The modern western world would have you believe that reducing or removing animal foods in your diet will lead to deficiencies – but that’s an outdated notion. Protein, collagen, omega’s, B12 – plants have you covered.
Mother Earth is a benevolent spirit, and the plants that grow from her soil provide all the nourishment your body needs for healthy tissues, ageless skin, a strong heart and immune system, and a sharp mind. Favouring plant-based nutrition benefits not only our health but also the health of our planet. Research shows a strong link between eating more plants and fewer animal foods, and lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.
As we are all aware, the production of animal-based foods is also taxing the planet. As affirmed by the recent EAT-Lancet Report, a plant-based way of eating addresses both factors better than any other mode of eating – and with a little care and attention, you won’t miss a nutritional beat.
“Favouring plant-based nutrition benefits not only our health, but the health of our planet”
Tapping Into The Earth’s Amino Acids
Many people who either abstain from eating animal-based foods, or those who are thinking about it, have fielded questions about where they source their protein. The answer for anyone considering a total plant-based way of eating is from the same place animals get their protein from: plants. That’s one of the dilemma’s with eating animal-based foods: you’re not just eating the animal, but also whatever it ate during its life. Given the state of factory farming, especially in the U.S., that’s likely to be genetically modified and pesticide-ridden corn, soy, and wheat – all of which can cause harmful inflammation in the human body. This is why provenance is so important if you choose to eat meat. Or, you can choose to embrace the health and environmental benefits of eating more plants and fewer animal foods – by focusing your protein consumption on plant foods.
The macronutrient “protein” comprises various chains of organic compounds called amino acids, and all plants have at least some of them. It’s important to pay special attention to the nine essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, trytophan, and valine), which your body can’t produce itself and therefore must be sourced from food. When these amino acids link into chains, they form the proteins your body needs to form healthy tissues, make hormones, and satisfy hunger.
Many plant foods, including hemp seeds, quinoa, and spirulina, are comparable to animal foods in that they are complete proteins, offering all nine essential amino acids. Along with incorporating these nutrient-dense ingredients, the key to achieving sufficient protein when following a plant-focused way of eating, is to prioritise variety, by including; beans, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, but also plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Almond butter in a breakfast smoothie, a colourful salad sprinkled with pumpkin and hemp seeds for lunch, served alongside a nutrient-dense sauce or dip, and a quinoa and vegetable abundance bowl for dinner will cover your bases. You can also supplement extra protein by adding pea protein to smoothies and soups, or make bars that contain protein from whole-food plant sources like sesame, hemp and pumpkin seeds.
Plant-Based Collagen for Gut Health and Ageless Skin
Collagen is the nutrient of the day. The body has natural collagen stores in its connective tissues, joints, and skin, but production slows down after the age of 25, resulting in skin slackness and a dullness to the complexion. While many supplements derive collagen from animal bones and hides – plant nutrition can work magic to reclaim youth’s buoyancy and suppleness, whilst strengthening the gut and the immune system. True beauty from the inside out.
Why trade real collagen for a plant-based version? With bovine or porcine collagen supplements, you’re also getting the genetically modified corn and soy those animals are fed, plus the hormones they’ve been given to bulk up, which, as previously mentioned, can trigger inflammation and create an acidic environment in the body that can lead to health issues.
The plant world takes on natural collagen loss in the body differently: by enhancing the body’s ability to maintain and restore its own collagen reservoirs. Making sure you’re consuming plenty of the nutrients necessary for collagen formation, including; vitamin C, zinc, selenium, and copper, all of which are found in abundance in plants.
“Your body requires a plethora of nutrients to function optimally – and contrary to what you may have heard, plants tick every box.”
Marine Flora for the Head and the Heart
The “3” in omega-3 fatty acids refers to Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA), Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These healthy fats are crucial to optimal health because they are the primary building blocks of the brain and cellular health, and are known to prevent depression and support moods. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids also help to promote hormone balance. The master hormone known as the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), controls neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to make new synaptic connections and learn new patterns – critical for healthy brain aging.
Omega-3 fatty acids also support heart health. An early study in the 1970s looked at the diets of the Inuits of Greenland, who ate extremely high-fat diets yet had low incidence of heart problems. This, among other later science-backed studies solidified DHA and EPA’s shared reputation as a panacea for heart disease, which remains the number one killer of men and women in the U.S. today.
