Supplements That Are Crucial For Those Eating Plant-Based
Eating a wholefood, plant-based diet is one of the best ways to nourish your body, prevent disease and increase longevity – and there’s plenty of researched-based evidence to prove it. However, all dietary frameworks have their limitations. When formulating Eimele, I was careful to use a diverse range of ingredients as that’s one of the best ways to ensure complete nutrition in every meal. Whilst our meals are rich in vitamins and minerals and do contain some of the nutrients I’m about to tell you about, it’s important that you’re aware of the minor limitations of a plant-based diet so you can maximise the benefits and avoid a potential deficiency.
If you’re eating little to no animal products, these are the nutrients that you may need to supplement:
1) Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12, which is actually made by bacteria found in soil and the guts of ruminant animals, it’s crucial for normal body functioning. Because we use so many herbicides and pesticides, which have depleted the soil, B12 can’t be reliably sourced from plant foods. Even a great deal of cattle are supplemented with B12 these days.
As a result, it’s the only nutrient that’s absolutely necessary to supplement. My recommendation, and my personal preference, is to take a daily B12 Cyanocobalamin supplement in spray form with around 250 mcg of B12. However, you can also take a weekly tablet containing around 2500 mcg of B12 or you can get periodic B12 injections.
2) Vitamin D
Vitamin D, or the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’, is crucial for increasing calcium absorption as well as phosphorus absorption to promote healthy bone mineral density. Research shows Vitamin D also supports the heart, brain, immune system, thyroid and muscles.
Only a small number of foods naturally contain Vitamin D, so both omnivores and those who are plant-based are at risk of deficiency. However, during the summer, this is easily avoided by getting 15-20 minutes of sun exposure to the face and lower arms each day. Ideally, do this outside the hours of 10-4 pm, which are peak UV times.
Depending on where you live, it can be difficult to get enough sun exposure during the winter months and you may need to eat fortified foods like plant milk or take a supplement. If you choose to eat fortified foods instead of supplementing, check to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D. If you supplement, the recommended daily intake, or RDI, is 25-50 mcg/day (1000-2000 IU/day) for the average person. For the elderly, the RDI jumps to 100 mcg/day (4000 IU/day).
3) Omega 3
Both vegans and omnivores often struggle to get enough Omega 3 (DHA/EPA). Because those following a plant-based diet don’t eat fish regularly, I recommend supplementing the essential fatty acid or regularly incorporating specific Omega 3-rich plant foods in your diet – I personally do both!
It’s recommended that you aim for 5g of ALA per day from food. To do that, just add 2-3 Tbsp of ground flaxseed or chia seeds to your food each day – I sprinkle them on porridge or smoothies. Other ALA-rich foods include hemp seeds, walnuts and Brussels sprouts. For supplements, take 250-500 mg/day and choose a brand that sources DHA/EPA from algae, which is actually where fish get their Omega 3’s from.
This mineral is vital for transporting oxygen around the body in the blood and muscle tissue. Deficiency in iron can result in anemia, which can cause a range of symptoms like fatigue, impaired cognitive function, paleness, dizziness, reduced immunity, adverse pregnancy outcomes, infertility, impaired infant development and reduced quality of life. Incredibly, about 1 to 1.2 billion people are iron deficient – making it one of the most common nutrient deficiencies around the world.
Iron from plant foods, or non-heme iron, isn’t absorbed as well as iron from animal foods, or heme iron. To account for the different absorption rates, those who eat plant-based need to eat about 1.8x the normal RDI, which is why it’s important that your diet has plenty of iron-rich foods. So whilst the RDI of iron for men and women is 8-18 mg/day, those sourcing their iron from plants should aim to get 14.4-32.4 mcg/day.
If you’ve struggled in the past or are currently at risk of developing a deficiency in iron, be sure to eat iron-rich foods and avoid eating them with iron inhibiting foods like tea, coffee and cocoa. Vitamin C and Vitamin A have also been found to enhance iron absorption, which is why it can be useful to consume plant-sources of iron with foods like oranges, broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots. Onions and garlic also significantly enhance non-heme iron absorption.
Simon’s Tip: Whilst not supplements themselves, I recommend eating 1-2 Brazil nuts a day to reach the RDI for selenium and 1 tsp of dulse or nori flakes, which are both types of seaweed, to meet the RDI for iodine.
Periodic blood tests can be helpful if you want to be sure you’re staying on track with these nutrients or to check if there are any other deficiencies needing to be addressed through diet or supplementation. Because nutrient requirements vary depending on stages of life, like pregnancy, I always advise that people work with a health practitioner to devise a personalised food and supplement plan.
It can seem like a lot to remember, which is exactly why I wanted to make things simple when I formulated Eimele. To ensure nutritional adequacy, every Eimele meal contains 25% of the RDI for Iron, 50% of the RDI for Vitamin D and 20% of the RDI for Vitamin B12. The Eimele formulas also conveniently include selenium and iodine. Nevertheless, I truly believe that taking a few supplements is a small price to pay for an otherwise healthy and balanced diet. Don’t let the few nutrient limitations take away from the fact that a plant-based diet is the best way to support the body for optimal health.
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