Essential Nutrients in a Healthy Diet
“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~Albert Einstein
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. You can happily end up living on chocolate whole-wheat croissants for breakfast, cheese pizza for lunch, and a large bowl of fettuccine alfredo for dinner; but the pounds will eventually stack up as your energy declines. When you transition to a more vegetarian way of eating, it is important to educate yourself about the nutrients your body will need on a daily basis.
Learn how to create a balance of vegetable protein, carbohydrates and quality fats with each meal. You must also replace the six essential nutrients provided by animal proteins with plant-based foods containing the protein, iron, zinc, calcium, B12, and Essential Fatty Acids that are reduced with the elimination of meat, poultry, pork and fish. The fun part is putting them together into delicious recipes and then chewing slowly for the full satisfying experience.
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
- Fermented soy products in the form of tempeh, miso, and natto
- Free range eggs
- Raw 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 with a list of ingredients as long as my arm. 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
Strong, healthy blood requires proper amounts of Iron and a vegetarian diet can provide plenty. Average RDA for woman 19-50 years is 18mg, women 51+ years is 8mg and adult male is 8mg.
Because the human body does not store Zinc, it is essential to obtain it from the food you eat. Zinc is responsible for cellular metabolism, immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, DNA synthesis and cell division. The RDA for adult women is 8mg and for men is 11mg.
- 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
- Whole grains and whole grain flours
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: milk, yogurt and cheese
5. VITAMIN B12
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. Fermented soy, 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.
6. ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
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.