Jordan Douglas, MS, HHC
The number of Americans eating a plant-based diet has grown steadily over the past decade, as individuals and families embrace everything from meatless Mondays to full-on veganism. Whether you’re curious about experimenting with a plant-based diet for health, environmental, or animal-rights reasons (or all of the above!), it’s essential to make sure you’re covering your nutritional bases. Do your own research and consult a nutrition professional to ensure you are meeting your unique macro and micronutrient needs, and consider high-quality supplements where indicated. Below we’ll take a look at some key micronutrients that require a bit more thought and awareness to meet foundational nutritional and physiological needs.
- Vitamin A: Vitamin A plays a key role in vision health, healthy immune function, red blood cell production, and antioxidant protection against a variety of chronic diseases. Red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables are all abundant sources of carotenoids. However, fiber decreases carotenoid absorption and thus plant-based diets can be low in vitamin A.
- Vitamin B12: B12 is crucial for energy production, hemoglobin synthesis, and neurological health. It can be a tough one to get through the diet (for herbivores and omnivores alike), so high-quality supplementation can be beneficial. Plant sources include mushrooms, algae, chlorella, seaweed and fortified plant foods (e.g., soy milk, nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals, etc.).
- Vitamin D: At least 42% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D, with many more having insufficient levels. Vitamin D can be difficult to obtain through the diet, regardless of dietary preferences, so supplementation is often recommended. Small amounts of vitamin D can be obtained through mushrooms and fortified plant foods. For more on vitamin D, see this post.
- Calcium: Calcium is important for bone health, muscle health, nerve and nervous system health and endocrine health. Many plants are abundant in calcium, such as dark leafy greens, nettle, tofu, and fortified plant foods.
- Iron: Iron plays a role in oxygen transport, energy production, immune health, and building healthy blood. Plants provide us with non-heme iron, which is less absorbable than the heme iron found in animal sources. Vitamin C helps facilitate non-heme iron absorption. Plant sources include blackstrap molasses, beets and beet greens, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
- Iodine: Iodine plays a key role in thyroid, digestive, bone and muscle health. Black-eyed peas and seaweed (especially nori) are good plant sources.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential mineral for proper cellular and enzymatic function, cell-to-cell communication, nerve health, vision health, immune health and antioxidant function.
Vegans require up to 50% more zinc in the diet due to the prevalence of phytates and fiber. Nuts and legumes are both great sources of zinc.
Curious about your foundational micronutrient needs? Wondering how to incorporate more plant-based foods in your diet? Email email@example.com to schedule your free 30-minute nutrition counseling session!