I think it comes from a place of genuine concern, but I often get asked where I get specific nutrients from when people find out I only eat plants… especially because my lifestyle is so active and I like to work out on a daily basis.
When I was young and in school, I remember learning about what a “balanced diet” looked like. We had a picture of a plate and it was divided up into the three sections, Carbohydrates, (consisting of bread and pasta), Fats (oils, butter and cheese) and Proteins (Meat and eggs). Sadly a lot of people still think this way, so I have written this little introduction to key nutrients that we need for peak performance, why we need them and where to find them.
IRON: This nutrient helps to maintain the health of our red blood cells, this is important as they deliver ‘oxygen rich’ red blood cells all around the body. It also builds blood proteins for food digestion, metabolism and circulation. Iron is lost when we sweat, so it’s super important for those who are physically active to keep their iron levels topped up, especially as it increases physical stamina and boosts your energy.
TIP: Eat lots of leafy greens like spinach and kale. Pumpkin seeds are also a great source. Eating foods rich in vitamin C like oranges help your body to absorb iron more efficiently.
CALCIUM: We all know that Calcium helps us to build strong bones. Normally we say this to get kids to drink their milk… Plants can take in calcium from the soil and convert it into an organic form of calcium that the human body can efficiently make use of. Vitamin D maximizes calcium absorption so it is actually proven that regular exposure to daylight helps with Bone maintenance.
TIP: Good sources of calcium include dark leafy greens, broccoli, and sesame seeds.
PROTIEN: This is the big one, protein works to keep your skin, bones, muscles and organs healthy. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Your body needs them to break down food. Amino acids that your body can’t make by itself are called “essential amino acids.” You have to get these from the food you eat. We have so many amazing sources of these essential amino acids in a plant based diet.
TIP: Vegan options for protein include nuts, chickpeas, lentils, peanut butter, grains and seeds.
OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS: help improve heart health and brain function. It gets the name “essential” because your body cannot produce it. And omega 3 is relatively rare in the plant world BUT we do have some excellent sources. It’s particularily important to those with an active lifestyle because it helps to reduce inflammation caused by movement and plays an role in metabolizing fats, meaning your endurance improves.
TIP: Flaxseeds are a great source, as well as the infamous Chia seeds. I always add chia or flax seeds to my smoothies or sprinkle them on porridge or salads or vegetables. Just gives you the extra hit of minerals.
Of course this is also a topic that could be researched for days and there always going to be different opinions and arguments for what the BEST way to get the nutrients as a vegan. This is how I go about it and it works for me… I read THRIVE: The Vegan Nutrition Guide for optimal performance in sport and life, and The CHINA STUDY: a comprehensive study of nutrition and they have always helped me to feel great. A good balance is the key, even if, like me, you are 100% vegan with your diet.
Hope that sheds some light on the topic, have a great day!