I’m so excited to be able to show you how eating like this is brilliant for you and how it can literally change your life.
In this article I’m going to talk about the rich sources of protein, calcium and iron that you should eat when you’re on a whole food, plant based diet. So if you’ve ever thought: ‘I’ll never get all my protein, calcium and iron eating like this.’ Oh yes you will, and I’ll show you how.
But first a little recap.
If you’ve read my two previous posts you’ll know developing eczema as a teenager led me to explore different ways of eating that started me on this path, and changed the way I ate forever, so that my eczema completely cleared, to the point where I am today where I never have it.
You’ll also know the easy way to start following a whole food plant based diet – just follow the Power Plate! And you’ll also know the easy way to flavour your foods and why eating fibre is great for you.
Eating legumes, vegetables, fruits and grains will reduce your cholesterol, lower your fat intake, increase your fibre intake, and supply you with all the nutrients that an average adult needs ever single day. Pretty straightforward. But I know that some of you are asking:
‘How do I know that I’m getting enough protein, calcium and iron?’ Plus, ‘I thought eating carbs wasn’t good for me, and you’re saying it’s OK. What’s the truth?’
Let’s take a look at protein first…
I could go on all day about protein, but you only need 8-10% of your daily calorie food intake as protein. (Check out The China Study for more info.) You definitely don’t want too much as it can be bad for you, especially animal protein. You can get exactly what your body needs by replacing animal products with grains, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and fruits.
As long as you’re eating a variety of plant foods in sufficient quantity to maintain a healthy weight, you’ll get plenty of protein. As someone once replied when asked “Where do you get your protein?’ ‘The same place gorillas, elephants, water buffalo, and horses get theirs!’
I’ve heard that you need to combine certain foods together during the same meal to prevent protein deficiency. Is this true?
It’s a theory that began in the 1970s and has fortunately been debunked. Our bodies are very clever at taking from the food we eat what it needs, intentional food combining is no longer necessary to obtain all the essential amino acids we need. As nutritionmd.org states: ‘Instead, simply consume a variety of nutrient–dense plant foods to meet your energy requirements and you’ll also meet your protein needs.’
‘What about calcium?’
It might surprise you to learn that green leafy vegetables and beans are a great source of calcium – ‘greens and beans’ for short. ‘Gram for gram, watercress contains more vitamin C than oranges, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach and more folate than bananas.’ Source: Watercress
Plant based milks are also a very concentrated calcium source as they’re often fortified with calcium.
‘OK, what about iron? Can you only get it from meat?’
Iron is abundant in plant-based diets. Beans, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, blackstrap molasses, nuts and seeds, and whole grain or fortified breads and cereals will easily provide you with adequate iron. Just remember to have some vitamin C at the same time as your iron rich food as this enhances iron absorption, for instance, eat tomatoes with your spinach salad.
‘What about carbs?’
Stick to complex carbs and you’ll be OK such as green vegetables, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkin. Then there are also beans, lentils and peas. Try sticking to whole-grains such as brown bread, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, oats, corn, millet, barley, bulgur, buckwheat groats, and tortillas. All these grains are packed with fiber, as well as protein, B vitamins, and zinc.
Stay clear of the white stuff – white rice, white pasta, etc – as all the goodness has been stripped from them.
You should also think about what you put on your carbs. Think about a baked potato, we pile it full of cheese, sour cream, chilli con carne and butter. These additions are full of calories and aren’t great choices. The actual baked potato is brilliant for you. Try it with vegetable chilli or a vegetable dhansak curry instead of the cheese, butter and chilli con carne. Houmous and spicy bean pate are also great in baked potatoes.
‘I’ll never get all my vitamins eating like this.’
Don’t you believe it! Eating like this is brilliant for you. Vegetables are packed full of nutrients like vitamin C, beta- carotene, riboflavin, iron, calcium, fiber, and loads of other nutrients.
Look to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, collards, kale, mustard and turnip greens, endive, or bok choy, as a group of vegetables, very few other single food groups can compare to the nutrient punch that cruciferous vegetables pack.
They’re bursting with vitamin A carotenoids, vitamin C, folic acid, fibre, phosphorous and potassium and they also contain many B complex vitamins – B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6 as well as vitamins E and K. Vitamin K helps to regulate our inflammatory response, including chronic, excessive inflammatory responses.
Don’t forget your dark yellow and orange vegetables such as carrots, winter squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. They’re bursting with beta-carotene an antioxidant that helps to fight free radical damage in your body.
Beans, peas and lentils, aka legumes are also full of fiber, protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. This group also includes chickpeas, baked and refried beans, soymilk, tempeh, and tofu.
As Dr Barnard says: ‘When people set aside meat, dairy products, eggs and greasy foods, their nutrition improves dramatically.’
One last note on vitamin B12
You’ll need to make sure you take a B12 supplement, but this just isn’t for people who follow a whole food, plant based diet. Everyone, especially those over 50, should be taking a B12 supplement. You don’t need much, just 2.4 micrograms per day for an adult.
If you’ve been putting off switching to a whole food, plant-based way of eating for fear of not getting enough protein, calcium and iron, then fear not. Improve your health and start living life to the max by making the decision to switch.
There’s no time like today! Go for it!
Wishing you lots of good health and happiness.
P.S. You’re never too old to change, and you’re definitely never too old to feel better, look better and have more energy to do the things you thought you’d never be able to do again.