Trying a Plant-Based Diet?

The new trend is to switch your eating habits to a more plant-based diet for health and the environment. Sounds good, however, there are some considerations to be aware of when it comes to obtaining the nutrients we need for optimum health.  One of the most important is getting enough protein. Proteins are made up primarily of amino acids necessary for making body tissues, some hormones, and enzymes.

Animal products such as meat, eggs, and milk provide all the nine essential acids in sufficient quantity to qualify as complete sources of protein. Plant products such as quinoa and soy may also qualify. But most plant foods only provide some of the essential amino acids, but not all.  Since these nine amino acids are not made by  the body, they must be provided in the diet.  If  they are not available for protein synthesis, protein tissue synthesis ceases or is limited. They are not stored in the body for long so are used for energy instead.

Vegans eating no animal products can meet these needs by combining plant foods to yield complete protein. The goal is to eat a variety of plant foods regularly to provide all the nine essential amino acids necessary. Sources for protein for vegans include beans, peas, nuts, grains and soy products. Combinations to provide complementary amino acids to make a complete protein may include rice and black beans, hummus and bread, tofu and rice, a tortilla with refried beans (a burrito) and pea soup and bread.

Due to the rise in the recent marketing of plant-based burgers, here is the scoop from Harvard Health Publishing.

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Vegans: Nutrients Needed Beyond B12 and Vitamin D

The debate will continue as to whether vegan diets can furnish all  the nutrients we need. The following article discusses seven of them not abundantly found in plants and in some cases not found at all or not well-absorbed. Vegan diets and/or vegetarian diets can be healthy,  but if you are considering veganism in any form, please become fully informed on some of the lesser known issues that need to be addressed.

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Vegetarians: It’s Not Just Vitamin B12

We so often warn vegetarians that they need to find a reliable source of vitamin B12. However, iron is a nutrient that is assumed to be adequate in the vegan diet, but due to its bioavailability issues, it is often not enough to prevent an iron deficiency, especially in women and children. Iron deficiency is a disorder that results from a depletion of iron stores in the body. It is characterized by weakness, fatigue, short attention span, poor appetite, increased susceptibility to infection, and irritability.

How does  iron function in the body?

  1. Oxygen enters the lungs.
  2. Oxygen attaches to iron in hemoglobin and myoglobin (found in red blood cells and muscle cells.
  3. Oxygenated hemoglobin transported in blood to body cells, drops off oxygen.
  4. Iron in hemoglobin then picks up carbon dioxide from cells and transports it to the lungs.
  5. Carbon dioxide is released from iron in hemoglobin
  6. Carbon dioxide is exhaled from the lungs.

This function of iron operates smoothly when the body’s supply of iron is sufficient. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. For example, a 3-ounce hamburger and a cup of asparagus both contain approximately 3 milligrams of iron, but 20 times more iron can be absorbed from the hamburger than from  the asparagus. See the following article for why  this occurs and what to do about it. Souce: Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now, 7th edition

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