Let’s end all myths about the correlation between nutritional deficiency and vegan, vegetarian, or whole food plant-based diets.
With increasing awareness about the harmful effects of consuming animal products on the environment and body, more people are choosing to switch to plant-based alternatives.
There is ample scientific proof that a plant-based diet has a positive impact on the mind, body, and environment.
Significant studies over the past decade have shed light on the role of a plant-based diet in preventing high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, and heart conditions.
Despite sufficient studies to show the benefits of a plant-based diet, many myths about the correlation between nutritional deficiency and a plant-based diet are still prevalent.
Does A Plant-Based Diet Cause Nutritional Deficiency?
The short answer is no. Whether it is a vegetarian diet, vegan diet, or whole food plant-based diet, there are ample sources of essential nutrients.
So, let’s talk about the myths. Here’s a list of each nutritional deficiency people believe to be related to their plant-based diet:
1. Protein And Amino Acids
One of the most common myths is that meat and animal products are the only adequate sources of proteins and amino acids.
However, a 2019 study conducted by the department of medicine at Stanford Research Prevention Center has proven that consuming traditional vegetarian protein sources such as legumes, nuts, and seeds is sufficient to meet protein requirements per day.
One of the most convincing pieces of evidence for this statement is the success of athletes that follow plant-based diets.
The most famous examples are Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton and pro-MMA fighter James Wilks. They have proven that meat consumption is not necessary for muscle strength.
Here are some of the best vegetarian protein sources: Greek yogurt, lentils, beans, cottage cheese, hemp seeds, chia seeds, edamame, green peas, quinoa, peanut butter, almonds, and eggs.
A plant-based diet is adequate to meet overall amino acid requirements as well, not just the protein amount.
2. Vitamin D
It is commonly believed that there are inadequate sources of vitamin D in a whole food plant-based diet.
However, studies suggest that one can get the daily requirement of vitamin D if exposed to sunlight. This is the best source of vitamin D.
In places where there is little sunlight throughout the year, vitamin D requirements can easily be met through fortified food and supplements.
Certain mushrooms are rich sources of Vitamin D as well.
Iron is another nutrient that is believed to be mostly present in meat and other animal products.
However, this is nothing more than a commonly held misconception. An average adult needs about 8.7 mg of iron every day while menstruating women need 14.8mg.
Plant-based iron sources include legumes, lentils, tofu, cashews, nuts, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dried apricot and figs.
A lentil soup or a serving of tofu is enough for your daily iron needs.
It is important to note that iron deficiency can also be caused by the low absorption of iron. Despite having sufficient iron in your diet, the lack of vitamin C can cause an iron deficiency.
Hence, these iron-rich plant-based foods should be teamed with foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges and kiwi.
4. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Fishes are thought to be the richest source of Omega-3 fatty acids.
However, whole food plant-based sources of this nutrient are healthier for the body as they do not contain the contaminants and the cholesterol that is found in fish meat.
The whole-food plant-based sources of omega 3 fatty acids are chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and avocado.
Iodine is also thought to be exclusively present in fish meat. However, foods like Lima beans, prunes, and seaweed are adequate sources of this nutrient.
In many supermarkets, you can find iodized salt that helps fight iodine deficiency.
Consuming fortified foods such as non-dairy milk is also a great way to meet your dietary requirements.
6. Vitamin B12
One of the most disputable topics and one of the most prevalent vitamin B12 myths is that there are no plant-based sources of B12.
That’s because it is commonly believed that B12 is attached to animal-based proteins we consume.
However, B12 is actually synthesized by microorganisms. These microorganisms survive in animal intestines and are also absorbed through the soil in which plants are grown.
Increasing B12 deficiency can be attributed to the decrease in the body’s ability to absorb B12. Gut microbes play an important role in the process and staggering gut health is one of the leading causes of B12 deficiency.
Apart from this, the natural plant-based sources of B12 have been contaminated by the usage of pesticides and chemicals. In such circumstances, B12 supplementation is not only essential, but it is also safer than the “naturally found” sources.
Hence, regardless of a whole food plant-based diet, supplementation is a great way to meet B12 requirements.
Research and studies have proven beyond doubt that the whole food plant-based diet is healthier, reducing the risk of multiple chronic illnesses such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel syndrome, heart conditions, and obesity.
Also, it is able to meet all nutritional requirements and help people lead healthy lives.
The benefits of a whole food plant-based diet far outweigh the drawbacks. Despite this, the conversation surrounding the plant-based diet majorly revolves around the nutritional deficiency.
It is time to change the conversation and openly embrace a healthier lifestyle that can easily be accomplished through changes in diet.