A few weeks ago it would have required A LOT of research for me to write a post on how vegans can increase the nutrients in their diet. Not because I don’t get any nutrients on my diet, but because erm, I don’t really have any idea how many nutrients I do take in.
So, back in January, I resolved to lose about half a stone. However, instead of losing that half stone I gained five. BECAUSE WHY THE HECK NOT??
In order to relieve myself of these five pounds, I downloaded the MyFitnessPal app. I set myself a goal of losing a pound a week (anything more is too much like hard work) and made a pound of making sure I hit my nutrient goals.
Since I’m tight, I don’t pay to get all the nutrient data, so I can only see the main players – vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Calcium and iron are the ones I fret that I’ll get deficient in, so I made it my mission to hit the targets as much as I could.
As a little aside I was SHOCKED to discover that when I was following this plan, my macros were almost dead on every day (although I’ve only been going a week, so don’t crack open the champagne quite yet).
I’ve never tracked macros and don’t really know how I’d go about adjusting them, but it turns out that by eating calcium, iron, and vitamin-rich foods you can be healthy and drop any extra weight.
WOW HOW TRULY INSIGHTFUL. EATING HEALTHILY CAUSES OPTIMAL WEIGHT HAPPINESS.
I’m also reading a book called Becoming Vegan (recommended by Pick Up Limes because I’m a tragic fangirl) which is a really useful resource for finding out what’s high in nutrients, what nutrients we need, bioavailability and all that good stuff. Is incredible, and it’s over a decade old, so there’s little mention of fancy-schmancy superfoods, just a lot of talk about beans.
First I’ll discuss foods I consciously add to meals to increase the nutritional value of my meal, and then I go through a few of the individual nutrients and tell you how I hit my target for them (and what the targets are).
Beans, legumes, and pulses, in general, are super rich in nutrients, but I like chickpeas because they’re cheap.
A word of warning though – don’t add too many to your diet at once or you’ll be either farting like a trooper or be so bloated you’ll want to cry.
If you don’t like the taste, you can add chickpeas (or white beans) to smoothies and oats. I PROMISE you can’t taste them.
- super high in fibre (1 cup = 50% of your RDA)
- High in protein (1 cup = 29% of your RDA)
- Contain calcium (a bit) and iron (about a quarter of your RDA per cup)
I add chickpeas to salads too – I use canned ones, so I just open the tin, rinse them until the water stops being foamy and whack them in.
Herbs are SUPER good for you. Each herb has different properties but think of them as a more delicious kind of leafy green.
Parsley is one of my faves (I need to grow in the garden), which is full of vitamin C, is full of antioxidants and is reportedly great for reducing kidney stones.
I like to chop it up in salads, mash it into avocado toast and put it in smoothies. You can do the same with coriander, which is also high in vitamin C, contains calcium and iron and, my fave fact, apparently cures smallpox (???)
All leftovers can be fed to any small herbivores you have in your house – the rabbit that lives in my living room goes mental for a bit of coriander.
BTW, dried herbs get a bit of a bad rap but they’re PACKED with antioxidants.
Plant milk in the UK is fortified with calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12. Although it’s recommended that you take a supplement of B12 and D (unless you live somewhere sunny and mainline nooch), I get most of my RDA of calcium from plant milk.
Nuts and seeds
Yes, I know that the tasty ones are the most expensive, but let me tell you about pumpkin seeds. For a start, they’re cheap as. They’re also packed with omega 3s, zinc, and iron. And other good stuff. Again, pop them in salads, smoothies, even on your cereal.
Don’t forget the humble nut butter. My current evening snack is dates with almond butter. I get the Jordanian dates (£3 for a big box) from Tesco, that are like Medjool dates, but slightly smaller and waaaay cheaper. I get the £4.50 (gulp) almond butter from Sainsbury’s because it’s the only one that tastes of anything.
I’m also not averse to downing a bag of cashews in front of the telly. Sure, they’re full of fat and salt but vegan ice cream’s full of fat and sugar, and has no nutritional value. Yes, popcorn’s an option but it is terrible tooth-wise.
I rather slammed tahini in this blog post, but I’ve been trying to incorporate it more because it’s high in calcium. Last week I made a lasagne using the sauce from this recipe as the cheese sauce. Hands down the best vegan cheese sauce I’ve ever had. Weird, because it doesn’t really taste that cheesy, but it fits the role perfectly and is so delicious I was eating it on its own straight from the food processor.
How I add more nutrients to my diet
Now as a disclaimer, of course there are things that I could do better. For example, it’s better for the absorption of nutrients if you spread out your consumption of them during the day. Unlike me, who drinks most of her calcium at once in the morning.
I’m not one for meal prep or planning, but I’ve started doing little things, such as chopping all my salad veg on a Tuesday morning (that’s the first day of my working week) so that I’m not tempted to just grab some salad leaves and be done. As good as salad leaves are for you, if I’m adding red onion, bell pepper, tomatoes and cucumber too, that’s even better.
I made up a little smoothie mix of hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, spirulina, turmeric and cacao, so I only have to open one jar, not 6. It also saves on washing up, because I don’t want chia seeds and turmeric tainting all the other jars.
Btw, spirulina will turn everything green.
