The Status Quo
Since we can remember advocates of a plant-based diet have been haggled about the dangers of leading such a "restrictive" diet due to the possibility of various vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Most Vegans/Vegetarians confronted with this argument will insist that all essential nutrients are available through plant-based foods. Although this is true for the majority of vitamins and mineral's, there are some nutrients to pay extra close attention to if you are leading a plant-based diet.
Does this mean it's healthier to eat meat?
Although some may argue it is easier to find yourself experiencing a deficiency on a plant-based diet, this is by no mean's a clear indicator that it is healthier to be consuming a diet high in animal products. Studies have shown that the consumption of meat (especially red and processed meats) strongly correlates with higher incidences of various chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. If health & longevity is your goal then a plant-based diet stands as second to none.
The plant-based lifestyle like anything in this world comes with a few caveats. Luckily all potential pitfall's are easily avoidable with a little proactive action on the practitioners behalf.
1. Vitamin B12
Misinformation is still being spread that you need not supplement with this vitamin as a varied plant-based diet can provide you with sufficient levels. This is dangerous advice to adhere to as the majority of plant-based B12 sources are "unreliable".
This vitamin is actually produced by bacteria and fungi in our environment. When vegetables are grown they often are covered in this B12 producing bacteria, due to our modern hygiene standards almost all of this bacteria is removed during processing. The same goes for fermented foods which in normal conditions would see the introduction of B12 via airborne bacteria entering into the manufacturing process, nowadays this simply does not happen on the same scale.
Due to consumer interest manufacturers are releasing more B12 fortified foods, a few of these include nutritional yeast, meat substitutes, soya products and some nut-milks. Vegans/vegetarians must ensure they are consuming an adequate amount of fortified foods or supplementing with B12, this is a must.
2. Vitamin D
Sometimes refereed to as a hormone, this fat-soluble vitamin is responsible for the proper absorption and assimilation of calcium and promotion of bone mineralization, it also plays a major role in cognitive function and in recent studies warding off plaque deposits responsible for Alzheimer's.
There are two types of Vitamin D, D2 (plant origin) and D3 (animal origin). Vitamin D deficiency is not only a concern for vegans but omnivore's alike, recent study shows nearly 40% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D. Foods containing high concentration of Vitamin D are hard to come by, the most efficient way to boost Vitamin D seems to be sun exposure to our bare skin. According to NIH 5 – 30 minutes between 10 am and 3 pm twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen is usually enough to help adequately boost vitamin D levels.
One of the most abundant mineral's in our body, calcium is a crucial raw material used in the development and maintenance of our skeletal system. Not just important for strong bones this mineral helps regulate metabolism, blood clotting and muscle relaxation. Calcium absorption can be affected by various factors, for instance high protein intake negatively impacts our calcium stores as it draws this mineral out of our bones in order to correct the acidifying effect amino acids have on our blood.
Over the years we've been told that dairy is the one and only source of calcium, however the rising incidences of lactose intolerance is a fair indicator there may be a healthier alternative. Plant-foods such as beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds and leafy are all fantastic sources of calcium. To ensure your intake is adequate keep an eye on overly high protein and sodium intake and increase your consumption of calcium rich plant foods.