How to Nourish when eating Vegan/Vegetarian

Many people are now opting to eat vegetarian and vegan diets. I love the fact that this can promote eating more vegetables and plants in one’s diet, as I believe this should be the basis of everyone’s diet, regardless if you eat animal products or not!

However, when solely eating a vegan/vegetarian diet it is important to ensure that you are efficiently nourishing your body. Below, I dive into some of the key nutrients you should be considering.

Protein is an essential macronutrient. It’s the building blocks of muscles, bones, skin & blood. as well as hormones and enzymes. It also provides satiety, keeping you fuller for longer.

We often associate protein with animal sources, which yes are fantastic sources of protein, but there also many plant based options that you can include.

When it comes to protein, it is important to understand the difference between complete and incomplete sources.
Complete protein sources
contain all nine essential amino acids. They are ‘essential’ as the body is unable to produce them, which means they must be obtained through the diet.
Incomplete protein sources
are missing one or more of the ‘essential’ amino acids. Some plant protein sources are complete, yet many are incomplete.
Although some of these sources are incomplete, we don’t need to become overly concerned that each meal is considered complete. Instead, we can focus on including a variety across your day to meet your essential amino acid requirements. This involves combining complete & incomplete sources to meet the body’s needs. 

How much do you need?
This varies depending on age, gender, physical activity, body composition, lifestyle & goals.

These are general recommendations:
Males (19-70 years): 0.84g/kg
Males (70+ years): 1.07g/kg
Women (19-70 years): 0.75g/kg
Women (70+ years): 0.94g/kg
Pregnancy: 1.0g/kg
Breastfeeding: 1.1g/kg

Complete Sources

  • Tofu (12g protein, per 100g serving)
  • Tempeh (15g protein, per 100g serving)
  • Quinoa (3.3g protein, per ½ cup)
  • Soybeans (36.5g protein, per ½ cup)
  • Chia Seeds (2g protein, per 1 tbsp)
  • Hemp Seeds (3.2g protein, per 1 tbsp)
  • Spirulina (3g protein, per 1 tsp)
  • Nutritional Yeast (3.5g protein, per 1 tbsp)
  • Buckwheat (2.6g protein, per ½ cup)

Incomplete Sources (to be combined)

  • Lentils (6.5g protein, per ½ cup)
  • Beans (average 6.3g protein, per ½ cup)
  • Chickpeas (5.4g protein, per ½ cup)
  • Nuts & Seeds (average 6-9g protein, per 30g)
  • Tahini (5.2g protein, per 1 tbsp)
  • Brown Rice (3.4g protein, per ½ cup)
  • Vegetables (1-7g protein, per ½ cup
  • Oats (3g protein, per ½ cup)
  • There are also Protein Powder options

Vitamin B12 is necessary for the synthesis of DNA, proteins and blood cells. It also assists fat, protein and carbohydrate metabolism. It contributes to sleep quality, concentration, alertness and numerous other bodily functions.

Deficiencies can lead to gut issues, megaloblastic anaemia and neurological disorders. So yes this is super important!
Vitamin B12 is found in animal products. Fortified foods are become more readily available (as seen in some nutritional yeasts, milks, spreads, cereals etc). However, it is difficult to obtain sufficient amounts through fortified products.
Plant based sources of Vitamin B12 such as spirulina, mushrooms, sea vegetables are actually inactive forms of the vitamin and it is believed can actually inhibit the absorption of the active form.

Supplementation is key with this one. Usually at least 10 micrograms/daily or 2000 micrograms weekly. Work closely with a practitioner for support.

How much do you need?
These are general recommendations:
Males (19-70+ years): 2.4mcg/day
Women (19-70+ years): 2.4mcg/day
Pregnancy: 2.6mcg/day
Breastfeeding: 2.8mcg/day

You may notice the suggested supplementation dosage mentioned is much higher than these figures. This is due to absorption and to ensure you are consuming adequate amounts.

Iron transports oxygen around the body and as such is super important. It also assists numerous body systems and tissues.
Deficiencies can lead to anaemia with symptoms such as fatigue, brittle nails, breathing issues, sensitivity to cold, brain fog, dizziness, headaches, poor appetite, poor immunity and more.

