There are many athletes and non-athletes alike that have proven that a plant-based diet can certainly get you great results and keep you healthy. There are, however, some things to be aware of before going all-in or even beginning the transition. In this article, I will go over the top tips to become the healthiest plant-based eater you can be.
First, what does plant-based really mean? A plant-based diet is simply a diet in which the majority of the food you consume is derived from plants and low in animal products. Vegetarian and vegan diets are the most notable plant-based diets as they contain little to no animal foods. Plants contain a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help our bodies function properly. Yes, plants themselves provide health benefits, but it doesn’t mean plant-based is always healthy. There are plenty of fake meat products that are very processed to mimic meat itself. White refined flour comes from wheat but has been so processed that the healthy components of wheat have been extracted. The first tip is to have minimal amounts of these processed foods that are not whole plant foods. A simple rule of thumb is to look at your food and ask yourself if you can recognize that food from its original state i.e. an apple, banana, or buckwheat.
Depending on what type of diet you are coming from, the fiber in all the plants may cause some digestive distress. Did you know that 97% of Americans fall short in their daily intake of fiber? The fiber in plants helps them keep their shape, animal foods don’t contain fiber as fat is what holds them together. So, if you’re like most Americans and you’re not eating a lot of fiber, take it slow. Transitioning into a fiber heavy diet can cause constipation and bloating. The bacteria in your intestines eat up that fiber and without enough of these bacteria, the fiber ferments causing digestive issues. Luckily, these healthy bacteria can replicate rapidly so you can ease into eating high amounts of fiber without the undesirable side effects over the span of a couple of months.
There are a few missing nutrients in a fully vegan diet. B12 is a vitamin that is actually created by bacteria in soil. This vitamin plays a major role in nerve function, DNA synthesis, and red blood cell development. Animals get this vitamin by eating a lot of dirt where these bacteria live, which then proliferate in the intestines. We don’t really eat dirt anymore, so we have to rely on supplements or animal products to get this essential vitamin. There are a lot of vegan products that have B12 added, but not in very high amounts. I recommend methylcobalamin, known to be the most active form of Vit B12. Depending on your exercise levels, 2,000-3,000 mcg sublingually per week should do the trick. Absorption is also enhanced when B12 is taken with methylated folate.
We hear a lot about fish oil and its benefits. What is so beneficial in the oil are two fatty acids called DHA and EPA. Just like eating dirt provides mammals with vitamin B12, eating algae provides DHA and EPA for fish. The plant-based way is to simply take out the middleman (the fish). Algae isn’t enjoyable to eat but there are algae supplements that contain the DHA and EPA necessary for proper brain function and cellular function. I recommend 1,000 milligrams daily between both DHA and EPA.
Vitamin D is actually quite low in all foods, but almost non-existent in the plant kingdom. The form D2, ergocalciferol, is found mostly in mushrooms but isn’t as well absorbed as D3, cholecalciferol. Cholecalciferol supplements are derived from lambswool, so technically not vegan. There are however vegan supplements available derived from lichen. For this reason, the US has been fortifying milk and other products with it since the 1930s. Sure, you can get this vitamin by exposing yourself to the sun, but there are times and places where that can be quite difficult. Salt Lake City during the winter is a perfect example. To make sure you are getting enough, it is recommended to supplement during winter months in cold, cloudy climates. Vitamin D supports bone health, muscle health, and immune function. I recommend 2,000 IU daily paired with vitamin K2 for enhanced absorption.These are often found mixed into the same supplement.
Those are the top three nutrients you will need to supplement to thrive on a plant-based diet. The rest you can absolutely obtain through diet. Make sure to have plenty of protein-rich plant foods in your diet to obtain all essential amino acids. To ensure you are getting all of the other essential vitamins and minerals, it is important to eat a wide variety of plant foods. Some of the most nutritionally dense superstars include beans, nuts, sweet potatoes, green leafy veggies, berries, onions, garlic, and whole grains. I also recommend routine blood testing to make sure you’re not falling short on any vital nutrients whether you are going plant-based or not. With these tips in mind, you can confidently begin your plant-based journey and find out if it’s right for you.
Ultra-runner and Nutritionist Jesse Rich started trail running in 2012. Ever since his first run in the mountains, Jesse has made running a part of his everyday life. Competing in international races and winning races like the Wasatch 100 in 2018, he has learned a lot about the sport by study and by implementation. Apart from ultrarunning, personal training, and running coaching, Jesse also holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from the National University of Natural Medicine. He has been practicing on his own since 2018 and has been helping people become healthier ever since.
You can find Jesse at https://www.forwardprogressions.com/forward-progressions-1