vegan living, plant-based wholesome REAL whole foods = better health!
common nutritional pitfalls to watch out for to make sure you're getting everything you need-
B12 - Vitamin B12 affects growth and development, the nervous system, bones, skin and blood vessels as well as folate metabolism, so its fair to say it’s pretty essential. B12 is synthesized by bacteria in the gut and is highly bioavailable from animal products; some trace B12 can be found on mushrooms and B12 can be found in the functional food product nutritional yeast, but to be sure you are not putting yourself at risk, supplementing with B12 is the only workable solution.
Iron - Iron comes in two chemical forms, heme (from animal sources) and nonheme (mostly from plant sources). Heme iron absorption is high, up to 25%, while nonheme iron absorption is low, up to 5%. This means that vegans need to consume and absorb enough nonheme iron to meet our body’s needs. Nonheme iron absorption can be enhanced by consuming ascorbic acid with it. Iron absorption can be decreased by phytates and oxalates so its important to soak, drain and rinse legumes and leafy greens before cooking them (overnight for dry legumes and 30 minutes for leafy greens). Tannins also inhibit iron absorption, so separate your food from tea and coffee.
Fatty acid ratio - omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, we’ve all heard the terms, and probably had lots of people asking how we can get by without eating oily fish or taking fish oils? The solution for most people is flaxseed oil or linseeds and walnuts. But an important thing to remember is that plant sources of omega 3 are conjugated linolenic acid, or CLA. This converts to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the body however this conversion is limited by fatty acid intake as well as not possible to measure - this means we have no way of knowing if we are achieving this conversion or not until symptoms and signs of deficiency present; EPA and DHA are required for retinal and central nervous system development. Algal supplements containing bioavailable DHA are a great solution for vegans. Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are important for visual and brain function as well as inflammation and heart health.
Calcium and Vitamin D - these nutrients work together as we need Vitamin D to properly absorb calcium. Vitamin D is available from animal sources and can be synthesised from sunlight. So when we remove the animal products, we are left with two choices - maximise our sunlight exposure to synthesize enough Vitamin D or take supplements. In Melbourne, where the UV ratio is not conducive to achieving enough vitamin D via sunlight without getting sunburnt- which is a worry in Australia where our rates of skin cancer are very high; most of the population is chronically Vitamin D deficient. So what do we need it for anyway? Vitamin D is important with calcium for healthy bones, but having low levels has also been found to be a risk factor for many chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer as it has an antiproliferative effect against cancer as well as anti-inflammatory actions. Calcium is an essential nutrient for our bones, with low levels increasing the risk of low bone mineral density and developing osteoporosis. We also need calcium for nerve transmission, heart muscle function and muscle contraction.
Protein is one of the macro nutrients, the others being fat and carbohydrates. We need protein for energy and to synthesize hormones and enzymes. Proteins are made up of amino acids; some of which are essential in the diet because we can’t synthesize them ourselves, and some which we can synthesize from others in the body if we have a generally good intake. Some amino acids are known as ‘limiting’,where an essential amino acid is present but at too low a level to allow synthesis of others. While many animal products contain a full range of essential amino acids, most vegetable sources are lacking at least one. To avoid this, practice what is known as protein combining - have a grain with a pulse or legume; this may be at different times on the same day or at the same meal - your choice. Simply maintaining a wide variety of protein sources will help you with this aim.