Nutrients That Plant Based Eaters Must be Mindful of

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I was on an airplane recently and I had my eye on a guy who was sitting one seat in front of me and one row to my right. It was 9 in the morning and he was thoroughly enjoying a jumbo bag of Little Debbie mini chocolate donuts and the largest size Starbucks blended coffee drink available, piled high with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.

After he polished off the bag of donuts and was getting close to the end of his drink, he whipped out a huge Ziploc bag, containing an assortment of vitamins in different sizes, colors and shapes. He proceeded to wash down two handfuls of pills with the last of his “coffee”. I closed my eyes and thanked the universe because I could not have imagined a better metaphor for today’s Fuckery.

Here’s the deal apple peel. I’m not a registered dietitian or a doctor or anyone with letters behind their name. I don’t have an advanced degree, I haven’t written a book and I haven’t been a guest on Dr. Oz.

I’m a chick who believes in swearing and loves helping people feel better, more energetic and pumped about life by simply eating more whole plant foods and less of everything else.

That’s my jam. I don’t take myself too seriously and I will never judge you based on what or how you eat. I’m here to uplift, educate, support and encourage your plant eating journey – regardless of how many plants (or donuts) make up that journey at any given moment. Everyone’s food voyage is as beautifully unique as the person on that voyage.

So I might not be a doctor or a registered dietitian, but I have read enough books, seen enough talks and chatted with enough people who do have letters behind their name to know the basics of what plant based eaters need to keep in mind when it comes to nutrition and their health.

To start, eating donuts and a sugary drink for breakfast and trying to make up for it by taking a couple handfuls of vitamins isn’t where it’s at – whether you eat plant based or not. 

There’s a huge paradigm shift that occurs when you start eating more and more plants and less of everything else. Part of that shift is understanding that whole plant foods are packed with an abundance of protein, healthy fat, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants and fiber just by virtue of growing from the ground and being plants.

Each plant has a unique chemical structure, so it’s important to eat a wide range of whole plant foods in order to get the full spectrum of nutrients that plants have to offer.

So going straight to the source and getting our nutrients directly from plant food is ideal, but in order to do that we have to make sure that we’re truly eating a diet that’s nutritionally diverse and we’re not eating the same 3 veggies and fruits day after day, week after week.

That’s one reason why I started offering meal plans. I know that if people follow my plans, they will never get stuck in a rut of eating the same thing over and over again and missing out on important nutrients. Every single week is different.

So incorporating a wide range of whole plant foods (vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds) is bus stop number one, but even if you’re diligent with this, there are still a couple of nutrients that fall short in plants that you must be aware of. There are also a few nutrients that you have to make sure you’re getting enough of by choosing the right plant foods and combination of plant foods.

Being mindful and acting on these things will help you succeed, flourish and blossom while eating a diet made up of delicious, health promoting and disease preventing plant foods.

Today’s Fuckery is a two-parter. 

Today I’m covering B12, Vitamin D and calcium and next week I’ll go over iron, omega-3 fatty acids and iodine. Sound like a plan, my dear? Let’s do it!

B12

USA Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): 

The RDA for B12 is about 4mcg a day. However, Dr. Greger’s recommendation is at least 2,500 mcg once a week or 250mcg daily, as a chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplement taken on an empty stomach. That’s quite a bit more than the RDA, but in order for the body to absorb 4mcg a day, we need to take a lot more than that, hence his higher recommendation.

People over the age of 65 should take at least 1,000mcg every day because as we age, we don’t absorb B12 as efficiently (this goes for plant eaters and omnivores).

Why it’s important: 

Low intakes of B12 can lead to anemia, damage to the nervous system, cognitive decline and possibly even heart disease and stroke. It’s nothing to fuck around with. If you eat a plant based diet, you need to be supplementing with B12 – this is non-negotiable, okay?

The best plant based sources:

Chewable, sublingual, or liquid supplements (recommended)
Fortified plant based foods

Vitamin B12 Notes 

  • B12 isn’t made by animals or by plants, it’s produced by certain bacteria. Some of these bacterias line the guts of animals, which is why people who eat meat aren’t commonly deficient in B12.
  • There are foods that are fortified with B12, like Red Star nutritional yeast, certain non-dairy milks and certain breakfast cereals, but because B12 is so important, I highly recommend taking a supplement and be done with it.
  • It’s commonly thought that seaweed, organic produce and fermented foods all contain B12. This is not correct and these sources should not be relied on to meet your  B12 needs.
  • Humans produce small amounts of B12 in the large intestine, but it’s too far down from the stomach to be absorbed, so we can’t use the B12 that the bacteria in our intestines creates. #bummer
  • One of the first signs of B12 deficiency is numbness and tingling in the tips of the fingers, toes and / or nose. Other signs are fatigue, weakness, depression, difficulty with balance, memory loss, indigestion and a sore tongue.
  • Don’t worry about taking too much B12 because you will pee out any excess.
  • There are two types of B12 that you will find in supplement form, cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. Cyanocobalamin is the most common and it’s a synthetic form that the body has to break down and convert into methylcobalamin before it can be absorbed. Methylcobalamin is the more pure form, but both types have been shown to increase B12 levels and there are no studies that suggest one is better than the other
  • Your B12 level can be tested with a regular lab workup so tell your primary care person to test for it the next time you go to the doctor.
  • Whatever you do, please take a B12 supplement, even if you think you don’t need to.