Based on research, we are encouraged to eat lots of fish, especially oily fish, (such as salmon) to get enough of these essential fats. However, modern environmental concerns make this option less attractive. Polluted oceans and unsustainable fish farming practices mean that with many fish (and fish oil supplements), you’re ingesting heavy metals such as mercury, hormones, and other impurities along with your healthy fats.
Since omega-3 nurtures two of your most sacred organs, you may choose to supplement, and the cleanest, most eco-friendly option is to choose a vegan omega. Fish get their EPA and DHA from plants – specifically, microalgae and marine flora. You can replace your daily fish oil supplement with a plant-sourced version made with high-quality algae oil like the kind derived from schizochytrium sp, which has been researched to not only boost omega-3 in the body, but also antioxidant enzyme activity and immune response.
Of course, getting nutrients from your food first is always best, so incorporating organic sea vegetables like nori and kelp into salads, soups, and abundance bowls for more EPA. For whole-food plant sources of DHA and EPA, choose algaes like spirulina and chlorella, which can be blended into a smoothie, whisked into a salad dressing, or taken in supplement form. Be selective about the source of your algae supplement, making sure it’s a pure, organic form, that is certified to be free from any contamination. Besides marine flora, other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids include chia, hemp and linseeds.
A Garden of Micronutrients
Aside from the powerhouses mentioned above, your body requires a plethora of nutrients to function optimally – and contrary to what you might have heard, plants have you covered.
Vitamin A: Crucial for radiant skin and healthy immunity, vitamin A can be derived from algaes, sweet potatoes, squash, kale, collard greens, carrots, brocolli, and most dark green, leafy vegetables.
Vitamin D: Often called the sunshine vitamin because your body soaks it in from the sun’s rays. This immunity-boosting nutrient regulates mood, improves cognition and helps to produce calcium. Vitamin D3 is preferable to D2, but can be tough to source from plants in sufficient quantities. Choose a vegan-certified vitamin D3 (derived from lichen instead of lanolin), preferably liposomal, with added vitamin K2, which integrates calcium into the bone. If you can’t find liposomal, take vitamin D3 + K2 with food that contains some fat since it is a fat-soluble nutrient. However, before starting to supplement with vitamin D, ask your health care practitioner for a vitamin D (25-hydroxy) test, so you will know how much you may need to supplement.
Vitamin B12: Plant-based eaters are often concerned with vitamin B12 intake, for good reason, as low levels are linked to fatigue and weakness, because B12 supports red blood cell production. B12 is primarily found in animal foods, but small amounts can be sourced from natural foods such as nutritional yeast, shiitake mushrooms and nori. If you are following a 100% plant-based diet, vitamin B12 supplements are recommended, taken in the form of a vitamin B complex supplement.
Iron: This important mineral helps form red blood cells to ferry life-giving oxygen throughout your body, and to produce hormones. Red meat is not the only place to source it; nutrient-dense foods like lentils, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, pistachios, dried fruits, and chickpeas all offer iron in plant-based form. However, if you feel fatigued it may be a good idea to visit your health professional periodically to check your iron levels.
Calcium: We have no biological requirement for milk, yet we’ve been told over and over again that dairy is a great source of calcium – that milk makes healthy bones and we should consume it daily. However, there is no evidence that we need milk to strengthen our bones. We can get adequate calcium from plant-based sources. Think greens, because leafy greens offer plenty of this bone-strengthening, teeth-perfecting mineral. Sesame seeds are also a rich source. Make sure you are also taking in adequate vitamin D to boost calcium absorption.
To swap in plant-rich sources where animal products once took centre stage in your diet shouldn’t be seen as an exchange, but rather as beneficial to your health and to the planet. Plants offer up an abundance of other transformative, life-giving compounds, including phytonutrients, a class of naturally produced chemicals produced by plants and plants alone. Eating plant foods flood your body with antioxidants that fight carcinogens and damaging free radicals; detoxifies red blood cells and provides oxygen to your organs through the green plant blood, chlorophyll; tames inflammation and revives skin with water, and living, fresh foods. By incorporating more plants into your diet, your body can start to heal and perform optimally.
“Don’t believe you have to only eat plants to be healthy, but also don’t believe you can be healthy and not eat them.”
How are you incorporating live-giving, transformative plant foods into your everyday life? I’d love to know. Feel free to respond in the comments.