The question around plant-based diets is almost always about whether or not you are meeting your nutritional requirements, in particular - are you consuming enough Iron & B12. Here at KOJA, we are huge advocates of plant-centric dietary patterns and are passionate about showing you how you can still meet your Iron and B12 requirements and feel your best!
Let's get into it....
What is the role of Vitamin B12 and why do we need it?
Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in maintaining normal brain function, nerve function and for the production of red blood cells.
Vitamin B12 is usually obtained exclusively from animal-based sources such as dairy, meat and fish, which makes it difficult for those following a plant-based diet to consume enough. You know that we always advocate for a 'food first' approach here at KOJA, however we recognise that sometimes this isn't feasible for everyone, especially those who follow a plant-based diet in its entirety.
Therefore, using a B12 supplement or consuming fortified foods such as Vegemite, nutritional yeast, certain cereals and alternative milks is the only way to ensure you’re getting enough B12.
If you are purchasing a B12 fortified product, look for at least 1ug (we require 2.4ug/day) of B12 per serving. This information will be located in the nutrition information panel on either the side or back of the packet.
If you believe a B12 supplement or injection is required, always consult with your doctor and dietitian on the most appropriate intervention for you.
Let's talk about Iron - Why do we need it?
Iron is important for the production of red blood cells, carrying oxygen around the body, releasing energy from cells and for maintaining a healthy immune system.
There are two types of iron
1. Haem (found in animal-based sources)
2. Non-haem (found in plant-based sources)
The main difference between the two forms of iron is that haem iron is more bioavailable, therefore our bodies are able to absorb it easier. Not to worry though, we can still get all the Iron we need from non-haem sources too!
How much iron do I need a day?
According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, the recommended intake for menstruating women is 18mg/day while men (and post-menopausal women) only require 8mg/day
Plant based sources of iron
- Chickpeas, red kidney beans, lentils etc
- Nuts and seeds including cashews, almonds, sunflower seeds, pepita seeds etc.
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Green leafy vegetables like kale, silverbeet, spinach
- Dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, pears
So how do I maximise my iron absorption on a plant-based diet?
We are glad you asked, here are our top tips below:
Pair iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods to help increase absorption:
Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, capsicum, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and kiwi fruit to name a few.
Try kiwi fruit on top of your cereal, hummus and tomato on your favourite savoury biscuit, include capsicum as part of a tofu stir fry or curry or a lemon and olive oil dressing on a lentil and kale salad.
Make small swaps to your usual recipes and meals by adding in an iron-rich food.
Use pepita seeds or sunflower seeds over pine nuts for an iron-rich pesto, further boost it by throwing in some kale or loads of spinach and add in lemon juice to aid with the absorption.
Aim for a little higher than the recommended daily intake each day.
- Try to avoid having tea, coffee or wine with or close to meals (at least 30 minutes prior or after meal consumption) as these contain tannins which can prevent iron absorption.
Written by Millie Padula, Dietitian and Nutritionist