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Key Vitamins and Minerals in a Plant-Based Diet by Jessica Joseph

September 1, 2014

Vitamins and minerals play a key role in the maintenance of our health. These days, it is becoming more and more overwhelming to know which vitamins and minerals we really need. There are so many numbers and letters to keep track, walking into a health food store can be quite intimidating.

I wanted to give you a breakdown of what I believe to be the 6 most important vitamins and minerals that we need to allow our bodies to function at their best. I think it’s important to not only know the benefits of these vitamins but where we can naturally get them. Luckily for vegans and vegetarians, many of our vitamins and minerals can be absorbed through the foods we eat however, if you do have dietary restrictions, taking a supplement may not be a bad idea.

I could give out a list of about 30 very important vitamins and minerals for our bodies however, it is dependent on your lifestyle, your diet and your health concerns. This list is merely a few vitamins that I consider to be important for our general health. If you have any sort of concern for your health, I would recommend seeing a Naturopath or Nutritionist for a more personalized list of the vitamins that your body may be deficient in.

Vitamin B12:

How important is B12?

B12 is essential. You need B12 for your red blood cells to form and to grow. B12 converts carbs into glucose in the body, which gives us energy and decreases fatigue; it’s our fuel! On top of that, it regulates the nervous system (helps reduce stress and depression) and is great for the health of your skin, hair and nails because of cell reproduction. Most importantly, B12 helps in protecting your body against cancers and heart diseases.

How much do I need?

About 250 micrograms a day

Where can I get it naturally?

B12 can be found in a lot of meats however, if you are vegan or vegetarian, it is difficult to naturally get your daily dose of B12 because plant foods have no vitamin B12*. I highly recommend taking a supplement each day for B12 as I believe it to be one of the most important vitamins for your body. I have taken a B12 supplement for the past year and I am neither vegan nor vegetarian but I spent the past 4 years being extremely deficient without even knowing it. It is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies.

*B12 is manufactured by bacteria, fungi and algae. Plants don’t require B12 so they have no way of producing or absorbing it so it is difficult to find in veggies (unless they are fortified).

Calcium:

How important is Calcium?

Calcium is needed for bone health; it supports healthy bones as the bones build up calcium stores. It is also a huge contributing nutrient to our heart and our muscle health. Calcium supports nerve transmission and muscle function.

How much do I need?

You should be getting around 2,000mg a day

Where can I get it naturally?

Milk is the obvious answer however, even if we consume a glass of milk a day, we aren’t getting enough calcium. There are other dairy products that contain calcium such as low-fat yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, etc. however vegans tend to think their options are limited for natural sources of calcium. This is surprisingly incorrect; there are many sources of calcium in other foods. Here are some examples,

  • Kale (180 mg per cup)
  • Collard greens (350 mg per cup)
  • Soybeans (175mg per cup)
  • Oranges (60 mg per orange)
  • Tofu (350 mg per 100g)

Potassium

How important is Potassium?

Potassium is a very important nutrient with a crucial role; it protects your heart and your brain. It helps to trigger your heart to squeeze blood through your body. It maintains normal blood pressure in our bodies. On top of that, it helps our muscles to move, helps our nerves function and helps our kidneys to filter blood.

How much do I need?

4,700mg a day

Where can I get it naturally?

Bananas tend to be the fruit that everyone thinks of when they think of potassium. Bananas are great sources for potassium as they have about 360 mg per banana but this is only 13% of your daily intake. You can get potassium in a lot of other vegetables. Broccoli, peas, lima beans, tomatoes, potatoes (especially their skins), sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are all great sources of potassium.

Vitamin A

How important is Vitamin A?

Vitamin A plays a vital role in bone growth, immune system health and reproduction. It also is important in the health of your eyes, your teeth and your skin; three very important parts of our bodies.

How much do I need?

700 mcg daily

Where can I get it naturally?

Vitamin A can be found in beef liver and some fishes (salmon is a great source of vitamin A) however, there are also a ton of natural sources of vitamin A in fruits and vegetables, including: green leafy vegetables such as carrots, spinach, broccoli and kale and fruits including cantaloupe, apricots and mangoes and butternut squash

Iron

How important is Iron?

We need iron to produce hemoglobin (a fancy, intimidating word for the red protein that helps carry the oxygen from our lungs to our tissues). Without iron, we put ourselves at risk for anemia (which is a condition that affects about 9% of female aged 20-49. It is a deficiency of red blood cells). Iron also helps with the production of the enzyme that destructs toxins in our body; it is necessary for our bodies to fight infections and bacteria.

How much do I need?

About 18mg a day

Where can I get it naturally?

Red meat is one of the most iron-rich foods there is but little do many people know, there are actually a ton of vegetarian and vegan foods that contain a significant amount iron. Some examples are,

  • Soybeans (8.8mg per cup)
  • Lentils (7.2 mg per cup)
  • Spinach (6.4 mg per cup)
  • Tofu (6.4mg per 4 ounces)
  • Chickpeas (4.7mg per cup)
  • Quinoa (2.8mg per cup)

Protein

How important is Protein?

Very important. Our hair and our nails are made of protein. Our bodies need protein to build and repair tissues, which is why it is suggested to take it after a work-out. Protein also makes enzymes, hormones and other body chemicals. It is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. I would say it is one of the most important nutrients in the body.

How much do I need?

Approximately 50 grams a day

Where can I get it naturally?

Do not ignore protein. It is a very easy macro-nutrient for us to get naturally, through our foods. The most protein-rich foods are meats and dairy products which is why vegans can be overwhelmed when learning about protein but, there are some natural ways for us to get protein. Here is a small list of examples to get protein naturally, through a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle,

  • Vegetables: Avocados (10 grams), Broccoli (5 grams), Spinach (5 grams)
  • Legumes: Soybeans (28 grams), Lentils (18 g)
  • Seeds and nuts: Sesame seeds, Almonds, Peanut/almost butter

If you are ever uncertain if you are getting enough protein in your diet, it will never hurt to add a bit of protein powder to your smoothies in the morning or after a workout.

Written by: Jessica Joseph

Jessica Joseph (http://www.tinycupofhealth.com/about/) is a holistic nutritionist in the making and is the writer and creator of A Tiny Cup of Health (www.tinycupofhealth.com), a health & wellness blog which posts delicious recipes, health and wellness tips, product reviews, exercises and simple advice on how to live and maintain a balanced lifestyle.
TCOH

 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Reggie Keady July 14, 2016 at 8:28 pm

    Green juice recipes consist of several fresh green vegetables. Taking green juices every day can make some great changes to your life since the juice offers many health benefits such as increased energy, anti-inflammation, and a natural boost in immunity.

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