Plant-based and Nutrition 2: Iron and Omega 3 (feat. Selenium and Iodine)

Now there were a few nutrients I ran out of space to discuss last time. So without further ado, it’s time to get iron and omega 3 out of the way. Then selenium and iodine will get an honourable mention, despite the fact they’re really an issue for everyone in New Zealand regardless of diet.

Iron. No matter how much jumping and dancing current or former New Zealand Olympic athletes may do to try to convince you otherwise (seriously, people?!), iron can fortunately be obtained easily on a plant-based or vegan diet. Thank goodness, because when you think about the alternative, it’s just gross. Unless your name is Vladislav, Viago, or Deacon, obviously, or especially Petyr. Just like our friend calcium, iron is a mineral found in the ground. So unsurprisingly it’s found in plants.

There’s likely no need to go looking for particular foods as sources, but just a cup of oatmeal, black beans, or chickpeas (or their tastier form, hummus) will get you a decent amount. In being plant-based or vegan you’re also doing yourself and the environment the favour of not consuming dairy. Besides the fact that dairy contains next to no iron, to add insult to injury the calcium found in dairy can block the absorption of any iron that might be in the rest of your meal. What helps increase absorption of iron? Vitamin C. And that’s only found in plants. As an added bonus a plant-based way of eating helps balance hormones, which will consequently reduce iron requirements for many women.

Omega 3 has also sky-rocketed to fame in recent times. Although you’d probably be surprised to hear that marine animals are not the best source. Fish get their omega 3 from eating plants (or, often if you’re eating farmed fish, supplements) and so can you. Leafy green vegetables are a great source, but in fact omega 3s are found in enough plants that you’ll often get plenty without extra efforts. If you’d rather just get your omega 3 intake sorted for the day in one hit, all you need is a tablespoon of super-cheap ground flaxseed!

Omega 3 fats reduce inflammation, which is great. But in order to be used best by the body and to achieve real benefits, changing the ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats we eat is vitally important. This means that we need to work on reducing the omega 6 we eat as well as increasing our omega 3. Things that contain lots of omega 6 include (surprise, surprise) animal products, oils, and most other high fat foods, so we need to eat less of these too so we can get that balance just right.

Now to selenium and iodine. Both of these are low in New Zealand soil, so in theory all New Zealanders are unlikely to be getting enough. But a lot of the foods we eat are from elsewhere, so it’s thought that most New Zealanders get enough selenium because of these imported foods. However, the major source in this case is animal products, so for those of us not eating them, having a Brazil nut a day is a good idea. Finally, the major source of iodine in the diet for all New Zealanders is iodised salt, and salt’s just not great for anyone. So everyone here should really be taking an iodine supplement of 150mcg daily.

Well, that’s nutrition done and dusted! Protein will star in a future post. In the meantime everyone should be very happy that they can get all sorts of what they do ‘need’ on a plant-based or vegan diet, while enjoying the benefits of avoiding everything they don’t need.

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