Every diet has it's pitfalls - common nutrients you may be missing!
Every diet has its pitfalls
Everyone has his or her own reasons for following a certain diet. By diet I mean ‘what you eat every day’, as opposed to the fad ‘shed 10kg in 2 days’ sorts. Whether you’ve recently switched, or have eaten that way for a long time, it’s important to consider what nutrients you may be missing out on, and how to get them.
Recent research says a vegetarian diet is beneficial for longevity, and reduced occurrence of hospitalisation from heart disease.1 Whilst this may be true, there’s limited evidence to identify a difference between health conscious meat eaters and vegetarian diets, suggesting its not so much the omittance of meat that does the trick, but the amount of fruit, vegetables and overall balanced diet that may be key.2 Nevertheless, a vegetarian diet can be a great, sustainable choice. Just watch out for these nutrients that may be lacking:
- What it’s used for: cell metabolism, DNA production, energy release from food and an essential element in producing neurotransmitters that effect mood and support healthy functioning of the nervous system.
How I can get it: milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs are lacto-ovo friendly sources.
- What it’s used for: Protein breaks down to amino acids, the major building blocks of our bodies. Our muscles, skin, hair, even bone use proteins. Proteins are also crucial to the development of enzymes and compounds in our bodies that allow it to do everyday tasks, like digest food, keep our brain and muscles firing, and form compounds called lipoproteins that moderate and transport cholesterol around the body. They are also a key player in the function of our immune system.
How I can get it: beans, nuts/seeds, lentils, soybean products (edamame, tofu, tempeh), whole grains – oats, quinoa, buckwheat.
- What it’s used for: Iron transports oxygen around the body via the blood, and returns carbon dioxide to our lungs to be excreted. If oxygen is limited or cut off in one area of the body, the cells quickly weaken and die. Iron also supplies our immune cells with oxygen so they can kill off bad bacteria. It also aids energy production in our cells so our body can continue to use energy for all of its functions. Iron also plays a role in DNA development, and protein metabolism.
How I can get it: non-heme iron sources include molasses, spinach, kale, tofu, soybeans, lentils, and kidney beans. Heme iron is found in fish/tuna/chicken (if you eat these). Heme iron is more easily absorbed than non-heme.
Vitamin D -
- What it’s used for: Essential for calcium absorption, calcium transport to our bones to keep them strong, prevention of osteoporosis/osteomalacia (brittle bones). It also supports our muscles and immune system.
How I can get it: Milk, egg yolk, butter, sprouted seeds, tuna/prawns/salmon, mushrooms (left in the sun for 2 days- they absorb it). You can also get a boost from the sun. Ten minutes of direct sunlight daily on any part of your skin transforms inactive vitamin D your body created into the active form.3
Omega-3 essential fatty acids (if no fish) -
- What it’s used for: Essential fatty acids are the fats we can’t produce ourselves, so we have to eat them. They appear to help reduce inflammation in the body; be protective against heart disease and advanced age-related macular degeneration; are connected to boosting our mood; and are important in infancy and childhood for visual and cognitive development.
How I can get it: chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, sesame seeds/tahini, brussel sprouts. All of these are sources of a fatty acid called alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Healthy functioning bodies can convert ALA into the heart, joint and brain benefitting EPA and DHA (the kind found in fish and fish oil). Unfortunately the conversion rate is minimal, approximately 0.3-8%(men) and up to 21%(women) of what we ingest gets converted to EPA, and even less to DHA.4 It’s important to get a happy balance of omega-3s and omega-6s (found in nuts, seeds and their oils). Too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 may be a contributor to inflammation, a key aspect of many chronic diseases.5 So it’s a good reason to keep some fish in your diet if you can, or supplement with sustainably sourced fish oil.
Sometimes a tricky diet for socializing, being vegan requires a lot of research into where to eat, what to eat, and how foods are prepared. A balanced, health focused diet is essential in order get a variety of nutrients (like all diets!). Aside from having the same potential pitfalls that vegetarians must monitor (see above), you need to keep an eye on these nutrients too.
- What it’s used for: It’s the vital ingredient in making thyroid hormones (T3 and T4). Thyroid hormones regulate our metabolism. Iodine is important to ensure a healthy functioning thyroid, and is important in pregnancy for healthy brain development. It also plays a role in reducing fatigue, depression and weight gain.
How I can get it: kelp and other sea vegetables/seaweed, strawberries. A supplement may be recommended.
- What it’s used for: Another B group vitamin, these help convert our food (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) to energy (glucose). They help our nervous system function properly and give us luscious hair and skin. B vitamins also play roles in keeping our eyes and liver healthy.
How I can get it: beetroot, sunflower seeds, peanuts. Breads and cereals can be fortified with it – check the labels.
- What it’s used for: breaking down carbohydrates, skin health, wound healing, cell growth and importantly, keeps our immune system functioning well.
How I can get it: nuts, whole grains, legumes, fortified foods and yeast.
- What it’s used for: maintaining healthy strong bones and teeth, proper heart function and is required in the connecting of muscles and nerves (neuromuscular system) so we can function and move our body.
How I can get it: legumes and certain nuts, fortified beverages and breakfast cereals. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy or Chinese cabbage are good sources of calcium. Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, and dried beans, blackstrap molasses. Note: Vegetable and legume sources have lower calcium availability due to their high content of oxalic or phytic acid, which binds some of the calcium, stopping us from being able to absorb it.
- What it’s used for: Gut-dwelling bacteria keep pathogens (harmful microorganisms) in check, aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function. They play a role in symptom management of IBS and IBD and can help prevent bacterial imbalances like thrush and UTI’s in women.6
How I can get it: water kefir, kombucha, coconut milk yoghurt, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, miso, shoyu, and some supplements.
Gluten Free, Paleo and Primal
Stereotypes and media depictions for paleo and primal eating, plus the extensive number of refined, high GI ‘replacement foods’ for gluten free diets place this group at risk of bloating, constipation, sluggishness and if severe, hospitalization from gut complications. Don’t worry though, this is an easy one to prevent:
- What it’s used for: Reduces the risk of many common diseases – heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes. Helps to reduce cholesterol, manage blood sugar levels and helps us stay regular!
How I can get it: A mix of insoluble and soluble fibre, plus resistant starch works best as they complement each other with slightly different effects. Aim for a variety of fruit and vegetables with their skins, e.g. sweet potato, apple, figs, carrots. Choose a variety of high fibre whole ‘grains’ if you eat them (these are actually seeds) e.g. quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat. Other fibre sources include peas, nuts, seeds, coconut flour and psyllium husk.
Skimping on all dairy isn't necessary if you have lactose intolerance, most hard cheese and some yoghurt are usually well tolerated. However, those omitting all dairy need to make sure they're getting these goodies:
N.b: Paleo also need to eat calcium rich foods as they omit dairy:
How I can get it: bony fish like salmon with soft edible bones, legumes, certain nuts, and fortified beverages. Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy or Chinese cabbage are also sources of calcium. Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, dried beans, and blackstrap molasses. Note: Vegetable and legume sources have lower calcium availability due to their high content of oxalic or phytic acid, which binds some of the calcium, limiting our ability to be able to absorb it.
The bottom line: Eat a variety of wholefoods, minimise or avoid the foods that don't work for you, manage your stress, and savour your meals.
Enjoy being you,