7 Helpful Plant-Based Diet and Lifestyle Tips
Here are a few handy plant-based diet lifestyle tips that will make transitioning to this healthy and beneficial nutrition approach much easier.
How to Eat Out on a Plant-Based Diet
At first look, eating out on a plant-based diet seems daunting.
Most of the food on the tables you walk by contain meat or other things you can’t or choose not to have. Don’t fear though – with a little creativity and attention-to-detail, it is easy to get the food you want without compromising your diet. Here’s how.
If you know where you will be dining, check their menu online in advance of leaving work or home. Scan the menu looking for meals or entrees listed as vegan or vegetarian diet friendly. Most of the larger chains have a few choices listed on their menu. If you don’t know where you will be dining or are in an area unfamiliar to you, look for types of ethnic food known to be whole food, plant-based diet, such as Asian, North African, Indian and Mexican. The food from these cultures tend to use a lot of vegetables, beans, rice and whole grains making it easy to put together a lunch or dinner.
Also included in a plant-based diet are starches and fruits – a major source of calories as vegetables typically don’t contain many. Tubers, starchy vegetables, whole grains and legumes are all fair game and recommended. If certain ingredients are off limits, be sure to ask how a dish is prepared and ask to withhold any ingredients not on your food plan.
Plant Based Salad Bar
Another option is to seek out a venue known to have a salad bar; it is always easy to craft a meal from the options available. If none of the above work, choose a couple of plant-based side dishes such as beans and rice for your meal. You can always find salad; most places have at least a side or dinner salad if not a salad choice as a main entrée.
If it comes with meat, cheese or egg that you don’t want, ask the waitress to leave these items off. Also if you want a balsamic vinegar-based dressing, ask for it on the side so you can control how much you use. Most restaurants are more than happy to comply with your requests.
If stopping in at a speciality place known for a certain food, such as burgers, ask if they have a veggie burger. Many of the chains do as well as the “mom and pop” places. Eating out while on a plant-based diet is not that difficult – especially now that restaurants are becoming more vegan/vegetarian conscious. Today, it does not mean compromising the benefits of your diet.
How to Get Enough B12 on a Plant-Based Diet
Because vitamin B12 only comes from animal sources, people eating strictly a plant-based can easily become deficient in it. Because vitamin B12 is necessary, and in sufficient quantity, to help make red blood cells, one of the common signs indicating a possible deficiency is fatigue.
The Warning Signs
Of course, if we don’t have enough red blood cells, then the proper amount of oxygen is not getting to the rest of the cells in our body. So then is should not come as a surprise that other signs seen indicating a B12 deficiency include diarrhea or constipation, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, or gums/tongue that are swollen, irritated or even bleeding. Over a long period of time, it can even cause brain or nerve damage manifested by dementia, numbness in the limbs, balance issues or mental confusion. If experiencing any of these, see your healthcare provider for evaluation and testing.
If tests indicate that you are B12 deficient, through your plant based diet, your doctor may prescribe injections right away to get your vitamin levels back up and either an oral supplement or a list of fortified foods to keep it up. Supplements should be 10 micrograms per day to gain maximum benefit. As far as getting B12 from fortified foods, look at the nutritional labels on plant milks, yogurt, breakfast cereals or spreads. For example, 1 cup (240ml) of a fortified plant milk, such as almond milk and 1 cup (25 grams) fortified breakfast cereal supplies 75% of the daily adult B12 requirement based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
Other Issues Causing Deficiency
People with certain medical conditions or taking certain medications may be taking in enough vitamin B12, but their body is not absorbing enough of it. Certain intestinal disorders or anemia can cause inefficient absorption as well as some antibiotics, diabetes medications and pump inhibitors. In these cases, (along with several others), your healthcare provider may prescribe injections instead of supplements to get the vitamin directly into your blood stream and not absorbed through the intestinal wall.
Age can be a factor too, regardless if on a plant-based diet or not. Most doctors recommend everyone over the age of 50 to either take additional B12 by supplement or though fortified food. Because only a little B12 is stored in the liver and the rest unused amount excreted through urination, it is important to get the proper dose each day to keep from becoming deficient in the first place.
How to Get Enough Iron on a Plant-Based Diet
Iron is iron, right? Wrong! Actually the iron from animal products is different from what you get from plant based diet sources. The type of iron from animals is called heme and non-heme; from plants, it is just the non-heme. So what is the difference between the two types of iron? Basically how they are absorbed. More on that in a minute.
Iron is essential for good health benefits because it helps transport oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body via the bloodstream. However, if iron deficient (called anemia), then enough oxygen and nutrients aren’t getting to the cells. Common symptoms of iron deficiency include fatigue, pale skin, weakness and the inability to maintain proper body temperature.
Heme iron is readily absorbed by the body, but non-heme is a little stubborner. It requires hydrochloric acid and the digestive enzyme pepsin, both found in the stomach, to release it from the food eaten. However, once released, it takes the protein transferrin to take it through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream where it is then carried to all of the cells.
Some chemicals can inhibit iron absorption, so you may be getting enough iron, but it is not getting out of your digestive system. For example, calcium when taken as a supplement with a meal, inhibits absorption as well as does polyphenols found in coffee, cocoa, and tea. If trying to increase iron absorption, avoid taking calcium or drinking fluids with polyphenols with your plant based diet. The chemical phytate found in legumes and grains can also inhibit absorption.