How I get my B12: 
Here’s a picture.

Vitamin D

USA Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA):

600 IUs (international Units or 15mcg) is the RDA for vitamin D. However, Dr. Greger and other doctors and dieticians have a higher recommendation based on a shit load of scientific reviews on vitamin D. They recommend 1,000 – 2,000 IUs a day (25mcg – 50mcg).

Why it’s important: 

Vitamin D is important for bone health, a healthy immune system and brain health. Research also suggests that vitamin D may protect against different types of cancers. Vitamin D prevents rickets and it helps the body absorb minerals, like calcium.

The best plant based sources: 

  • The best source of vitamin D is the sunshine. This is because vitamin D isn’t technically a vitamin, it’s a hormone that we synthesize when our skin is exposed to sunlight, hence the term “sunshine vitamin”.
  • A vitamin D supplement is also a reliable and safe source.

Vitamin D Notes: 

  • If you can go outside and hang out in the sun, with your arms and legs exposed (without sunscreen) for 10 – 30 minutes a few times a week (10 minutes if you have lighter skin, 30 minutes if you have darker skin), then you might be able to make all the D you need. However, if you live somewhere that doesn’t  have a lot of sunshine, if you’re susceptible to sunburn, if you can’t get outside often, if you live somewhere with lots of pollution, or if it’s winter, you’ll have a hard time making enough D from the sun. Taking a vitamin D supplement will help bring your levels up.
  • You will find Vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 in the supplement aisle. Vitamin D2 is derived from plants (specifically fungi) and vitamin D3 is derived from animal sources (sheep’s wool) or plant sources, like lichen (a type of algae). Both are absorbed by the body equally well up to 4000 IUs (100 mcg). After that, D2 is less effective in larger doses. Dr. Greger recommends vitamin D3 over vitamin D2.
  • D3 derived from lichen is vegan.
  • There are vitamin D fortified foods, like non-dairy milk, breakfast cereals, protein bars and mushrooms exposed to UV light, but these foods aren’t recommended for getting your vitamin D needs met because they don’t contain enough vitamin D to get the job done.
  • It’s not just plant munchers who need to make sure they’re getting enough vitamin D, omnis need to be aware as well. This is because vitamin D isn’t abundant in plant based foods or animal based foods.
  • When you get your B12 checked at your next doctor’s visit, also ask them to check your D levels.

How I get my vitamin D: 
I spend at least 10 minutes in the sun every day with my arms and legs exposed (with sunscreen on my face). It’s easy for me to do this because I live in Hawaii. I had my D level checked a few months ago and it was in a healthy range. I will get it checked again at my next doctor’s visit. Unless my levels are low, I won’t take a supplement.

Calcium

USA Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): 
1,000mg for adults up to 50 years old and 1,200mg for adults over 51. In the UK, the recommendation is 700mg a day and Dr. Greger recommends 600mg a day via calcium rich plant foods. His lower recommendation is likely because we absorb twice as much calcium from plant foods than we do from animal based foods.

Why it’s important: 

Calcium helps protect bone density and keep bones strong and healthy as we age.

The best plant based sources: 

Veggies 
Collard Greens: 1/2 cup cooked = 133mg
Turnip Greens: 1/2 cup cooked = 98mg
Bok Choy: 1/2 cup cooked = 79mg
Sweet Potato: 1/2 cup cooked = 45mg
Kale: 1/2 cup cooked = 47mg
Broccoli: 1/2 cup cooked = 31mg

Fruit 
Orange: 2 = 120mg
Dried Figs:  5 = 150mg

Legumes and Beans 
Edamame: 1 cup = 98mg
Navy Beans: 1/2 cup cooked = 63mg
Great Northern white beans: 1/2 cup cooked  = 60mg
Black beans: 1/2 cup cooked = 51mg

Whole Grains 
Amaranth: 1 cup cooked = 116mg

Nuts and Seeds and Nut and Seed Butter 
Almonds: 1/4 cup = 60mg
Tahini: 2 tablespoons = 128mg

Minimally Processed Packaged Food 
Tofu set with calcium: 1/2 cup / 434mg
Blackstrap molasses: 2 tablespoons =  300mg
Fortified soy milk: 8oz = 300mg (same as milk)

