While there are lots of misconceptions around plant-based eating, a balanced plant-based diet can provide all the nutrients our bodies need.
All healthy diets must include natural, unprocessed plant-based foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes as these provide so many of the nutrients our bodies need to thrive and survive. This is especially important when you consider that just 28% of us consume the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
However, if you’re just starting out on your meat reduction journey, it’s only natural to have some questions regarding how you are going to get all the nutrients you need and what kinds of plant foods you need to eat for a balanced and healthy diet.*
Iron is important for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. Chickpeas, kidney beans, and edamame beans are all good sources of iron, as are dried apricots, nuts and seeds such as chia and linseed. Iron is also found in fortified breakfast cereals.
As well as incorporating lots of iron-rich foods into your diet, it’s also important to make sure you are getting your vitamin C as this helps your body to absorb the iron – peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kiwis, oranges, pineapples and grapefruit are all good sources of vitamin C.
While we mostly tend to associate calcium with dairy, there are many good plant-based sources including calcium-set tofu, kale, almonds, chia seeds. brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, spring onions, and kiwi fruit.
Many plant-based milks are also fortified with calcium. The average recommended daily intake of calcium for an adult is 700mg per day. On a dairy-free diet, if you had 400ml of fortified plant-based milk, 80g cooked kale, 30g of almonds and one tablespoon of chia seeds, you would have all the daily calcium you need to keep your bones and teeth strong and healthy.
B12 is used to make red blood cells and helps keep the nervous system healthy. Most people who follow a purely plant-based diet get their intake of Vitamin B12 through fortified plant-based milks, spreads and nutritional yeasts (or through supplements for ease and confidence) as B12 is not naturally found in fruits, vegetables or grains.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega -3 fatty acids can help reduce the risk of heart disease and keep your heart healthy. Plant-based sources include walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseed, brussels sprouts, wild rice, plant oils (such as avocado oil and flaxseed oil) and tofu. Some plant milks, such as hemp milk and flax milk, are also good sources of omega-3 fats.
Zinc plays lots of different roles in the body including promoting growth and fighting infections. Zinc-rich foods include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew, wholemeal bread, quinoa and lots of different seeds including chia seeds, ground linseed and pumpkin seeds.
Eating a variety of unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, and vegetables can easily give us the amount of daily protein we need to meet the recommended dietary allowance. In addition to these natural and unprocessed sources of plant-based proteins, there are now various ‘meat substitutes’ on the market that provide alternative sources of protein, including tofu, seitan and tempeh.
Fibre is the ‘roughage’ part of all plant-based foods which doesn’t get broken down by the body. Instead, it passes through your body, helping to keep your digestive system in good health. Recent data shows that 90% of the UK population are not getting enough fibre, showing just how important it is for all of us to put more plants on our plate.
The power of plant-based diets
If you are in any doubt about the potential of plant-based diets for optimum health and wellbeing, just take a look at the increasing number of athletes opting for a meat and dairy free diet.
For athletes, more than most, food is fuel and diet plays a key role in allowing them to reach peak physical condition and performance. Sportspeople such as Venus and Serena Williams (tennis), Lewis Hamilton (F1), David Haye (boxing), Jermaine Defoe (football) and Novak Djokovic (tennis) all follow a plant-based diet, thriving at their respective sports.
* While we are an animal welfare organisation, since we are asking our supporters to reduce their meat and dairy intake, we feel that it’s important to share some information addressing a few of the common misconceptions or uncertainties around transitioning to a more plant-based diet. If you have any specific health related questions or concerns around changing your diet or meeting your nutritional needs, please speak to your GP who will be able to provide specialist help and advice.