Chapter 5. Whole Food Plant-Based Nutrient Guide

THE STANDARD AMERICAN DIET VERSUS WFPB

Research has found that nearly the entire U.S. population eats in a way that fails to provide them with the recommended daily intake of nutrients due to the lack of nutrient-rich plant foods such as fresh vegetables, fruits, and wholegrains in their diets.

Unsurprisingly, studies show that people on a WFPB diet tend to consume more nutrients than those eating the standard American diet (SAD). Research also suggests that people who eat plant-based tend to have lower rates of diabetes and heart disease than those who eat meat.

Plant-based diets are also high in complex carbohydrates, which are an essential part of a healthy diet. Choose from the wealth of options, including: whole grain pasta or rice, wild rice, quinoa, buckwheat, oatmeal, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, all the fresh vegetables, and beans and legumes, including kidney beans, cranberry beans, and green lentils. On a WFPB diet, you can eat as much of these as you like!

DON’T WORRY, EAT HAPPY!

Although eating a WFPB requires less nutritional diligence than eating a standard diet, you may still wonder if you’re getting enough of certain nutrients and, as a result, question what the best plant-based source of those particular nutrients might be. To ease that worry, we’re going to cover off the big ones:

PROTEIN

“Protein anxiety” is a condition commonly seen in people who have never had a protein deficiency but still worry that they’re not getting enough! They load up on meat and eggs trying to avoid an imaginary lack of protein but, in doing so, increase their risk of developing a number of chronic diseases. Too much animal protein can have a negative impact on our bones, kidneys, and liver.

An average woman needs about 46 grams of protein per day; the average man about 56 grams, and a varied plant-based diet of whole grains, vegetables, and beans–while lowering our risk of numerous chronic diseases–easily meets these needs.

Potent plant-based protein sources include chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, nuts, chia seeds, seitan, and soy products such as tofu, tempeh or edamame.

IRON & VITAMIN C

There are two kinds of iron: heme iron from meat; and non-heme iron from whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and leafy green vegetables. Which is better?

A 10-year study of almost 300,000 people indicated that heme iron increases the risk of heart disease by 57 percent. Conversely, non-heme iron showed no relationship to risk or mortality from heart disease.

And yes, we can easily get sufficient iron on a plant-based diet. Excellent sources include leafy greens, legumes (beans, lentils, and peas), tofu, quinoa, brown rice, tahini, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, blackstrap molasses, dried fruit, dark chocolate, oatmeal, cabbage, and tomato juice.

Consuming these foods alongside vitamin C-rich foods, such as papaya, pineapple, citrus, bell peppers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, will also help to improve iron absorption.

OMEGA 3

Omega 3 is a key feature of Blue Zone diets, famed for promoting increased longevity. There are three main forms of this essential fatty acid, all of which can be obtained from plants. They are:

  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  • ALA (alpha linolenic acid)

Seaweed and algae (also available in supplement form) can provide DHA and EPA fatty acids, while the best plant sources of ALA include chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.

There has been some discussion about the best ratios of omega 3 to omega 6, but the advice is not to worry too much, and simply to ensure you get sufficient omega 3 in your diet.

CALCIUM

Calcium tends to be associated with dairy milk, but cows’ milk is the breast lactation of a pregnant or nursing cow, engineered by nature for growing her newborn calf. When we forcibly impregnate a cow and then take away her milk, we exploit the female reproductive system for a product that, much like a cat’s or dog’s milk, wasn’t meant for human consumption.

Contrary to marketing, studies do not prove that cows’ milk prevents bone fractures. In fact, countries with the highest intake of milk and calcium tend to have the highest rates of hip fractures. Furthermore, a systematic review of the scientific literature by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research concluded there was a probable relationship between milk intake and increased risk of prostate cancer.

So, while calcium is an essential nutrient, plant-based calcium sources are best. Leafy greens like kale, mustard, turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli, and spinach are particularly rich in calcium, but all whole plants actually have some level of calcium. You can also get calcium from fortified plant-based milks, such as cashew, almond, oat, and soy, and also from tofu that has been set using calcium.

VITAMIN B12

A regular, reliable source of vitamin B12 is critical for all of us. Vegans are regularly advised to mind their levels of vitamin B12, but vegetarians and meat-eaters often come up short on this important nutrient too.

Vitamin B12 is made not by plants or by animals, but by microorganisms (bacteria) that blanket the earth. Interestingly, there are bacteria in our guts that make vitamin B12 but, due to some evolutionary quirk, it is made in the area of the gut beyond the area where it can be absorbed! So, we need to get it from our diets.

In the past, vitamin B12 was reliably present in plant foods but in today’s sanitized, modern world, and in addition to soil being exposed to more antibiotics and pesticides, most plant foods are no longer reliable sources of this bacterial product.

Animal foods, on the other hand, do tend to contain B12. Vegetarian animals can make it, but farmers also regularly supplement animal feed with this vitamin. Farmed animals are further exposed to B12 through the manure in their living conditions, as well as through the feces they are sometimes fed (cows may be fed poultry waste in the U.S).

If that grosses you out as much as it does us then fear not, because it’s possible to get sufficient amounts of B12 from B12-fortified foods or by taking a weekly supplement. For example: six teaspoons of B12-fortified nutritional yeast would (aside from making a delicious vegan cheese sauce) provide us with our recommended daily intake (250 mcg) of this essential vitamin. Other products that are commonly fortified with it include breakfast cereals, and plant milks and yogurts. Taking one 2,500 mcg supplement each week would also do the trick!

CALORIES, CARBOHYDRATES AND GRAINS

While leafy vegetables are a key part of a WFPB diet, and come packed with calcium and iron, they don’t contain enough calories to sustain us, and we would soon get bored if they did. Therefore, the center of your plate should tend to be starch-based foods, which people around the world have thrived on for generations: foods like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, quinoa, couscous, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, whole grain pasta and whole grain rice.

And on the subject of grains, oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They’re a gluten-free whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants. Studies show that oats and oatmeal have many health benefits, including healthy blood sugar levels, and a reduced risk of heart disease.

So what better way to start your day than with a warm bowl of oatmeal, or some delicious apple pancakes?

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