- Happy members that stay
- Big Benefits
- Not for Profit
- Covered Australia-wide
Four important nutrients to include in a vegan diet
Posted 24 January 2020
Plant-based diets continue to gain popularity for a number of reasons. They are seen to have benefits socially, economically and from a wellbeing perspective. So, if you are looking to take the plunge, what are some of the things you need to be aware of, and what sort of planning should you do beforehand?
Planning is key
Adelaide dietitian, Themis Chryssidis from Sprout Health Studio, says healthy vegan diets take planning and are a serious commitment.
“Poorly planned vegan diets are often unbalanced, unhealthy and can result in serious health consequences,” Themis says.
If you choose to eat a vegan diet, you need to be aware of the nutrients you are excluding from your diet and have clear strategies in place to manage these deficiencies. Ultimately you need to be a “responsible vegan”. So, what are the key nutrients you need to be aware of when eating a vegan diet?
Iron is an essential mineral we all need to transport oxygen around our bodies and for the production of many enzymes. It comes in two forms – haem iron found in animal meat (especially red meat) and eggs; and non-haem iron found in legumes, green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, such as brown rice or oats and fortified cereals – those pre-packaged, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that advertise on the pack which vitamins and minerals have been added.
Haem iron is absorbed significantly better into the blood stream than non-haem iron, and non-haem iron absorption is also negatively impacted by tannins found in coffee, tea and wine, and phytates found in whole grains and soy protein. Ultimately, Themis says, this means that if you are following a vegan diet, you need to eat significantly more plant-based foods to achieve your iron requirements.
Vitamin B12 is important for red blood cell production and maintaining healthy brain and nerve cells. It is only found naturally in animal products, so if you are adhering to a vegan diet, supplementation is usually required.
Protein is a key building block for the body. It assists with the growth and repair of muscle and body tissue.
“Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids,” Themis says. “Of these 20, 9 are considered essential – meaning your body can’t make them and they must be obtained from your diet.”
Animal based foods are a “complete protein source”, that is they provide all the amino acids required to build protein. In contrast the only plant-based foods that do this are soy and quinoa. This means that a range of plant-based foods that contain different amino acids must be included daily in a vegan diet. These are referred to as “complementary proteins”, for example by combining whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, beans and nuts you will obtain all nine essential amino acids.
Calcium is important for strong bones, teeth, cell function and other body functions such as muscle contraction. Dairy products are a good source of calcium, but Themis says if you are avoiding these then then calcium fortified products such as almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk etc should definitely be in your diet.
“Almonds, brazil nuts and legumes also contain small amounts of calcium,” Themis says. “Calcium absorption rates vary depending on the source and they may also be inhibited by natural food chemicals found in fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee and wine.”
“Organisation is key,” Themis says. “Be particularly aware of your iron and vitamin B12 levels, and ensure you consume a range of plant-based proteins that will give your body the complete “set” of amino acids to draw on and build proteins.”
Like any diet, the best way to reduce the likelihood of any nutritional deficiencies is to eat a wide variety of foods every day. If you’re thinking to start a plant-based diet remember to plan carefully and ensure that your diet contains all key nutrients.