By Reem Abdulrahman Jassim al-Muftah
Do you follow a specific diet that restricts a certain food group? Are you vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian or paleotarian? Or do you strictly limit your intake of another type of food group? Whatever it is, listen up, because with all these booming diet trends and the lack of education around them, I want to raise the awareness of the potential nutrient deficiencies out there affecting millions.
Firstly, do you regularly go for checkups? My personal rule of thumb is to do blood work at least every six months to monitor my nutrient levels throughout my wellness journey. If you do, that’s great, if you don’t then try to find the time to do a blood test and note the following:
Vitamin B12: Found only in animal based foods such as all meats, eggs and dairy but also provided through nutrient enriched plant based ‘fortified foods’. In general, keep in mind that fortified foods are not the most reliable of sources. Vitamin B12 is necessary to support the normal functioning of our nerve and blood cells.
Iron: Found in both animal and plant based foods such as meat, green veggies, lentils, nuts and seeds. Non-heme iron found in plant based foods have shown to not be absorbed as well as heme iron does, found in animal based foods. Iron is necessary to support our blood cells and our oxygen levels.
Calcium: Found in both animal and plant based foods, including dairy, veggies, leafy greens such as kale, fish, tofu, seeds and nuts. Calcium is necessary to support and maintain bone strength.
Vitamin D: Found mostly in animal based foods such as dairy, beef liver, eggs and seafood except for wild mushrooms and fortified plant based foods. Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium.
Fatty Acids: Found mainly in animal based foods such as fish and seafood but recently also found in chia and flax seeds as well as walnuts. Pregnant women need to watch out for this as the fatty acid, omega-3 is highly critical for the development of the fetus as studies have found that plant based sources are not always so easily converted. Fatty acids are necessary and only found through these foods although essential for our body’s cellular functioning and energy production.
We should all be getting regular checkups to keep up with our nutrient levels and prevent any serious or continuous medical issues. Now, if you’re following a restricted diet and not eating a clean, simple and well-balanced diet of animal and plant based foods, then you should also make sure you know your complete proteins. What are complete proteins?
Let’s talk amino acids. The body is able to make 11 of the 20 amino acids needed for the body’s daily functioning, but the remaining nine need to be obtained through food. These nine essential amino acids are highly critical for our bodies. We need complete proteins, meaning sources that provide the essential amino acids. You can most commonly find complete proteins in animal based foods such as meat, dairy and eggs but there are a few plant based proteins such as quinoa, amaranth, chia, hemp, buckwheat, and soy that are complete but not easily accessible or known to everyone. If you are restricting yourself from most of the earlier mentioned food groups be sure to eat a variety of the complementary incomplete proteins. Still not clear enough? Maybe look at it this way… Amino acids are critical for the body’s daily functioning. They need to be maintained daily, meaning you have to eat a variety of complementary proteins on a daily basis. If you don’t eat enough of the various amino acids making up for the nine essential ones provided in animal based proteins, the body will take it from your own protein, for example, your muscle. Here are a few complete protein examples made from complementary incomplete proteins: rice with beans, nuts with seeds and whole grain bread with nut cashew butter.
According to Mayo Clinic studies, when it comes to restricted diets, poorly planned diets are linked to nutrient deficiencies. I hope we can all now agree to make sure and educate ourselves while practicing our diets, ensuring our nutrient levels are healthily maintained.
* The author is a wellness advocate and influencer @keys2balance.
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