Add in a banana, a handful of spinach and some plant milk, and I have nearly all of the iron I need in a day (14.8mg).
I have recently replaced snacking on crisps with snacking on roasted, salted cashews. Yes, they’re suuuper high in fat, but they have more nutritional value. I also find them really filling, so I’m not making myself a sandwich or two (filling ideas here) half an hour later.
Iron is something many people are deficient in, vegans and non-vegans alike. It’s also really easy to diagnose iron deficiency (because iron lives in your blood, so a blood test can accurately measure it), hence why a lot of people are actually diagnosed by a doctor.
Menstruating people need 15-18mg of iron a day. Everyone else needs a bit less, depending on how old you are (kids need a bit more than adults), and whether you’re preggers (pregnant people need 27mg).
Don’t take iron supplements unless a doctor tells you too. Too much is dangerous, because our body is super great at storing it, but not great at letting it go.
So, how do you get your iron?
My smoothie seeds mix provides 75% of my daily iron intake, but a lot of seeds contain iron, so eat lots. Cumin is also a great source, so add that to curries, chilli, or it gives a nice twist to avocado toast.
Spinach is also a good source of iron (also other greens like kale and chard), along with beans, pumpkin seeds, lentils, tofu, and oats. Eat a variety of fruit, veg, and beans and you’ll have plenty of iron in your blood.
In order to increase absorption, eat your iron-rich food with something containing vitamin C – beans on toast with a glass of orange juice, red pepper with your spinach, kiwi fruit with pumpkin seeds for a (very dull) snack. I add frozen fruit to my morning smoothie to optimise absorption.
There’s been a lot of research into the effects of tannins on iron absorption. There’s evidence that it does and that it doesn’t, so I’d try not to worry about it too much.
If you feel that you’re iron-deficient, maybe avoid drinking tea an hour or so before and after eating, but don’t panic if this will be a major disruption to your life.
Calcium is far more secretive re. its levels in your body than iron is, because it always keeps the amount of calcium in your blood the same. Running low on blood calcium? No matter, your body’ll just leach it from your bones.
So unless you have one of your bones cut up and assessed for porous…ness, there isn’t an easy way to tell if you’re calcium deficient. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to get it on a plant-based diet.
I get almost all of my daily calcium from fortified plant milk (if you can’t decide which one to get, this post has your back). I put about 300ml of plant milk in my smoothie, which is nearly half of the RDA of 700 – 1000mg a day.
Add a large plant-based latte and you’re done!
There are loads of other calcium-rich plant foods though – calcium-set tofu (which I believe is most tofu except for silken), broccoli, almonds (and almond butter).
I’ve just found a recipe from Nest and Glow for calcium fudge! Fudge that’s good for you! Here’s the link.
Like iron, don’t take a supplement for calcium, unless told to by your doctor. It can build up in the body and cause harm to your heart.
Again, not easy to measure (a lot of zinc lives in your eyes, so it ain’t easy to get to). We need 8-14mg a day. Tofu, oats, and peanuts are your friends here since they’re packed with the stuff, but most nuts and seeds contain at least a bit. Protein aids absorption, so add some nuts to your plant-based yoghurt and you’re golden.
Phytates hinder absorption, so make sure you soak your beans to reduce them.
A quick google tells me that cashews are high in zinc! My choice of snack is packing 1.9mg of zinc per quarter cup (and I’ll probs go for a full cup).
Oh, and one for all you nooch addicts out there: 2 tablespoons of it contains 20% of your daily zinc requirement.
Carrots, sweet potatoes, and kale are RAMMED with the stuff, but if you go for a red bell pepper, that’s pretty much your RDA for vitamins A and C done.
B1 – Flax seeds, peas, rice,
B2 – Mushrooms, spinach, almonds
B3 – Portabello mushrooms, brown rice, peanuts, avocado
B4 – apparently there isn’t one. Well.
B5 – Shittake mushrooms, avocado, sweet potatoes, lentils
B6 – Tofu, sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes, avocados (aren’t avocados doing well?)
Bs 7, 8, 10 & 11 – see B4
B9 – lentils, asparagus,spinach, broccoli
B12 – Fortified cereals and milk, but it’s generally advised that vegans take a supplement.
In the UK, a lot of foods like bread and cereals are fortified with B vitamins, but as long as you take your B12 supplement and eat a lot of mushrooms and avocados, you’ll be fine.
Eat one bell pepper a day and you’re done. DONE.
(Though guava, strawberries, kiwi, and tomatoes are good choices too.
Take a supplement. It’s not sunny enough in the UK a lot of the time, and sun damage is real.
Nuts, seeds, fruits, veg. Sorry, but that’s the way being healthy goes. Almonds, avocados, and sunflower seeds are v v high in vitamin E. We need about 15mg – half a cup of almonds is about all you need per day, but if you eat a variety of healthy foods (yawn) you’ll hit your target.
Vitamins F-J are awol.
Found in green things. One cup of dandelion greens (can you just eat them from the garden??) provides 535% of your vitamin K RDA. Wow. A cup of broccoli is also all you need and more.
If I can give you one piece of health advice, it’s to eat more broccoli. That stuff will save the world.
We’re not having a long outro today because CHRIST that was a long post. Congrats on making it this far.
I hope I can be bothered to proofread, but it ain’t looking good.