Whether you are vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian, a well planned plant based nutrition diet can actually be really good for your health. Those that follow a healthy version of these diets are better at managing their weight as well as have lower blood pressure and chronic disease risks (including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers).
Adhering to a plant based diet does not mean relying on heavily processed foods, such as potato chips and fake meats. You should mostly eat fruit, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts, seeds as well as dairy and eggs (if not vegan). To avoid deficiencies, you should also make sure your plant-based diet contains the right amount of these key nutrients.
Protein provides your body with the building blocks to maintain muscle mass and support your immune system. While many people believe that plant based nutrition doesn’t contain enough protein, research doesn’t support this concern. Eating a variety of plant-based sources of protein throughout the day will ensure that you have the right amount of good-quality protein. These include soy products (e.g. tofu, tempeh, soy mylk), nuts (e.g. almonds, peanuts, pistachios), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), legumes (e.g. chickpeas, soybeans and kidney beans) and wholegrains (e.g. barley, quinoa, brown rice) as well as dairy (e.g. milk, cheese, yoghurt) and eggs (if not vegan).
Omega-3s are a type of fat linked to heart and brain health. Seafood, particularly fatty fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel), is a rich source of omega-3s. When avoiding seafood, plant-based diets must include other sources of omega-3, such as certain nuts (e.g. walnuts), seeds (e.g. flaxseeds, linseeds, chia) and oils (e.g. canola, flaxseed, soy bean).
Iron is needed for cell growth and oxygen transport. A balanced diet both with and without red meat contains plenty of iron. Plant-based sources of iron (known as ‘non-haem iron’) include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, green leafy vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, kale), nuts and seeds (e.g. pumpkin and sesame) and legumes (e.g. lentils, soybeans and kidney beans). Having vitamin C with non-haem iron will increase its absorption. This can be achieved by adding lemon juice to soups, salads and steamed vegetables, and kiwi fruit or oranges to muesli.
B12 is required for red blood cell production. B12 is only naturally found in animal products. Plant-based diets which avoid these must include foods which are fortified with B12, such as some nutritional yeasts, soy and almond mylks and breakfast cereals. Supplementation may also be necessary. Talk to your doctor, accredited practising dietitian and/or registered nutritionist about the need for supplementation.
Zinc is important for supporting your immune system. Plant-based sources of zinc include soy products (e.g. tofu, tempeh, miso), nuts (e.g. almonds, walnuts, pistachios), seeds (e.g. sunflower, chia) and legumes (e.g. kidney beans, lentils)
Calcium is needed for strong bones and teeth. Plant-based sources of calcium include calcium-fortified soy or almond milks, hard tofu, unhulled tahini, almonds and dark leafy greens (e.g. kale, bok choy, Chinese broccoli).
Iodine is used to produce thyroid hormones which control metabolism. Plant-based sources of iodine include sushi (containing seaweed) and bread (made with iodised salt).
Plant based nutrition Posted by Genna Vlitas, BSc, undertaking MDiet. Nutritionist & Student Dietitian from Daley Nutrition
Daley Nutrition is a community nutrition team based in Melbourne Victoria, we run a range of nutrition based programs such as cooking demonstrations in Australia to raise people’s awareness of what they are eating and empower them to change certain eating habits.
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