My mom calls me a “nerd” a lot. It’s because if you get me started on nutrition, theatre, or my dogs it’s hard to shut me up. Hence why I started blogging about it…to save my poor mom from all my ranting.
Today we get to chat about something equally nerdy and important…nutrients!
How often have you heard: “I need more protein”, “Where do you get your protein?”, “I heard carbs are bad…” (etc) in general conversation?
Now picture a dinner party and how many of your friends (who don’t have a condition like hypertension) are saying: “My potassium intake is INTENSE” or “My selenium is rather low today. Anyone have any brazil nuts?”
Yeah…not heard a lot. If you’re vegan, you’re a little bit more aware of these micros than someone on a standard American diet (aptly abbreviated to SAD). And if you’re not, don’t worry, you’re not going to die.
There are some micronutrients that you, or the vegan in your life, should be paying attention to regardless of diet.
What’s a micronutrient?
Like a macronutrient, a micronutrient is something our body uses to stay healthy just on a smaller scale. For example, sodium (which is part of NaCl- sodium chloride, table salt) helps our muscles, heart, and nerves fire when we need them to.
Which ones are the ones vegans need to pay attention to? There’s a lot of micronutrients.
Here are what I consider to be the top 5 micronutrients you should be focusing on:
- Iron (+Vitamin C) (yes, technically 2 in one…you’ll see)
- Vitamin D
Iron is used for a few things in the body:
- Oxygen transport
- Keeping blood cells healthy.
If you are an individual who menstruates, you may already be aware that iron is needed more during menstruation since you’re losing a bit of blood.
It also helps in handy little things like energy production, DNA synthesis, and acts like an antioxidant in the body (https://veganhealth.org/iron-part-1/#functions-iron) .
Vitamin C is tagged on there because it helps increase your adsorption of iron. Simply put, it acts like a magnet: it scoops up more iron for your body than your body would get if you didn’t add any vitamin C.
Including vitamin C in an iron-rich meal can look as simple as enjoying an orange after eating some lentil salad (you can even include some spinach, another source of iron).
I’m bad at recipes and cooking (working on it!) so here’s an article on iron sources from No Meat Athlete.
Necessary for bone health and calcium absorption. If you drink dairy milk, you might have noticed there are dairy products that include vitamin D and it’s because of the link between vitamin D and calcium.
Often, during the sunny months, humans can get vitamin D from the sun. However, during colder months, getting vitamin D can be a challenge (unless you’re one of those people who can wear shorts when it’s freezing…if you’re this person, you scare me with your strength).
There are vegan/vegetarian sources of vitamin D like algae, and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) supplements.
Not exclusive to dairy, calcium can be found in numerous sources like spinach, tofu set in a calcium solution, sesame seeds, and fortified plant milks. You don’t have to have dairy products to get calcium, so vegans rejoice!
Much like Vitamin C + Iron, Calcium + Vitamin D is a dream team of micronutrients. Calcium is needed for bone health (something you might remember from health class) but is also needed for a healthy nervous system.
Even non-vegans need to pay attention to their B12 intake. B12 is not naturally from animal products as some might claim, but rather is found in soil bacteria that we used to get by not washing our produce before we ate it.
By the way…please wash your produce. You can get B12 without eating dirt.
The book Vegan for Life by Jack Norris and Ginny Messina, two vegan RDs, explains that the best way to supplement B12 is with a sublingual supplement.
If you are a vegan, you cannot skip your B12. B12 is necessary for healthy brain function and a B12 deficiency is no laughing matter.
But don’t let that scare you- B12 is easy to come by with these supplements.
If you or your teen want to go vegan, having a varied diet is key to getting these micronutrients in and making sure you’re getting what you need for your lifestyle. Just like paleo, the Mediterranean diet, keto, whatever eating fad crosses your mind, veganism just needs a little bit of time to plan for variety!
These are the top five nutrients I believe people need to pay attention to. What are your top five? Let me know!
And remember: Do your homework, eat a vegetable, and make sure to smile at someone today. Bye!