However, vitamin C and tannic acid, the later found in red wine and green tea, stimulate iron absorption. In a study, 50 mg of vitamin C counteracted the non-absorption caused by phytate, however by increasing vitamin C to 150 mg not only did it counteract non-absorption, it increased 30%.
Vegetarian Foods High in Iron
In the leafy green vegetables, spinach and Swiss Chard are two of the highest, but you have to eat very large amounts to get the main benefits. Legumes such as lentils, garbonzo and kidney beans are all high at 2.4 mg or higher per ½ cup serving. Molasses has one of the highest iron content at 3.8 mg per 2 tablespoon serving. In general, men, boys and women over 50 should have between 8 and 11 mg of iron per day. For teenage girls and women under 50, that amount increases to 15 to 18 mg/day. Pregnant women need even more iron with a daily dosage of 27 mg.
In summary, studies have found that in general, men, boys and post-menopausal women get enough iron from a plant based diet program , however, it can be a problem for teenage girls and women in pre-menopausal, unless supplemented for iron content and increased absortion.
How to Get Enough Omega 3 on a Plant-Based Diet
Two essential fatty acids required in the proper amounts for good health are linoleic acid and alpha-linoleic acid. Linoleic acid is part of the omega 6 family of fats and is found in many plant sources. Vegetable oils like corn, soy or canola oil made from rapeseed, are rich in this fat. On the other hand, alpha-linoleic acid is part of the omega 3 family and is not as plentiful in the plant world. Therefore, people eating strictly a plant-based diet have to be sure to get enough of it through the limited plant sources that have it or through a supplement.
Once in the body, these two fatty acids are converted to the polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, better known as EPA and DHA, respectively. Both help maintain cell membranes and benefit many of the body’s processes including blood clotting and reducing inflammation.
Also, because the vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, if there is not enough fat in the plant based diet to breakdown these vitamins, one can become deficient even though they are being ingested in the proper amount. Scientists know omega 3 is important for healthy skin but they think it may also lower the risk of heart disease, however, research is ongoing to prove this theory.
Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of omega 3 once the outer shell of the seed is removed. Buy it ground as meal, or whole and grind it yourself in a coffee grinder. Use it in baking, in cereal or smoothies. Walnuts are another good source. Either add them halved on top of a bowl of cereal or chop them up and add them to a salad. Or you can make a vinaigrette dressing using walnut oil and mix it in with your salad.
The amount of omega 3 required daily by men and women differ; men need more than women. Three teaspoons of ground flaxseed are enough for women, however, men require 4 teaspoons daily. For walnuts, the ratio is the same: three halves for women and four halves for men.
Omega 6:3 Ratio
One caution concerning omega 6 and 3 should be noted though. For all-around general health diet experts recommend a ratio of 2:1 to 4:1, omega 6 to 3. On average Americans currently have an average of 16:1! Because omega 6 can promote inflammation and omega 3 reduces inflammation, too high a ratio can cause distress and eventually subject the body to disease.
How to Eat Plant-Based on a Budget
Eating a specialty diet can be expensive, but plant-based ones are different. And they can be incredibly inexpensive if these few tips are followed. Follow these four tips when buying your food…
Fresh Vegetables and Fruit
Buying fresh vegetables and fruits are always best when you can get them. If not, frozen is the next best. Stay away from canned items as undesirable things can be added, such as sugar to canned fruit and sodium to canned vegetables. Also buy whole instead of prepackaged, such as cut-up fruit or vegetables for your plant based diet. Already cut won’t be as fresh and beneficial and you’ll pay more for the labor of having someone cut it up and package it.
Like with many other things when purchased in quantity, fresh fruits and vegetables can be cheaper than when purchased in smaller batches. For example, a bag of apples is less expensive than one or two apples purchased separately.
Buying a flat of strawberries is cheaper than buying a small box. However before doing so, make sure you have a plan to use them. If you have to throw away half a flat of strawberries, then it wasn’t such a good deal after all. Freeze what you can’t use up in a few days. Many stores have a bulk area where you can buy plant based foods, dried beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds at prices far lower than for the same packaged product. Consumers pay for the labor and packaging.
In season food for a cheaper plant based diet
Many areas have Farmer’s Markets, roadside stands or truck farms where you can by fresh from the field. It doesn’t get any fresher than this for a plant based diet; literally just hours before it was still in the ground or hanging on the plant. And most of the time, they sell it cheaper than you can buy it in a store. If it is getting toward the end of the season, and your stores don’t stock that item out of season, be sure to stock up and freeze it when you get home. Not only can you get a good deal on small batches, but many times an even better deal when purchased in quantity.
Shop the store adds for plant-based items that may be on sale for that week. Stock up while the price is low. What you can’t use right away, freeze so you’ll always have a supply available.
Studies have shown that organic fruits and vegetables are better for a healthy diet as they are certified free of pesticides and herbicides, but they are also more expensive. Controlling weeds and insects naturally takes more time and money that if controlled by commercial, but potentially harmful products.
With organic, it is a trade-off – do I buy for my health or my budget. Only you can make that decision.