Ditching meat? What to consider before switching to a plant-based diet
Ever wondered how vegetarians and vegans maintain balanced diets after taking out a major part of a usual diet? What are the possible side effects of this?
Lately, we have all be told repeatedly that eating meat has a terrible impact on the environment. For many, this has sparked the decision to move towards a plant-based diet. As someone who is interested in shifting towards a vegetarian diet, I started looking into the nutritional impacts of cutting meat out of your diet
After a little bit of digging, I found that there are very specific and important nutrients don’t appear nearly as abundantly in veggies than they do in meat. These include iron and vitamin B12.
Heads up new vegetarians and vegans, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough of these!! Each of these have crucial roles on the body, such as brain function and development, supporting the immune system, as well as affecting blood flow and our ability to concentrate.
Iron is vital for the mental development of children and teenagers, as well as women and girls during various stages of their menstrual cycle. A lack of iron can cause reduced energy and concentration levels, as well as a reduced resistance to illness.
Iron exists in two forms: Heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found in meats like red-meat, poultry and seafood, whilst non-heme is found predominantly in plant foods, such as vegetables, cereals, beans and lentils.
A major difference between the two is that non-heme iron is not absorbed as well as heme iron. Additionally, non-heme comes in two forms: Fe2+, which the body only absorbs some of, and Fe3+, which the body absorbs none of. Both forms are found in plants
Vitamin B12 is required for the generation of the myelin sheath, which wraps around your nerves. It is critical for maintaining DNA repair. A lack of vitamin B12 can potentially cause severe and irreversible damage to brain and nervous system and will result in a build up of a toxic substance called homocysteine – can damage vascular tissue and nerves in the brain.
Vitamin B12 is only produced in animal products. The common misconception is that both plants and fungi contain vitamin B12, when in fact, plants and fungi (veggies and mushrooms) contain Vitamin B12 analogues which do not have any effect on humans.
Animals that don’t eat meat, like elephants, gorillas and rhinos, can get their vitamin B12 intake from plants because they can absorb these vitamin B12 analogues. However, humans don’t have the gut microbes or the enzymes to turn those analogues into something which is functional.
So what do vegetarians do?
Vegetarians who exclude all animal products from their diet may need almost
twice as much dietary iron each day as non-vegetarians. Thankfully, iron can be found in eggs, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes and tofu.
Interestingly, vitamin C converts the unabsorbed Fe3+ to Fe2+, which at least can be somewhat absorbed. So to help facilitate the amount of iron taken up, eat iron-rich food with some vitamin C food. These can include citrus fruits, spinach, cabbage and capsicum.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple for vitamin B12. Since it can only be found in meat, the only way to maintain Vitamin B12 levels will be through supplements, which can be bought at the chemist.
With these simple steps you can put your mind at ease while enjoying the health and environmental benefits of a diet rich in plants.
- Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets – https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/633S/4690005
Low vitamin B-12 status and risk of cognitive decline in older adults – https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/5/1384/4650721