Plant Based Food Advice

Moving to more plant-based foods, what should be kept in mind nutrient-wise that might be easy to overlook once meat takes a back seat?

With the new Canada’s Food Guide out and available to the public for the past couple of months, I have been getting some questions about moving towards a more plant based diet.  After all, the push towards eating more plant based proteins can be seen in the food guide.  Why?  The main reason is to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  This is such a big concern for our population since 50% of deaths from cardiovascular disease in 2017 were due to dietary intake.  The main offenders in a diet that promotes cardiovascular disease are high intakes of both saturated fat and processed foods.  It should also be noted that processed foods can also increase the risk of colorectal cancer as well.

So now we know what foods increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, what is it about a plant-based diet that reduces our risk?  Typically, a diet that regularly consists of plant based foods means that you get a good dose of fibre in your diet, are eating more fruits and vegetables as well as nuts.  This is not to ONLY eat plant-based foods but to try to incorporate them into your diet as much as you can.  Meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and yes… some of our treats too can all have a place in your diet.

Since plant-based proteins are taking more of the spotlight now, does that mean we should be concerned about any nutrients that we may be missing from the other food categories?  Not necessarily unless you decide that you would like to pursue a vegetarian or vegan diet.  These diets can be done healthfully but as long as you are aware of what nutrients your diet might not supply you with in sufficient amounts.  The list of nutrients as well as their role in the body and vegetarian sources are as follows:

Protein – used for the growth and repair of all body cells and formation of immune system.  Found in legumes (eg. beans, chickpeas, lentils), soy foods (eg. tofu, soy milk), eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, and wholegrains (e.g. brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats).

Iron – important for transporting oxygen around the body (fatigue is a very common symptom, among others, if you are deficient).  Found in legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, eggs, dried fruit, wholegrains.  Compared to animal sources (beef and pork), not as easily absorbed from plant sources.  Eating with foods that have high amounts of vitamin C (eg. citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers) will help with absorption as well as avoiding tea and coffee with meals.  Tannins in tea and coffee inhibit iron absorption.

Calcium – used for strong bones and teeth and proper nerve and muscle function.  Found in dairy, calcium-fortified foods (such as soy milk), almonds, sesame seeds, kale, broccoli.  Tip to increase absorption: limit caffeine intake – caffeine in tea, coffee, cola and energy drinks inhibits the absorption of calcium.

Omega-3 – promotes good heart health, protection against disease, and reducing inflammation.  Found in flaxseeds (ground and stored in the fridge), hemp seeds, walnuts, canola oil, omega-3 rich eggs, chia seeds.  A wonderful animal source of omega-3 is fatty fish.  If fish is not up your ally or if you are unable to have fish, consider supplementing with an algae-based omega-3 supplement.

Vitamin B12 – your body needs this vitamin for the formation of red blood cells and to maintain your nervous system.  Again, fatigue can be a common symptom for people who are not getting enough vitamin B12.  Found in dairy and eggs.  Very difficult to get from plant based sources unless they have vitamin B12 added.  If concerned that you are not getting enough B12, check with your doctor.

Iodine – plays a role in the immune function and production of your thyroid hormones.  Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should.  Naturally present in soil and seawater however, the availability of iodine differs in different regions of the world.  The amount of iodine present in fruits and vegetables depends on the iodine content of the soil that it grows from.  Other than in seafood, iodine is found in dairy products, some grains, and iodized table salt.

I am hoping this gives a little bit of a guide of what to look out for if you are considering to limit animal products in your diet.  If you still have more questions, feel free to make an appointment with myself, Andrea Kennedy, at either the J.E. Stokes Medical Centre or the Aguasabon Medical Clinic.


Written by Andrea Kennedy RD CDE

April 1, 2019

Posted on April 4, 2019

J.E. Stokes Medical Centre, Schreiber

(807) 824-2934

Aguasabon Medical Clinic, Terrace Bay

(807) 825-3235