Staying Healthy

Our friends at V-lish have an important section, Ask the Dietician, where Ginny Messina, the world’s leading V-licious Registered Dietician, answers readers’ questions. Her recent post is about meeting nutritional needs while following a compassionate diet:

If you’re leaning toward a more plant-based diet, you might feel a little uncertain about meeting your nutrient needs. Don’t worry – you can get everything you need from a V-licious diet. But if it’s new territory for you, these seven guidelines can help.

1. Eat at least three servings per day of legumes. This is a big food group that includes not just beans, but also peanuts and peanut butter, tofu, soymilk, and all types of veggie meats (including burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and chick’n nuggets). These foods will ensure that you get plenty of protein without any extra effort.

2. Eat at least eight servings per day of fruits and vegetables. Include dark green leafy vegetables and bright orange vegetables for vitamin A and plenty of vitamin C-rich choices such as oranges, strawberries, broccoli, peppers, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. When you’re in a hurry, use frozen or canned vegetables — they’re just as good for you.

3. Emphasize whole grains over refined ones, and if you like them, include some whole-grain bread and sprouted grains in meals. They are especially good sources of the minerals iron and zinc.

4. Include healthy fats in your diet. Nuts and seeds can help you meet needs for zinc while also lowering your risk for heart disease. Make sure you’re getting enough of the essential omega-3 fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) by eating a small serving of ground flaxseeds, walnuts, or canola oil every day.

5. Meet calcium needs by choosing calcium-rich veggies (kale, collards, turnip greens, bok choy), calcium-set tofu, soy nuts, tempeh, fortified plant milks or yogurt, fortified juice, dried figs, almonds, or tahini.

6. Take appropriate supplements. As you move toward a mostly or completely V-licious diet, you’ll need 25 to 100 micrograms of vitamin B12 every day (choose the cyanocobalamin form of this vitamin). If you don’t get plenty of sun exposure (without sunscreen), take a vitamin D supplement. And if you don’t use a few shakes of iodized salt on your food every day, a supplement of iodine can be a good idea.

7. Keep the focus on whole plant foods, but leave room for convenience and treats. Some gently processed foods can help you meet nutrient needs and make your healthy, compassionate diet easier to stick with for the long term.

For more on meeting nutrient needs with ease, see my Plant Plate food guide.