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Your plant-based nutrition questions answered- Part 1

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So I asked and you answered! What an amazing response I have had, an inbox flooded with questions, so much so that I have had to split this blog into two. That way I can cover as many questions as possible.
Without further ado, let's get into them!


Do I need to supplement B12 as a vegan and why?
Yes, Vitamin B12 is the only Vitamin that we struggle to get in sufficient amounts
from a plant-based diet in today's day and age. Vitamin B12 is very important, its role within the body is to maintain a healthy nervous system, assist red blood cell production, as well as fatty acid and protein metabolism. It is vital for proper neurological function (brain function). B12 is obtained through the body via bacteria, which years ago typically was on the food we consumed. Now, everything is very clean and sanitized and the bacteria is not readily available to get sufficient amounts of Vitamin B12. It is important to keep on top of supplementation and monitor your levels, as deficiencies symptoms can take up to five years to appear. Symptoms can range from general fatigue to brain fogginess, general weakness, and stomach upset. Our Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) in Australia is 2.4 micrograms daily. I advise a sublingual spray and in the form of Methylcobalamin. It is readily absorbed and in the correct form to be stored in the liver and utilised.


Do you need lots of supplements when following a vegan diet, if so what do
you recommend?
One of the most common questions that I receive and unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” answer. Supplementation is a very individualised process and anyone who tells you differently is probably trying to sell you something… We all have a completely different genetic makeup, lifestyles and health circumstances. Therefore, we are not all going to require the same supplements, if any, Vitamin B12 being the acceptance. Broadly speaking, if you are a healthy individual and following a whole food and plant-based diet, there is no reason that you would require any supplementation other then Vitamin B12. However, if you have a nutrient deficiency/s and or impaired nutrient absorption or other health circumstances, you could require supplementation. My best advice here would be to monitor your nutrient levels via routine blood tests and seek advice from a health professional. Ensure they are accredited to interpret your blood tests and dietary intake and advise if supplementation is required.


What is your recommendation for following a high carb and low fat vegan
diet?
A plant-based diet naturally is going to be higher in carbohydrates as plant foods are predominately made up of carbohydrates. However, it is important not to consciously rule out the consumption of all fats. The mentality around following a high carb and low-fat vegan diet is to cut out the consumption of oil. For some individuals, this can beneficial, especially when on a weight loss journey.

However, I must stress not to cut out whole food fat sources, the recommended ratio of fat for healthy individuals is 20-35% of the total macronutrient intake.Adequate fat intake is important for the fat-soluble Vitamin absorption for Vitamin’s A,D,K and E. It is required for the structural component of cells, hormonal balance, cellular signalling, blood clotting and brain development to name a few. Healthy whole food fat choices are found in foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds.


Why do some vegans completely eliminate oil, salt and sugar?
Similarly to what we discussed above, many people following a whole food vegan diet eliminate processed foods. By choosing to eat this way, processed foods which typically contain higher amounts of oil, salt and refined sugars are left out of the diet. All oils are classified as a processed food and are typically quite energy (calorie) dense. Although, some oils such as extra virgin olive oil do have health prospects, eliminating oils is perfectly healthy as long as you remember to include whole food fat sources. By eliminating oil, it allows people to potentially add more fibre dense and free vegetables into the diet. Processed foods typically contain high amounts of added salt, too much salt is not good for anyone! In fact, salt is a major precursor for many chronic illnesses such as, cardiovascular disease. Processed foods typically contain salt to not only “enhance” the flavour of a product but it is also commonly used as a food preservative. Lastly, eliminating processed forms of sugar such as cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup is another great strategy for health. They typically contain high amounts of energy and very little nutrients. So, to sum it up, replacing salt, oil and processed sugar with whole foods is undoubtedly health promoting!


How do I manage cholesterol levels?
Well, the good news is a plant-based diet is a great way to manage high cholesterol levels. Foods such as meat, dairy products and eggs are high in bad cholesterol (LDL) and saturated fat. When they are consumed regularly these products can result in high cholesterol and triglyceride levels within the body. By adopting a plant-based diet, you eliminate these products from your diet which is a great method in its self to manage high cholesterol levels. 

Additionally, when following a whole food plant based diet you get the assistance of both fibre and plant sterols. Both of which are found in many vegetables and assist in the excretion of excess cholesterol as well as help to control how much cholesterol from foods are absorbed. Finally, many plant foods contain mono or poly- unsaturated fats that help to decrease your bad cholesterol levels (LDL) and increase your good cholesterol levels (HDL)

 

In part two of this blog post, I will be covering many more of your questions, several around protein recommendations for people following a vegan diet, gut health, weight gain, weight loss and a breakdown on fruit and sugar. Stay tuned!


Jacinta Sultana is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian that specialises in Vegan Nutrition. She contributed a comprehensive plant-based nutrition guide to our hardcover cookbook Vegan Bowls for Vegan Souls and developed a 5-day Vegan Meal Guide for our coco community. Follow her inspiring and educational Instagram page @jacinta_sultana.

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