Throughout January I have been substituting some of the family meals for more vegetarian options. This was in response to the recent environmental concerns as well as wanting to improve my repertoire of vegetarian and vegan recipes and experiment with new and exciting flavours and textures. Plant based diets are growing ever more popular and are fuelled by a combination of health, economic, religious, ethical and environmental reasons. However, it is not just a case of cutting out meat and/or dairy and increasing your fruit and vegetable intake as this is likely to leave you with nutritional deficiencies later down the line.
I noticed that when searching for recipes I was drawn towards ones which contained not only vegetables but protein as well as carbohydrate to ensure a filling and satisfying meal for the family.
Good sources of plant based protein include beans, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, seeds, nuts and nut butters, tofu and soya. Eggs and dairy are also good sources if you’re not following a vegan diet. Meat substitutes such as vegetarian burgers, soya sausages and other meat alternatives can be a useful source of protein but they can be high in added salt and fat so check the labels carefully and use in moderation.
If you are following a vegan diet two nutrients which you are more at risk of becoming deficient in are Iron and Vitamin B12. Plant based sources of iron include dried fruits, wholegrains, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables and pulses. As bioavailability (the amount absorbed by the body) is lower in plants than in meat it is best to combine citrus and other vitamin C sources with plant based sources of iron to increase absorption. Vitamin B12 is a nutrient found mostly in animal products therefore the only reliable plant sources of vitamin B12 are fortified foods such as some breakfast cereals, yeast extracts, soya yoghurts and non-dairy milks. Supplements may be required.
If you’re planning on continuing a plant based diet long term then as long as it’s well planned and balanced it can support every age and stage of life. It can also have health benefits such as helping you manage your weight and may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. However, a poorly planned diet that relies heavily on processed foods, and doesn’t replace nutrients found in animal products can lead to deficiencies in protein, Vitamin B12 and Iron as well as omega-3 fatty acids, Calcium, Iodine, Vitamin D, Zinc and Selenium. So if you’re not sure if you’ve covered all these nutrients then I can work with you to review your diet to support you in achieving the right balance of nutrients to meet your health goals. For personalised and professional support then do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact page.