Are you new to a plant-based diet, a long-time vegan looking for a refresher, or are interested in meatless Mondays? Plant-based diets can have many benefits for your health and the environment, though they may require a little more thought to ensure you’re meeting your unique nutrition needs. Here are a few key nutrients to pay special attention to so that your plant-based diet is balanced with all the nutrients it needs to thrive!
Luckily, there are a wide variety of whole-food and fortified protein sources to choose from. Whole-food protein options like legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. When choosing animal product alternatives, like plant-based milks and meats, try to keep the saturated fat to less than 10% of calories for heart health.
Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin required for healthy red blood cell formation and maintenance of our central nervous system. Low intakes over time can lead to megaloblastic anemia, leaving you feeling tired and weak. Few significant plant-based sources of Vitamin B12 exist, making it very important to find foods fortified with B12. Cereals and grain products like Cheerios and bran flakes, are an easy place to start! Nutritional yeast is also fortified with Vitamin B12 and has a nutty, cheesy flavor similar to parmesan. If you have a hard time consuming enough fortified foods, have a conversation with your doctor or registered dietitian about using a third-party tested Vitamin B12 supplement.
There are two forms of iron: heme iron, which is found in animal products and readily utilized by our bodies, and non-heme iron, which is found in plant-foods and harder to absorb. Iron-rich foods include legumes, some nuts and seeds, soy products, white and morel mushrooms, potato skins, and leafy greens.
Plant-based sources of iron can be a catch-22. Tofu and legumes may be a good source of iron, but they can also be high in calcium and phytic acid, both of which limit iron absorption along with caffeine. Pair iron-rich foods with foods that are high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits and berries, which help boost iron absorption! Cooking plant foods also makes the iron in them more absorbable, so take advantage of your stove, oven, and microwave.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects and are important for maintaining brain, eye, and heart health. There are three forms of Omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-Linoleic Acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). These three omega-3 fatty acids each have similar but unique roles in our bodies, so it’s important that we consume all three types.
ALA is found in many nuts, seeds, and plant oils like chia, flax, walnut, and pecan. Keep in mind that these plant oils are best used in dressings or as a finishing oil; you won’t get their omega-3 benefit if you use these oils for cooking!
EPA and DHA are mainly found in seafood and marine algae, making them much harder to come by in a plant-based diet. Our body can convert a very small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA, but not enough to meet our omega-3 needs by consuming ALA alone. Look for foods fortified with EPA and DHA, like Ripple Unsweetened plant-based milks. Third-party tested omega-3 supplements that are made with marine algae oil also supply EPA, DHA, and are vegan friendly.
For additional product suggestions, check out our plant-based collection on eshop! If you want additional guidance on creating a balanced plant-based diet, reach out to your Harmons Registered Dietitian at firstname.lastname@example.org