I spent my entire teenage years and most of my 20’s eating a primarily plant based diet. I have to admit in the beginning, I was really just eating a carb based diet – cereal, pizza, pasta, granola bars and did I mention cereal. But in the last 5 years or so I have really come around to loving all things plant based diets should be about, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains. Now I fill my plate 50% or more with vegetables and couldn’t imagine it any other way.
Eating a Plant Based Diet
I currently consume fish and shellfish about once a day or every other day. I choose to use a vegan source protein powder and limit my dairy consumption. Although I don’t have a gluten allergy or sensitivity, I also don’t consume grains with gluten since Dave is extremely sensitive to gluten and it’s just easier to keep it out of the house.
With that being said, I have quite a few clients that are completely plant based. They often have questions about eating a plant based diet and losing weight, gaining muscle and getting all their necessary and essential vitamins/minerals/fats and proteins. So I thought I would share with you of the most frequently asked questions I get.
First I have to define what living plant-based is to me. This is commonly what I would look at as a vegetarian or vegan diet. It’s basing a majority of your meals around fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains. There may be some dairy or eggs in the mix (vegetarian) but mostly vegan meals.
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- I’m a vegetarian, what protein sources do you recommend?
I get this question from EVERY vegetarian I know! Here are some of my go to answers. First, what do you eat? For vegetarians, I often suggest, eggs, greek yogurt, hemp temph, hemp hearts, beans and lentils, quinoa (did you know it’s a complete protein?), vegan protein powder, peas, broccoli, sprinula. For vegans, I suggest everything except the eggs and greek yogurts.
- Do I need a protein powder and what do you suggest?
First if you need a protein powder depends on your current protein intake and what your goals are. For some vegans/vegetarians, it’s very difficult to get enough protein in every single day. On the days that you are struggling, I would suggest adding a clean vegan protein powder. As far as recommendations for protein powder for vegans/vegetarians I would recommend a brand that doesn’t use soy in the ingredient list. I also recommend that you read the ingredient label and look for hidden sugars, colors or added unnatural flavors.
Some of the brands I love include VegaOne Performance Protein, it’s my hands down number one recommendation. Also SunWarrior and AboutTimeVE (affiliate links) are on my top 3 brands. The VegaOne Performance Protein is the only protein of these that I will put in a shaker cup and drink. The other brands, I use to cook or make green smoothies, breakfast bowls, quinoa bowls, or other fun baked goods with. I also like the MRM Veggie Elite to bake and make pancakes with.
- What are some common deficiencies and how can I avoid them?
We all know that eating a well-rounded diet is one of the best ways to ensure that we are not deficient in any one area. Vegetarian and vegan eaters are often deficient in Vitamin B-12, calcium, iodine, Vitamin D and Zinc.
Vitamin B-12 can be found in fortified products (like cereals and breads) and nutritional yeast. You may find it necessary to take a supplement. Unfortunately most fortified products are heavily manufactured and processed, so the benefit of the B-12 may not be worth the convenience. Nutritional yeast is a great ingredient, it’s a great way to add a cheesy flavor to a dish, and can be sprinkled on salad, soup, entrée or even in a dip for an easy and convenient way to get your Vitamin B-12 dosage. Try my vegan broccoli “cheese” soup!
Calcium – I think you will be surprised by all the sources of calcium in the plant based world. Great sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, collards, turnips, beet greens, dandelion greens, swiss chard, etc). fortified non-dairy milk, legumes and nuts. Almonds are actually a great source of calcium. A great way to ensure you are getting your calcium for the day? A green smoothie with spinach or kale, vanilla or chocolate protein powder, chia seeds, hemp hearts, almond milk, and almond butter.
Iodine – Did you know that if you consume soy based foods and large amounts of Brassica veggies (kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels, broccoli) you can compromise your thyroid function if your iodine intake is inadequate.
To help ensure you are getting adequate iodine from your diet, you can eat kelp, other sea vegetables, asparagus, green leafy vegetables, sea salt, and iodized salt. If you are not eating these foods regularly, a supplement of 75-100mg of iodine every few days will help ensure your iodine levels are optimal.
Vitamin D – meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike are often deficient in Vitamin D. So much of our days are now spent inside or we are covered from head to toe when we are in the sun, we are not getting adequate levels of Vitamin D. The easiest way to increase your Vitamin D levels? Get more sun. About 10-15 minutes of direct sun exposure a day. When your skin starts to feel like it’s “burning” you have been in the sun long enough!
Vitamin D supplements are also available. Vitamin D-2 is animal deprived and Vitamin D-3 is derived from non-animal sources. The goal in supplementing would be 1000 IU or (25mg) on days without sun exposure.
Zinc – zinc helps with protein synthesis, blood formation and immunity. Zinc requirements are higher for vegetarians/vegans. Good sources of zinc include: quinoa, wheat germ, aduki beans, lentils, chickpeas, sesame seeds, tahini, almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, cacao powder, cacao nibs, goji berries and dried apricots.
It’s recommended that you consume coffee or tea with zinc supplements between meals if you are going to supplement with zinc instead of using whole foods to get your zinc for the day.
- I heard that beans and lentils are not complete proteins. What does that mean and how can I ensure I’m getting all the amino acids I need to build muscle.
This is true, legumes (beans, lentils) and grains are not complete sources of protein. This is because they do not contain all the essential amino acids in one package. To ensure get around this, it’s often recommended that you combine your legumes with grains. For example, rice and beans or lentils and rice. Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids. It’s also important to note that you just need to get all your essential amino acids in a 24 hour period. This could mean beans at breakfast, lentils and nuts at lunch and quinoa or rice or seeds in the evening.
I hope this helped answer a few of your questions about eating a mostly plant based diet. You can certainly get enough of the essential macro and micronutrients you need from eating a plant based diet.
What about you?
- Have you ever eaten a plant based diet?
- What is your favorite green smoothie?
- Do you get enough exposure to the sun everyday?