Two forms of iron need to be understood:
Haem Iron
obtained from animal products.
Non-Haem Iron
can be obtained through plant based foods, but are not absorbed as well as haem sources.To enhance absorption, combine with Vitamin C rich foods like tomatoes, broccoli, dark leafy greens, lemon and sweet potato.

Some non-haem sources include: Soybeans, tofu, tempeh, pine nuts, parsley, cashews, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, amaranth, kale, broccoli and beans.

How much do we need?
These are general recommendations:
Males (19-70+ years): 8mg/day
Women (19-50 years): 18mg/day
Women (51+ years): 8mg/day
Pregnancy: 22mg/day
Breastfeeding: 9mg/day

Calcium interestingly is the most abundant mineral throughout the body. As I’m sure you are well aware it is essential for optimal bone mineralisation. It is also required for muscle contractions, teeth mineralisation, nerve function, hormone secretion, heart rhythm, blood clotting, insulin activation and cell signalling. It is important to note that some foods can inhibit the absorption of calcium, such as phytates. These are present in the outer coating of wholegrains, seeds, nuts and beans. They have the ability to bind with minerals such as calcium and can ultimately inhibit absorption. Soaking, spouting and fermenting these foods can break down their hard coatings, which will promote absorption.

Some plant sources include: Almonds, broccoli, buckwheat, beans, green leafy veg, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, turnips, sesame seeds, tahini and sweet potato.

How much do we need?
These are general recommendations:
Males (19-70+ years): 1000mg/day
Women (19-50 years): 1000mg/day
Women (51+ years): 1300mg/day

Omega 3 Fatty Acids are metabolised to EPA and DHA within the body, which are necessary for neuronal development and function, immunity, skin health, cardiovascular health, foetal development, healthy ageing and reducing inflammation. Recent research believes it can be of assistance to Alzheimer’s Disease.

The most bio-available sources are from oily fish and fish oil supplements.

Some plant sources include:
Flax seeds, flax seed oil, avocados, walnuts and chia seeds.

How much do we need?
These are general recommendations:
Males (19-70+ years): 160mg/day
Women (19-70+ years): 90mg/day
Pregnancy: 115mg/day
Breastfeeding: 145mg/day
There are algae based omega 3 supplementation options.
There are other important nutrients to be conscious of such as Iodine, Selenium, Zinc, Vitamin D, Vitamin A and Vitamin K.

Real Food > Packaged Food
It’s become super trendy to slap the word ‘vegan’ on food packaging and these days more and more vegan food products are lining the supermarket shelves. I have to highlight that just because a product is ‘vegan’ does not make it healthy.

As I always say, please read the ingredients!

Some of these products are highly processed, contain inflammatory vegetable oils, unnecessary additives and are sometimes genetically modified. At Natural Spoonful’s I support any diet where you intuitively follow what works best for you.. AS LONG AS it’s real food. I just wanted to flag this, as some of these products are so far removed from natural wholesome ingredients. If you are eating vegan/vegetarian, please nourish your body with wholesome and natural ingredients. I have a bunch of recipes that are veg/vegan based or can easily be substituted.

Get Support
If you are exploring eating this way or are an established vegetarian/vegan, I urge you to please seek support with a health professional to test your levels and ensure you are meeting your required nutrient intakes. Individualised supplementation is a far better investment as opposed to picking up trendy supplement products that your body may not reap the full benefits from. Not only this, but it is also important to continue to monitor your levels periodically for optimal vitality.

Stacey Hatfield

Stacey from Natural Spoonfuls is an accredited Health Coach & Aspiring Nutritionist, who passionately advocates embracing nature to nourish one’s life. She has a delicious recipe collection with many GF friendly options that can be found on her online blog. Stacey inspires others to live nutritious, balanced and nourishing lives. She also loves a good nature walk in rain, hail or shine, any excuse for her to wear her cosy Kathmandu puffer jacket! Stacey mostly hangs out on Instagram @naturalspoonfuls

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