Calcium Notes 

  • Calcium from plants is absorbed twice as well as calcium from dairy products (about 30% of the calcium in dairy is absorbed whereas 60% of the calcium in leafy greens is absorbed). There are plenty of calcium-rich plant foods, plant eaters just need to make sure they eat enough of these foods. Plus, when you get your calcium from plants, you avoid harmful hormones and casein, a milk protein that raises the level of cancer-growing Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) in the body. #hugebonus
  • When drinking calcium fortified non-dairy milk, shake the carton before you pour because the calcium settles on the bottom.
  • Weight bearing exercise helps protect bone health, so do some of that few times a week.
  • Taking calcium supplements seems to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease because when you take calcium supplements you get a spike of calcium in your blood that you don’t get with calcium-rich foods. This increases the risk of clots in the heart and brain.
  • Women start losing bone density leading up to and during menopause.
  • There are some greens that are high in calcium but the body has a hard time absorbing the calcium from these greens because they’re high in oxalic acid which binds to calcium, making it unavailable for absorption. These greens include spinach, beet greens and swiss chard. So while these greens aren’t great for calcium, they are excellent for other things so they shouldn’t be avoided.
  • Vitamin D and vitamin K both help boost calcium absorption. See the vitamin D recommendations above. The RDA for vitamin K is 90mcg for women and 120mcg for men. Just 1/2 cup of cooked collard greens has 418 mcg, 1/2 cup cooked kale has 531mcg, 1/2 cup cooked spinach has 444mcg and 1/2 cup cooked broccoli has 110mcg. It’s super easy to get enough vitamin K as long as you’re eating green veggies.

How I get my calcium: 

I make sure that I eat a variety of the calcium-rich foods listed above every single day. Lately I’ve been buying calcium fortified Edensoy soy milk and making my morning smoothie with half soy milk and half water.

I add cooked sweet potatoes to my smoothies and a few cups of greens, along with seeds, berries and banana. I also snack on dried figs and edamame when I need a snack and I eat tahini on practically everything.

I don’t actively think about getting calcium every single time I eat because I know I eat the foods that are naturally rich in calcium as part of my daily eating routine. Eventually it becomes habit and you won’t have to put as much thought into it.

I have a pair of 5 pound hand weights that I use when I go for a walk and I also do yoga at least once a week. These activities don’t give me calcium, but they do help keep my bones dense, healthy and strong.

Okay – that finishes up part one. I’ll meet you back here next week, same time, same place and I’ll cover part two of the nutrients that plant based eaters need to be mindful of.

Today’s recipe is perfect if you’re sick of steel cut oats. Plus, it’s packed with calcium, so make it ASAP and enjoy!

Calcium-Rich Creamy Amaranth Breakfast Porridge

Stove Top and Instant Pot Directions

1 cup amaranth (195g)
2 cups water (475ml)
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon blackstrap Molasses
1/2 cup unsweetened, nondairy milk (preferably fortified with calcium)

Toppings 
Non-dairy milk
Banana slices
Chopped almonds

Stove Top Directions

  • Heat a skillet over medium – low heat for two minutes. Add the amaranth and toast for about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Transfer the toasted amaranth to a medium-sized pot and add the water and the cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, turn the heat to low and cover the pot with a lid.
  • Simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring intermittently until the amaranth is thick like porridge. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla, molasses and non-dairy milk and stir until creamy and smooth.
  • Serve with some additional non-dairy milk, banana slices and chopped almonds.

Instant Pot Directions 

  • Heat a skillet over medium – low heat for two minutes. Add the amaranth and toast for about 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Transfer the toasted amaranth to your Instant Pot (IP) and add the water and the cinnamon stick. Lock the lid into place, making sure the nozzle is in the sealing position. Using the manual mode, set the timer for 3 minutes and use the natural release method when the timer is up.
  • When all the pressure is out of the IP, take off the lid and add the vanilla, molasses and non-dairy milk and stir until creamy and smooth.
    Serve with some additional non-dairy milk, banana slices and chopped almonds.


Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with looking after your life vessel like it’s the most important thing in this world. Because it is. 

Xo
Molly

References  

Safest Source of B12 
All about B12 
Information on vitamin D
Benefits of vitamin D 
Vitamin D2 vs. D3
Plant Vs. Cow Calcium 
About IGF-1 
IGF 1 – Animal Protein vs. Plant Protein 
Risk of calcium supplements 
Dr. Greger’s recommendations for optimal nutrition

p.s would you look at the size of this mango?

Are you grooving to my jammy jam? Sign up here for my Saturday morning fuckeries and free Whole Food Plant Based recipe ebook. Pucker up, beautiful!

Food photography by Christine June

 

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