Plant based diets continue to grow in popularity & I am all for people making specific lifestyle choices & changes based on their beliefs, indeed the necessity for us all to be increasingly conscious of our impact on the world is not something we can deny. Personally I don’t choose to follow an entirely plant based diet, however I am incredibly aware of limiting my impact by choosing high quality, organic animal products (ensuring the highest possible welfare standards for the animals in question & as few negative consequences on the planet as can be) in addition to being as mindful as I can in terms of my waste & things like that.
The one thing that does concern me however is the potential for some to go down this path & end up doing themselves a health disservice because they aren’t aware of the potential pitfalls when you choose to remove aforementioned animal products from your diet.
So what are these?
Well the fundamental consideration is protein & that’s where the title of this post comes in – we aren’t anatomically similar to plants & if you were to solely eat one1 form of plant based protein then you would suffer significantly as a leaf will not a liver or lung cell make! Similarly a singular stem cannot transform into skin or support your skeleton HOWEVER when we put different types together our clever bodies CAN do all these wonderful things.
Now this sounds like it’s all going to be pretty complicated, I promise it’s not. There is in fact a very simple equation to follow which I include below:
Legumes/beans/pulses PLUS nuts/seeds OR whole grains
Yep it’s that simple.
The crucial point here refers to what we term our ‘essential amino acids’. All proteins are made up of amino acids (imagine the protein is a necklace – the amino acids would be the individual links) & they fall into 2 categories – essential & non-essential. The non-essential your body can make, the essential we HAVE to gain through our diet. Now originally it was thought if you relied solely on plant based protein you had to ensure you were having all of those essential amino acids through the above combinations at every meal, however now we know that we all have an amino acid pool & that we will store any amino acids we have in excess to be dipped into as & when we need.
So that’s a basic consideration – if you choose to exclude animal products which are naturally complete proteins (you are eating what you will then re-make in your body) you MUST make sure that you are consciously combining a selection of plant based protein sources every day.
The next consideration here is the actual quantity of protein within these foods – plant based protein sources are naturally LESS RICH than animal products so someone would need to look at their portion sizes, plus there is the secondary element here that these foods are naturally richer in fibre so tend to make you feel fuller more quickly, & they are also generally lower in fat.
Again these things can be hugely beneficial – fibre encourages effective digestion & elimination, balances cholesterol, supports our mood & for some decreasing their fat intake may be necessary for health concerns BUT many end up with too much fibre & not enough protein, & even more end up with insufficient fats to nourish their skin, support their hormones, the list goes on.
So what do we do here?
Well as I said I entirely support this dietary choice as long as there are no significant clinical indications against it, & one of the simplest ways to ensure you’re not falling into these traps is to finish your dishes with what I term my ‘Super Sprinkle’. This is basically a varying selection of nuts, seeds &/or dressings which both add divine texture but also very importantly gives your meal a real nutritious boost.
Now this again is exceedingly simple & I include rough guidelines below. You can easily just grab & mix at each meal or whip up a batch for the week in a jar & then vary your inclusions for the week after.
Oh & just a final point because it would be negligent of me not to mention this – if you are following a vegan regime you absolutely MUST also supplement your B12, & most will also need additional Vitamin D & potentially iron depending on them as an individual because the ability to utilise plant based iron sources can be very inefficient in some (this is one of the primary reasons I cannot be entirely vegan).
And with that I’ll sign off here, please do be in touch with any questions & get onto the sprinkle below, I don’t think there’s any meal that isn’t improved by it!
With healthy wishes,
This is for 1 portion which will total 1/4 – 1/3 cup, of course just increase the quantities to make a batch.
- 1 tablespoon hulled hemp or chia seeds (always as these provide essential omega 3’s too)
- 1.5 tablespoons pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, poppy seeds or a mixture
- 1.5 tablespoons chopped pistachios, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, macadamias, brazil nuts
Delightful Drizzles & Dressings
Additionally things like nut butters or tahini are brilliant to drizzle over & in addition to contributing to the protein element will offer an additional healthy fat boost & specific minerals, tahini in particular is an exceptional calcium source.
I personally drizzle pure, organic light tahini over most of my meals, but also use it as the base of dressings, I include links to 2 of my favourites below.