As people strive to improve their health and evolve their food choices to a more plant-based diet, it is easy to get lost along the way. When you transition to a healthier diet, it is important to educate yourself about the nutrients your body will need on a daily basis.
It’s important to learn how to create a balance of protein, carbohydrates and quality fats with each meal. There are eight essential nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, B12, iodine and Essential Fatty Acids which are necessary to boost and optimize our health.
A crucial part of any diet, the average RDA for women is 45 grams and for men 55 grams, which you can easily consume in the form of:
- Beans, legumes, lentils and peas
- Free range eggs
- Raw, organic milk, cheese and yogurt.
- Nuts and seeds, which benefit from soaking in water or sprouting first
- Non-dairy nut and seed milks
NOTE: Pseudo-meats and other pretend protein foods should be avoided if possible, as they are highly processed foods. In an article by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, Ph.D. they write that, “Phytic acid remaining in these soy products greatly inhibits zinc and iron absorption; test animals fed soy protein isolate develop enlarged organs, particularly the pancreas and thyroid gland, and increased deposition of fatty acids in the liver.”
2, 3. IRON AND ZINC
One of the most common deficiencies in the world, iron is an important nutrient, integral to many bodily processes. It is especially essential for pre-menopausal and pregnant women, who tend to have this deficiency. If you feel tired, low in energy, suffer from headaches or hair loss, a pale complexion and weak nails, you could be suffering from iron deficiency.
Strong, healthy blood requires proper amounts of Iron. Average RDA for woman 19-50 years is 18mg, women 51+ years is 8mg and adult male is 8mg.
Two billion people may have a zinc deficiency, yet it’s an essential mineral required by the body for maintaining a sense of smell, keeping a healthy immune system, building proteins, triggering enzymes, and creating DNA. Zinc also helps the cells in your body communicate by functioning as a neurotransmitter. A deficiency in zinc can lead to stunted growth, diarrhea, impotence, hair loss, eye and skin lesions, impaired appetite, and depressed immunity.
Because the human body does not store Zinc, it is essential to obtain it from the food you eat. The RDA for adult women is 8mg and for men is 11mg.
- Cocao, oysters, wheat germ (zinc)
- Green leafy vegetables: kale, collards, cabbage, spinach, and broccoli
- Nuts, seeds: almonds and cashews
- Beans, lentils, legumes, peas, in cooked and sprouted form
- Fruits and dried fruits: apricots, dates, and raisins
- Date syrup and molasses
Magnesium plays a more important role than calcium in the body. Itreduces your risk of cancer, and controls the entry of calcium into each and every cell–a physiological event that occurs every time a nerve cell fires! When it comes to building healthy bones, magnesium is as important as calcium and vitamin D are. Without adequate magnesium, too much calcium gets inside the cell. This causes cramping and constrictions in ways you many doctors never consider.
Earlier dietary surveys show that a large portion of adults do not meet even the RDA for magnesium (320 mg per day for women and 420 mg per day for men) which is below the level necessary for optimal health being 500mg+ per day for both men and women.
- Green, leafy vegetables, starches,
- Grains and nuts, and raw milk.
In a nutshell, your body needs calcium to maintain strong bones and teeth, and for your nervous system to function properly. The RDA for adults is 1000-1200mg and can be found in a variety of foods, such as:
- Dark greens: broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage
- Sea Vegetables: wakame, arame, dulse, hijiki, and kelp
- Dairy products: organic milk, yogurt and cheese
Iodine is a mineral found mostly in seafood (including seaweed) that helps the body synthesize hormones, including thyroid hormone. This important mineral has been slowly but steadily leaving our food stream. The chemicals in fertilizers used in modern farming and chlorine added to water bind to iodine and prevent it from being utilized by our bodies. Iodine deficiency significantly affects the brain development of unborn babies and young children and is the main cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage across the world. It also leads to underactive thyroid and may increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, which could be a major problem given the numbers of women suffering from this deficiency. Iodine deficiency is not only common in developing countries, research has suggested that more than two thirds of teenage girls and 15 percent of adult females in the US have an iodine deficiency.
Caution: Too much iodine can also be harmful. although the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 200-300 micro grams of iodine daily during pregnancy for normal fetal thyroid hormone production and neurocognitive development, 1,100 micro grams is considered to be the safe upper limit for daily ingestion by the US Institute of Medicine.
- Eggs, fish and seafood are good sources.
- Vegans can go for seaweed, cranberries, organic strawberries and himalayan crystal salt.
7. VITAMIN B12
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient, especially for those following strict vegan lifestyles. It is required by your body to make new red blood cells and help keep your nervous system healthy. Without it, permanent damage can result. B12 can also lower homocystein levels, which is great news since elevated homocysteine levels may cause heart disease and strokes. A deficiency leads to anaemia and its symptoms include tiredness, pale complexion and breathlessness. It can also cause memory loss, confusion, mood swings and depression.
Vegans and vegetarians who do not eat eggs or dairy will need to take this essential nutrient in the form of a B complex supplement that includes the RDA for B12 of 1.5 microgram for adults. Shitake mushrooms, sea vegetables and algae contain something similar to B12, but it does not work in the body in the same way as B12 from animal sources. Some nutritional yeast food products contain some Vitamin B12.Meat and eggs are some of the best sources, however, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, it may be essential to occasionally use a B12 patch or high quality B12 supplement in your diet.
8. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Research says that eating more omega-3 fatty acids makes one live longer, look better and feel happier. A deficiency, on the other hand, can cause depression, mood swings and even aggressive behaviour. These fatty acids prevent heart disease, are good for your eyes, help you shed pounds and keep your skin and hair in good condition.
The body needs quality fats to help absorb the ‘fat soluble’ vitamins A, D, E and K, to regulate cholesterol, provide energy, maintain heart health and a number of other important functions. Saturated fats from animal sources is limited in a vegetarian diet, but hydrogenated and trans fats in baked goods and chips should be avoided for their harmful health effects. Recommended RDA for Omega Fatty Acids is 1-2 tablespoons.
- Extra Virgin Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Raw butter and clarified butter
- Coconut oil: a saturated vegetable oil that has proven beneficial in the diet
- Omega-3 oils: Flax, hemp and walnut oils
About the Author
Karen Foster is a holistic nutritionist, avid blogger, with five kids and an active lifestyle that keeps her in pursuit of the healthiest path towards a life of balance.