I am thinking about adopting a plant-based diet and I am wondering what you suggest for helping make sure I do it right.
Thanks for your question! As you are probably aware the number of people interested in plant-based nutrition has been growing. I am always interested to hear what underlies an individual’s decision. For some this choice is for environmental reasons, for others it is for perceived health benefits, and sometimes it is as a way to improve nutrition quality. No matter the reason, it is important to make sure your plan is balanced and covers your needs well.
By definition, a plant-based diet would suggest that you want to focus on foods made from plants and so this includes grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Whether you choose to include fish, eggs, or dairy can be individual. I like to encourage people to be flexible in their approach so that they can focus on nourishment, have low stress around their nutrition and enjoy food with ease. All too often a person chooses to cut foods from their nutrition while not thinking too much about the balance of nutrients required. Put some thought into your food choices and needs –and make time to plan and prep.
The three main nutrient categories are protein, carbohydrate and fat. These are called macronutrients … macro meaning large and the bigger nutrient needs. Macronutrients are the carries of the micronutrients which is the category for vitamins and minerals. All of the above plant-based foods will be plentiful for the range of nutrition that carbohydrates provide. The three main things to be mindful of are: consuming enough calories, and covering off protein and fat needs.
To help you meet success:
- Ensure you pulse a variety of proteins in throughout the day. Some good sources are lentils, beans, quinoa, oats, hemp, and ground flaxseed. You can use some protein boosters such as vegan sausages or ground round, chickpea and lentil pasta, or vegan protein powders however do your best to develop your habits from meals and snacks that are made from whole food sources. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and they can go on to make neurotransmitters and enzymes that we need for optimal health. Some plant-sourced foods don't have the complete complement of amino acids within them and so eating a variety in your day helps to ensure your needs will be met. Your body can do a marvelous job or pairing amino acids together once you have digested and assimilated them so you don’t need to be fastidious about pairing your incomplete proteins at each meal.
- Our bodies require fats for health of the nervous system, hormones and our cells. It is important to make sure a plant-based nutrition plan includes foods that carry fats with them. Some great choices are coconut, avocado, hemp hearts, ground flax seed, flax oil, nuts and seeds and nut and seed butters. As fats bring the body more calorie density, 9cal/gram as compared to 4cal/gram for carbohydrates and protein, they help you to feel satiated and make your meals and snacks more sustaining.
Monitor your B12, Folic Acid and Iron status. Meat and poultry can be rich sources of iron, vitamins B12 and folic acid and so vegans, vegetarians and plant-based eaters can be more prone to deficiencies in these micronutrients. These vitamins and mineral are important for building healthy red blood cells, and keeping your energy and metabolism up. Consider vegetarian sources of these nutrients to fortify your intake but also know that this may not be enough. If you exercise frequently your demand for red blood cells can be greater. Keep an eye on your performance, energy, stamina, sleep quality and immune function as clues to how well balanced and nourishing your plant-based diet is. If you are under nourished or overly demanding of nutrients then niggling signs will start to appear. In addition, your Medical or Naturopathic Doctor can do blood work to assess the status of these vitamins and mineral. If your new nutrition plan does not cover categories off well then you can start out by feeling well, while you rely on body stores from your past habits ,and then the signs of deficiency can appear in time so make sure to check in periodically with how you are feeling and asses how you are thriving.
I hope these suggestions plant some seeds for you to successfully meet your nutrition goals!
“Health from the inside out.”