-based diet include:
- Beans and legumes
- Sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds
- Brown rice
Considering zinc’s critical role in varied bodily processes, particularly growth, development, wound healing, and immune function, it is important to include this nutrient in your diet.
We this information helps with your transition to a plant-based diet. If you have any other questions or tips about switching, ask us in the comments below.
Hoffman, J. R., & Falvo, M. J. (2004). Protein – Which is Best? Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 3(3), 118–130.