Maintaining Your Health on a Plant-Based Diet
Though old wives’ tales and TV ads will try to persuade you otherwise, bone health isn’t all about guzzling milk and noshing away on cheese. Sure, dairy is a rich source of the all-important bone-bolstering nutrient, calcium, but so are many plants. Plus, getting enough calcium is only half the story. you also need relevant levels of magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K2, and omega 3 fatty acids to nourish bones.
The key nutrients needed
Widely touted for filling milk and cheese, calcium has been long associated with supporting bones, making it a big discussion point amongst the plant-based community. But there’s more to calcium than the usual suspects. Leafy greens (kale, turnip greens, and collards), lentils, tahini, and sesame seeds are also chock-full of magnesium. These foods are immensely bioavailable, too, meaning your body can metabolise the calcium content well. To keep your calcium levels healthy, make sure you stock up on our whole foods range, especially chia seeds and almonds.
Calcium isn’t the only mineral needed for healthy bones; you also need good levels of vitamin D. vitamin D and calcium have a reciprocal relationship: calcium strengthens bones, while vitamin D supports calcium absorption. Besides animal products (fatty fish, meat, eggs, and dairy), the next best sources of vitamin D are fortified foods, like orange juice, bread, milk, and - the only vitamin D-rich plant – mushrooms. Direct sunlight also helps to synthesize vitamin D in the body, but this isn’t always available in the winter months. For a reliable dose, we strongly recommend our Vegan Vitamin D3 1000iu (25µg).
Since 50-60% of the body's total magnesium is found in the skeleton, any discussions of bone health can’t overlook magnesium. This mineral plays a key role in converting vitamin D to its active form, therefore supporting optimal calcium absorption. Without it, the bone nourishing properties of vitamin D and calcium can’t be fully realised. Alongside upping your intake of legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds to your diet, taking a magnesium supplement, like MagAsorb® 375mg, is a convenient way to protect bones on a plant-based diet.
Did you know?
Watch out for spinach! It’s high in oxalates, which can inhibit calcium absorption. So, while it contains other healthy nutrients, you can’t count it as a source of calcium
Thanks to it supporting calcium absorption and maintaining bone mass, protein is delicious bone food. For ultimate bone nourishment, try eating one serving of plant protein at every meal. Think quinoa, beans, lentils, oats, tofu, tempeh, and chia seeds.
Top tip: combine legumes with whole grains to form a ‘complete’ protein – brown rice with chickpeas, for instance – which will deliver all the essential amino acids needed for bone health.
This little-known nutrient can make a big difference to your bone health. Typically found in ripe cheese, yoghurt, and fermented foods, studies consistently highlight how essential vitamin K2 is for bone health.i The richest plant-based source of vitamin K2 is natto – a Japanese fermented soy product, which isn’t widely available in stores yet. For a trusty dose, we suggest taking our vegan-friendly Vitamin K2 supplement that delivers 90µg – more than the NRV.
Generally found in fish, long-chain omega 3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) are also indispensable to bone health, playing a critical role in calcium balance and osteoblast activity – a process in which cells make bones. Ingeniously, our Veg Omega 3 is formulated using the same source fish use to obtain their DHA: tiny plant organisms called microalgae. This way, you can still get a dose of bone-loving Omega-3 fatty acids on a plant-based diet.
Now we have covered all the key nutrients that are need for maintaining good bone health, women will need to exercise more caution on a plant-based diet. This is because cutting out entire food groups, like meat and dairy, may impact their overall health more due to menstruation or pregnancy, which increase the body’s demand for certain nutrients.
According to the British Dietetic Association, a well-planned plant-based diet can meet everyone’s nutritional needs, including those who are pregnant.ii So, yes – during pregnancy, you can have your meatless burger and eat it, too. Just be careful to watch your intake of the following nutrients.
Plant-based pregnancy nutrition checklist
Eat plenty of iron-rich foods, like chickpeas, lentils, tofu, beans, cashew nuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, dried apricots, raisins, dried figs, and quinoa. If you can’t achieve the recommended 27mg of iron daily, supplement with Iron 14mg as Citrate or Mega Mineral Complex.
Eat food crammed with calcium, such as green leafy vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, and okra), sesame seeds, tahini, pulses, fortified plant milk, nuts, seeds, and calcium-set tofu.
Take a daily vitamin D supplement – our Vegan Vitamin D 1000iu, for instance.
Consider microalgae omega 3 essential fatty acid supplementation, such as Veg Omega 3.
Add an iodine supplement, like Iodine 150µg, to your diet.
The menstrual cycle
Every month, women who menstruate lose iron-containing blood, which – when coupled with low iron intake from eliminating meat – may increase the risk of developing an iron deficiency. Poor iron can compromise mental and physical performance, weaken immunity, hair loss, and lead to potential pregnancy complications. Not only do animal products contain higher levels of iron, but they also deliver a more absorbable form (haem-iron) than their plant counterparts. Women who don’t eat meat should make a conscious effort to get enough iron from other plant sources, especially if they experience heavy menstrual bleeding each month.
Besides eating more iron-rich, plant-based foods, women may also want to add an iron supplement to their diet, for example our Vegan Iron Complex. Our high-strength multivitamin, Multi-Guard® Active, packs an impressive 14mg of iron, along with a range of nourishing nutrients for menstruating women, like zinc, selenium and chromium.
Women on plant-based diets are more predisposed to hair shedding – or a condition called chronic telogen effluvium (CTE), too. If there’s a noticeable increase in the number of hairs lost when shampooing, conditioning, or combing – or there’s less hair in your ponytail than before – it may be from CTE. And chances are it’s diet-related. Evidence suggests low iron levels are the main risk factor in the development of CTE amongst women.iii Poor iron stores usually result from the loss of blood during menstruation. But if the diet contains little to no red meat, the gradual depletion of available iron in the body is quickly accelerated.
Alongside upping the dietary intake of plant iron sources, taking a vegan-friendly supplement – either Multi-Guard® Active or Vegan Iron Complex - should help you achieve the NRV for adult women, and keep locks luscious and thick.
Pearson. D.. (2016). Bone Health and Osteoporosis: The Role of Vitamin K and Potential Antagonism by Anticoagulants. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 22(5), 517-544.
Bda.uk.com. (2019). British Dietetic Association confirms well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages. Available online: https://www.bda.uk.com/news/view?id=179
Rushton. D.H.. (2016). Investigating and managing hair loss in apparently healthy women. Canadian Journal of Dermatology. 5, 455-461.
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Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.