While sceptics may be critical of the trendy nature of vegetarian or vegan diet choices, there is no disputing the popularity of plant-based diets are on the rise. Research conducted by Roy Morgan in 2018 revealed that more than 2.5 million Australians (over 12% of the population) are now consuming either an exclusive, or almost exclusive plant-based diet.
Ask a vegetarian or vegan why they choose this style of eating, and their response is often varied. Some choose plant-based diets for animal cruelty reasons, others for the lessened impact on the environment while many simply choose plant-based for the myriad of health benefits it provides.
A strict plant-based diet is comprised of predominantly whole, minimally processed plant foods such as fruit and vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and whole grains. These foods contribute high amounts of fibre, phytonutrients and antioxidants to the diet supporting not only the health of the gut, but also the many other important systems of the body including the immune, cardiovascular, nervous and circulatory systems.
Animal products such as meat, poultry, fish and seafood, eggs and dairy all offer a range of nutrients that feature less in plant-based diets such as protein, iron, B12, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and calcium.
We’ve provided a breakdown of some of these important nutrients and how to make sure your plant-based diet choices can help provide your body with the right amount of these nutrients.
Iron can be found readily in both animal and plant-based sources. However, the type of iron found in animal products (called heme iron) is more easily absorbed than the non-heme iron found in plant foods. Tofu, nuts, legumes, seeds and whole grains are all great plant-based sources of iron. The absorption of non-haem iron can be increased by combining it with a food high in vitamin C, such as citrus, red capsicum, kiwi fruit, tomato or broccoli. See Organic Iron MAX.
Vitamin B12 is important for helping to make red blood cells, as well the role it plays in maintaining energy production in the body. Vitamin B12 is also an important nutrient for both carbohydrate and glucose metabolism as well as for supporting cognitive function and brain health. The main source of vitamin B12 in the diet is animal products such as meat and eggs. It cannot be produced by plants, so consuming foods fortified with B12 or taking supplements is generally recommended if following a strict plant-based diet. See Sublingual B12.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning our body can’t make them on their own so we need to obtain them from our diet. While fish and seafood are one of the richest sources of omega-3s, they can also be found in good amounts in different plant-based sources such as walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and leafy green vegetables. Making the right dietary choices can give you adequate amounts of the important Omega-3s.
Healthy bones and teeth rely on adequate amounts of calcium in the diet. While dairy foods are rich sources of calcium, this important nutrient can also be found in plant-based foods in smaller amounts. Fortified non-dairy milks, sesame and chia seeds, kale and tofu can provide good amounts of calcium from plant-based sources. See Calcium K2 with D3.