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March 7, 2019

Do you need supplements on a plant based diet?

Do you need supplements on a plant based diet?

Before you think about supplementation, it’s important to think about the different foods you’re consuming on a daily basis. Is your diet based on whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains? Or is it more fast food based minus the meat? What you eat, combined with your lifestyle and individual biological makeup will determine your need for different vitamins and minerals.

Hmmm… Where does that leave us?

Read on to find common deficiencies that can affect plant based eaters and learn how you can avoid these pitfalls.

Fast food

As a new vegetarian, my diet was less than stellar. I consumed tonnes of white carbs and ate very few vegetables. Over the years I learned that filling my plate with different coloured veggies, lots of leafy greens and a variety of nuts, seeds and whole grains was the best way to keep my energy levels and digestion in check. Studying nutrition has also educated me about the different vitamins and minerals our body needs.

I’m a firm believer in whole foods being the best way to add nutrients to our diets. Eating a rainbow of colourful fruit and veg combined with nuts, seeds and whole grains on a consistent basis is one of the easiest ways we can keep ourselves healthy.

Please consult your physician, nutritionist or dietician before you embark on any additional supplementation. Excess with vitamins and particularly minerals can be as harmful as deficiency.

Eating a diet full of whole foods is a good way to meet your nutrient requirements

B12: 

The one supplement you definitely need to take if you don’t consume any animal products is Vitamin B12. B12 is only found in animal products. 

Some research suggests that B12 may be found in live fermented foods but it is not known if this form is bio available (able to be used by our bodies) and more research needs to be done.

Supplements shelf

In the mean time you can take a B12 supplement in the form of tablets or opt for B12 injections from your doctor. If you only consume animal products sometimes, you may also want to have your levels checked.

A B12 deficiency can lead to side effects such as confusion, depression, lowered male fertility, pernicious anaemia and irreversible nerve damage.

Omega 3: 

There are three different types of Omega 3: ALA, DHA and EPA.

ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is the only type that is found in plant based food. Good sources of ALA include a variety of nuts and seeds such as flax seeds, chia seed, walnuts, hemp seeds. The oils of these nuts and seeds also provide a good source of ALA. Our body can convert a very small amount of ALA to DHA and EPA.

I add a spoonful of ground flax seeds or Udo’s Oil (a blend of seed oils) to my breakfast or smoothie daily. You can add seeds to smoothies, salads, sprinkled over breakfast or get more creative and try something like a chia parfait.

Chia seed parfait

The best food source of Omega 3 continues to be oily fish. When I first became vegetarian my Mum (a doctor) insisted I continue to eat some fish for health reasons. These days I still consume oily fish occasionally as a way to help supplement my omega 3 levels.

Other ways to supplement without turning to fish include using an algae based omega 3 (EPA + DHA) supplement.

Omega 3 is important for brain health and heart health so whatever source you choose be sure that you’re including it in your diet.

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of zinc

Zinc: 

Zinc is critically important for hundreds of functions in our bodies. Everything from DNA and RNA synthesis, bone redevelopment and growth, wound healing and liver function to male and female fertility and regulation of heart rate and blood pressure.

Good plant based sources of zinc include soybeans, peanuts, wheat bran, seeds – especially pumpkin seeds, nuts, and brewer’s yeast.

Sources of calcium

Calcium: 

The dairy industry has spent a lot of money to ensure that the first thing we associate with calcium is milk. While milk is a good source of calcium, there are lots of other foods high in this important mineral.

Plant based foods high in calcium include tofu and other soy products, beans and lentils, leafy green vegetables, peanuts, almonds and sesame seeds. Many commercially produced foods are also fortified with calcium.

Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth, as well as a host of other important functions in our bodies.

Iron: 

There is a common misconception that you can only get iron from red meat. Plant based sources of iron include leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale, tofu, beans and lentils, and fortified foods. If you are eating a balanced plant based diet you should be able to absorb all the iron you need. Cooking with cast iron cookware can also impart some extra iron into your food.

A lack of dietary iron can lead to anaemia. Symptoms can include fatigue, paleness, sensitivity to cold, poor concentration and heart palpitations.

Be mindful that iron can cause harm if too much is consumed. It is imperative to have your iron and ferritin levels checked by your doctor before you begin supplementation.

Please consult your physician, nutritionist or dietician before you embark on any additional supplementation. Excess with vitamins and particularly minerals can be as harmful as deficiency.

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One of the biggest mistakes on a plant based diet. Do you need supplements or are you getting enough essentials nutrients from your diet? Before you think about supplementation, it's important to think about the different foods you're consuming on a daily basis. Is your diet based on whole foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains? Or is it more fast food based minus the meat? What you eat, combined with your lifestyle and individual biological makeup will determine your need for different vitamins and minerals.

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