A plant-based diet has many health benefits, including but not limited to, lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight maintenance. However, when switching to a plant-based diet, it is important to make sure you are still getting all of the vital nutrients. The two main nutrients of concern are protein and Vitamin B12. Eating a well-balanced diet with a wide variety of foods can help to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients you need.
This vitamin is needed for proper red blood cell (RBC) formation, brain function, and DNA synthesis. B12 is mainly found in animal products like fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, milk products and fortified cereals. If you are not getting enough B12 you could have fatigue, weakness, digestive issues, loss of appetite, and anemia. A B12 supplement is recommended for vegans and may be necessary for some vegetarians.
Protein is necessary for building bone, muscle, cartilage and skin. It is important for those following a plant-based diet to know the different sources of high-quality plant proteins. There are 20 amino acids that make up proteins. The body can make 11 of these amino acids on its own. The other 9 are considered “essential” because the body cannot make them, therefore we have to get them from food. Protein sources that contain all 9 essential amino acids are complete proteins. If a protein source is missing one or more of the essential amino acids, it is incomplete.
- Complete Proteins:
- Can be fully used by the body to help build or repair muscles, and also help maintain lean muscle and strength during weight loss
- Great sources of complete proteins: meat, eggs, and fish
- Great sources of plant based complete proteins: quinoa, chia seeds, soybeans, buckwheat, Ezekiel bread
- Incomplete Proteins:
- Cannot be fully used by the body during protein synthesis
- You can combine two incomplete proteins to form a complete protein
- This is why it is so important to eat a wide variety of foods throughout the day!
Incomplete proteins to combine to make a complete protein:
- Grains + Legumes
- Beans + Brown Rice
- Hummus + 100% Whole Wheat Crackers/Pita
- Corn Tortillas + Beans
- 100% Whole Wheat Bread + Peanut Butter
- Barley + Lentils
- Grains + Dairy
- Macaroni + Cheese
- Cereal + Milk
- Legumes + Nuts/Seeds
- Lentils + Almonds
- Chickpeas + Sesame seeds (tahini)
Complete Protein Alternatives:
- Tofu: made from soybeans, high in calcium and protein
- Tempeh: fermented soy, easier to tolerate than tofu for some people
- Complete protein powder: can be mixed into shakes or baked goods
Milk alternatives will not have the same protein content as dairy milk. The closest choice is soymilk or a brand like Ripple that has pea protein added. Other milk alternatives include nut milk, hemp milk, rice milk and oat milk. These can be helpful if you are looking for a lower calorie alternative. When looking for a non-dairy milk, it is important to check the label to make sure it is carrageenan-free. Carrageenan can cause bloating, abdominal pain, and chronic digestive problems. A few brands that are free of carrageenan are Silk, Kirkland, Pacific, Trader Joe’s, Oatly, Miyoko’s, Daiya, and Ripple.
Plant based foods can be substituted in recipes for animal proteins, however, they may not always provide the same high-quality protein. Examples of this include eggplant, mushrooms, seitan, jackfruit, and cauliflower. It is important to aim for high quality protein sources at most meals. If you would like more help navigating a vegan/vegetarian diet, sign up today for a complimentary consultation!
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