A Beginner's Guide to Plant Powered Nutrition
What do we mean by plant powered?
The definition of a plant-based diet is really broad and allows you to personalise its meaning to make it more you. To some, it means following a strict vegan diet, and to others, it may take the form of a flexitarian diet. But at its core, it’s simply a diet that celebrates the power of plants and all the delicious goodness they provide in their whole form! This means taking little steps towards eating more plants that are in their natural form (just the way nature intended).
What are the benefits of a plant-based diet?
You might be familiar with an apple a day keeps a doctor away, but why are plant-based foods so good for us? And what exactly are the benefits of eating plants?
Well, their healthful benefits are likely due to a combination of factors, including a lower energy density, high amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre (best known for keeping the digestion system moving and preventing constipation) and phytochemicals (naturally occurring chemicals that work in synergy to promote wellness); basically all the good stuff!
So it may not come as a surprise to hear that plant-based diets are associated with benefits such as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and reduced body weight. These favourable health outcomes can also translate to a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and obesity.
What nutrients should you look out for when eating plant-based?
When managed correctly, a plant-based diet can offer a plethora of health benefits for all stages of life, thanks to the revitalising nutrients found in plant-based foods. You do however need to make sure you get plenty of the following nutrients when eating more plants:
Proteins are made up of chains of different amino acids, which our bodies need in certain proportions to utilise the protein. Our bodies naturally produce 13 amino acids, but there are 9 other amino acids that need to be sourced through the diet, since our bodies are unable to make them (essential amino acids). It is well-known that animal proteins are the richest food source for complete proteins.
Many plant-based proteins, on the other hand, are considered “incomplete” as they are low in one or more essential amino acids. However, when following a varied, healthful plant-based diet, you can easily get all the amino acids by eating plenty of plant foods, such as: beans, soya, chickpeas, quinoa, peas, edamame, beans, tofu, tempeh, whole grains and even hemp. As long as you’re getting plenty of these plant-powered foods in your diet, it’s going to be pretty hard to fall short of your daily protein requirement!
The current recommendation for protein intake is 0.75g per kilogram of body weight. However, when eating plant-based, try to aim for a protein intake of around 1.1g protein per kilogram of body weight, because of the way the body handles plant protein. So, if you weigh 60 kg, this would equate to 66 gramps of protein a day (spread over the day).
Each serving contains an impressive 25g of protein and offers all 9 essential amino acids. When it comes to flavouring, we have used only the best quality Madagascan vanilla seeds to provide a subtle but incredibly tasty vanilla flavour. This product is perfect to use in a protein shake, smoothie or even sprinkled on your morning porridge.
Plant-based foods are naturally void of vitamin B12, as this vitamin is made by microorganisms (not by plants).
To ensure you get at least the recommended allowance of 1.5 micrograms per day, increase your intake of vitamin B12 fortified foods, such as cereals, vegan spreads, nutritional yeast flakes, and fortified plant-based milks! It's important to note that if you are unable to meet the requirements through consuming fortified foods, you will need to include a vitamin B12 supplement in your diet. Supplementation is a convenient way to ensure that you're getting your full vitamin B12 requirement.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
DHA, short for docosahexaenoic acid, is a type of omega-3 fatty acid that plays an important role in cellular function and helps support brain health, heart health, eye health, and assists in maintaining normal levels of inflammation across the body.
The most well-known sources of DHA include fish oil and oily fish like salmon and tuna. Plant-based foods such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and leafy vegetables, on the other hand, contain the less potent omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA can be converted into DHA, but the conversion isn't always very efficient, especially if ALA intake is too low.
To help boost your DHA intake, seaweed and aquatic plants known as algae are the best plant-based sources and can be easily sourced through supplementation. Interestingly, it’s a common misconception that fish are the original source of omega 3 fatty acids! Fish actually get their omega-3s from algae, so why not go straight to the source?
Debunking plant-based myths
Can I get all the nutrients I need?
It's simple to get all of the nutrients you need when eating plant-based, provided that you're following a well-balanced diet! That's because plants provide us with a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients to keep us thriving.
In fact, The British Dietetic Association, the professional registration body for dieticians across the United Kingdom, agrees that following a well-planned plant-based diet can meet nutritional needs for people of all ages. Just be sure to ensure you're getting enough of the essential nutrients that may be harder to obtain when eating plant-based; such as protein, vitamin B12, omega 3s, iron and vitamin D.
Do I need supplements?
Plant-based foods offer an impressive range of nutrients that can be hugely beneficial to your health! It is however recommended that you supplement vitamin B12 as it is not naturally found in plant-based foods.
Is a plant-based diet safe to follow during pregnancy?
Yes! You will be relieved to know that it is absolutely possible and perfectly safe being plant-based while pregnant, as long as you pay special attention to your meals to ensure you get an adequate amount of the collection of nutrients needed for a healthy pregnancy – these nutrients include folate, iron, calcium, iodine, vitamin B12 and zinc.
Plant-based food doesn’t fill me up
Since plants are low in calorie density, many people tend to think that eating plant-based will keep you hungry, as plants aren't filling enough. In reality, eating plant-based can actually be more filling than other foods due to the high fibre content of plant-based foods.
Eating higher amounts of fibre rich foods, such as pulses and cruciferous vegetables, can help promote satiety (the feeling of fullness) to keep you feeling fuller for longer between meals. If you are removing products such as meat or dairy from a meal, try to add something to replace them with plant-based protein sources, dairy alternatives, healthy oils, nuts or seeds to make sure your plate is still exciting, tasty and satisfying.
But don’t you need cow’s milk for calcium?
Some people worry that a plant-based diet makes it difficult to consume sufficient calcium, especially because people generally connect healthy calcium levels to dairy intake.
However, as long as you’re following a healthy balanced diet, it shouldn't be too difficult to reach your daily calcium requirements. In fact, cup for cup, calcium-fortified soy milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, and many dark leafy greens have about the same calcium as cow's milk. You can also find plenty of calcium in kidney beans, soy beans, kale, okra, spinach, broccoli, almonds and even dried figs, yum!
Riya Lakhani ANutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer with a special interest in plant-based nutrition. She has completed a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Human Nutrition, and has developed a passion for writing about all things plant-based.