Critical Nutrients in a Vegan Diet – Guest Post by Anastasia Pyanova

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(contains advertising) Are you sure that your diet covers all the important nutrients that your body needs? Today I am very pleased to have a guest post by my vegan friend Anastasia, who is a trained nutritionist. And she will answer this question for us.

Today I am very pleased to have a guest post by my plant-based friend Anastasia, who is a trained nutritionist. And she will answer this question for us. Anastasia has a profound knowledge of dietary needs on a plant-based diet, including pregnancy and breast feeding. Her work is based on her training as a nutritionist and a biological scientist as well as the latest studies and scientific research.

Anastasia also offers English 1-on-1 coaching for your personalised guidance on achieving a healthy vegan diet. She has website, where you can find her individual coaching offers, courses as well as tipps and recipes for a vegan diet. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram and Steady.


What are Critical Nutrients?

As with any diet form, a vegan diet needs to be well balanced to ensure that you are covering all your nutritional needs, e.g. it has to supply all essential nutrients.
Some nutrients can be found only or mostly in plant-based food – they aren’t a problem on a vegan diet: they include fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamin K, E and C as well as either phytonutrients.

Other nutrients are either only to be found in animal products (vitamin B12) or in higher amounts (vitamin B2). Or they can’t be absorbed well enough from plant-based food sources (iron, zinc, potassium).

They belong to the “critical” nutrients. It means that the minimum levels of these nutrients are not achieved in some people on a vegan diet. However it is possible to cover all your essential nutrients (except or vitamin D and B12) with plant-based food sources. It is important to plan your diet well and make sure to include certain food groups into your meal plans.

The following will give some detailed information about the critical nutrients.

Protein

Proteins are important building blocks for our body. We need approx. 0.8g of protein per kg of body weight (and a little more during pregnancy and breast feeding).
The reason why protein is labelled a critical nutrient is the lower quality of plant-based proteins: most plan-based proteins don’t contain all amino acids (protein building blocks) that we need to form protein. This is why we have to combine them in order to cover all essential amino acids. This doesn’t have to happen in one meal – it is efficient enough if you eat well balanced throughout the day (a good combination are whole grains and legumes & pulses).
It is important though to have enough caloric intake, otherwise the protein is being used as an energy source for the body.
Good protein sources for vegans are:
soy products, legumes, pulses, nuts, whole grains.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The function of omega-3 fatty acids are the building of cell membranes and prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
They also play an important role in the development of the brain (especially DHA).
Some omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA) can only be found in animal products (fish). However, our body can make these fatty acids by converting the plant-based alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA).
It is very important to pay attention to the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids:
an unfavourable ratio (too much omega-6 in your diet) reduces the conversion rate from ALA to DHA and EPA.
Good sources of omega-3 are:
plant oils, nuts (especially walnuts), algae oil, linseed oil with added DHA.
It is important to keep attention on a good fatty acid ratio. It is about 5:1, omega-6:omega-3.
Examples for suitable oils:
preferably cold pressed rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, hemp oil.
The recommended daily intake of DHA is 200mg, which is especially important during pregnancy, breast feeding and infancy – algae oil or fortified flaxseed oil is recommended then.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in metabolic processes (coenzyme). A long-term B12 deficiency will cause irreversible damage!
Vitamin B12 can’t be found in plant-based products – supplementation is important. This can be achieved through tablets or drops. But you can also use fortified plant-based foods (plant-milks, cereals) and fortified toothpaste.
It is important to get a regular blood test done to ensure an adequate supply (lab test for Holo-TC, MMA, vitamin B12).
Recommended daily dose: 4µg per day.

Vitamin B2

Just like vitamin B12, vitamin B2 plays an essential role in metabolic processes. In the general population this gets supplied mostly through dairy products.
Good plant-based sources are nuts and seeds, legumes, some vegetables (kale, broccoli), whole grains, sprouts.

Supplementation is not necessarily needed, but you have to make sure to choose vitamin B2 rich food sources.
Recommend daily intake: 1,3-1,4mg per day (men) and 1,0-1,1mg per day (women).

Vitamin D

This essential vitamin is primarily important for bone health as well as the immune system. It is possible to cover the daily intake by synthesis through sunlight.
During the summer time, depending on your skin type, you will have to sit in the midday sun for at least 10 minutes without sun screen application.
There are a few plant-based food sources too, but they don’t contain high amounts of vitamin D. In winter or for people who don’t spend much time outdoors, supplementation should be considered.
Recommend daily intake: 20 µg per day.

Calcium

The mineral calcium is an important building block for our bones.
Recommended sources: mineral water (at least 150mg/L, better still >400mg/L), calcium rich vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, chard, ruccola), nuts & seeds (brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, chia seeds, linseed, sesame, poppy seed), as well as fortified plant-milks and meat replacement products (tofu, tempeh).
Many vegans don’t take in the recommended daily dose of 1000mg, this is why a thoughtful selection of food sources is recommended!

Iron

Iron is essential for haematosis ( formation of blood cellular components). Fertile women need higher amounts than men (15mg vs. 10mg). Good plant-based sources for iron are whole grains, legumes, pulses, meat replacement products made from soy, dark leafy greens. It is important to combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C (for example orange juice, capsicum), because plant-based iron is not absorbed as well as iron from meat!
Polyphenoles from tea and coffee reduce the iron absorption, which is why it is recommended to enjoy these at least 1 hour away from an iron-rich meal.

Zinc

Zinc is essential for the function of several encymes and the immune system. The recommended daily intake is 7-10mg (men/women), 9mg in pregnancy and 11mg during breast feeding – it is possibly higher for vegans (10.5 for mean and 15mg for women).
A plan-based diet is naturally rich in phytic acid, which can reduce the absorption of zinc. Therefore it is very important to include several good sources of zinc in your daily meals as often as possible.
Good sources for zinc:
whole grains, sour dough bread (phytic acid gets broken down by naturally occurring lactobacilli), nuts, legumes and pulses, nutritional yeast flakes, pumpkin seeds.

Iodine

Iodine is a component of thyroid hormones. The recommended daily intake is 200µg per day. It is higher during pregnancy (230µg per day) and breast feeding (260µg per day).
Important sources for vegans:
Seaweed with a moderate amount of iodine (nori <20µg/g iodine), iodised salt.
With a confirmed deficiency or during pregnancy and breast feeding, a supplementation is recommended (100 to 150µg per day).

Selenium

Another important nutrient for thyroid and immune system as well as protection against oxidative stress.
The recommended daily intake is 60-70µg per day (men/women) and 75µg per day during breast feeding.
Some possible sources for vegans are:
Brazil nuts (preferably with amount of selenium content), whole grains, grains and plant-based foods from the USA (where soil is more rich in selenium), otherwise supplements.


For individual coaching regarding a vegan diet, vegan pregnancy or breast feeding, you can contact Anastasia directly.

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