Meat, milk and eggs supply many of the nutrients we need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. So even though a “plant-based” diet sounds super healthy, you actually may be missing out on key nutrients if animal products are not a regular part of your diet.
For this reason, vegans are more likely to have Vitamin B and Vitamin D deficiencies. As a major source of B vitamins, meat is one of the more common ways that we squeeze this water-soluble nutrient into our diets each day. And most people are already Vitamin D-deficient, so cutting out milk and cheese just compounds this very common problem.
In order to have a complete diet and stay healthy, it’s important to understand how to substitute animal-sourced foods – as a vegan or as someone who prefers a plant-based diet -- so that you still get the nutrients your body needs.
The Ins and Outs of the Plant-Based Diet
The mostly vegan-friendly “plant-based” diet consists of fruits, vegetables, tubers (starchy vegetables like potatoes or corn), nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes, while cutting out animal products such as dairy, eggs and meat.
Many intelligent swaps for animal products are made on a plant-based diet: tubers take the place of meat as the caloric filler, while legumes provide healthy fats and protein. A variety of fruits and vegetables supply the water-soluble and fat-soluble nutrients you need each day.
While many of these swaps are even – beans are an excellent alternative source of protein, for example – other nutrients, like vitamins B and D mentioned above, may be a little harder to supplement. However, plant eaters, there’s no need to worry-- you can still get all the nutrients you need with some smart substitutes.
Filling in the Plant-Based Diet’s Nutritional Gaps
While the phrase “plant-based diet” may invoke images of eating a salad every day for every meal, it doesn’t mean that you only live off kale or other leafy greens. There are hundreds of classic, delicious dishes out there that supply much-needed calories, are completely vegan and adhere to a plant-based diet. For example, the classic vegetable dish ratatouille is nutrient-dense, cooked with olive oil and rounded out by Vitamin C-rich zucchini and Vitamin B6-rich portabella mushrooms.
There are many other ways to get the nutrients normally found in animal products from foods that are friendly to a plant-based or vegan diet:
- Calcium – This nutrient is very important for bone strength. Calcium can be found in many plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Dark leafy green vegetables, coconut and string beans are all good sources of calcium.
- Iron – This mineral helps with distributing the oxygen in your blood throughout your body. While mainly found in red meats, iron is also found in many vegan-friendly foods, such as leafy greens, zucchini and garbanzo beans.
Adhering to a plant-based or vegan diet isn’t as simple as just eating more vegetables. It takes a good understanding of the vitamins and minerals you need to have a healthy, balanced diet with only plant-based products. Luckily, with nutritional information available at your fingertips and delicious meals ready to go at your disposal, maintaining this healthy diet is easier than ever.