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5 ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS FOR PLANT-BASED DIETS

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

 

If you are a vegetarian or want to cut back on meats, make sure you get all the nutrients you need through a balanced diet. If a plant-based diet is well planned and nutritionally adequate, it may provide health benefits and lowering the risk of heart disease, colorectal cancer and type 2 diabetes. However, if the diet is not planned appropriately, you can fall short on the following nutrients easily:

 

  1. Protein

It is important to get enough dietary protein to keep our muscle, hair, skin and nails healthy. Main plant-based sources of protein include lentils, legumes, seeds, nuts, nut butter, soy milk, firm tofu, and meat substitutes. Eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt are also good sources of protein if you eat these. Grains such as quinoa, millet, oats, wheat, and rice also contain some protein. It is important to eat different kinds of protein food every day to get all the amino acids required.

 

  1. Iron

Iron is essential for making red blood cells and insufficient iron intake can result in iron deficiency anaemia. Signs and symptoms include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, headache, dizziness, cold hands and feet, and brittle nails.

Plant sources of iron include white beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, fortified breakfast cereals, dark chocolate, firm tofu, raisins, spinach, and cashew nuts. Your body absorbs plant-based iron better when you eat it with foods that contain vitamin C, such as oranges, kiwi fruits, guavas, strawberries, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.

 

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for brain, eye, and heart health. The three main omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found mainly in plant oils such as chia seed, flaxseed, soybean, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil. DHA and EPA are found in fish and other seafood.

Your body can only convert very small amounts of ALA into EPA and then to DHA. If you do not eat fish and seafood, you should get EPA and DHA from fortified foods such as eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, and soymilk. If you think you have trouble getting enough omega-3s from food, consult with a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist regarding dietary supplements.

 

  1. Calcium

 99% of the body’s calcium supply is stored in the bones and teeth where it supports their structure and function. Dairy foods are rich in calcium but if you are not eating these make sure you obtain calcium from other sources like fortified foods (e.g. breakfast cereals, fruit juices, tofu, soymilk, almond milk), dark green vegetables (e.g. Chinese cabbage, broccoli, kale, broccoli), almonds, and sesame seeds.

In addition to following a calcium-rich diet, you also need to get some vitamin D from the sun and fortified foods to enhance calcium absorption. And don’t forget about weight-bearing exercise which is the best type of exercise for your bones. Examples include weight training, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing.

 

  1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps keep the nerve and blood cells healthy in the body. It also helps make the genetic material in cells called DNA. Inadequacy can lead to megaloblastic anaemia that makes people feel tired and weak, as well as nerve damage.

Vegetarians can get vitamin B12 from eggs and dairy foods. If you are a vegan, you can get vitamin B12 from a variety of fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, nutritional yeasts, soy yogurt, and beverages. If you think you have trouble getting enough vitamin B12 from food, consult with a doctor, dietitian, or pharmacist regarding dietary supplements.

 

Does “vegetarian” necessarily mean healthy?

Food products labelled with “vegetarian” or “vegan” do not necessarily mean healthy. Cookies, chips, sweetened cereals, vegetarian burgers and sausages might be vegetarian foods, but they are likely high in fats, added sugar and sodium. Therefore, eat smart by checking the food labels and look for products that carry less saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar and sodium. In addition, fortified foods vary in the formulation, so it is important to check product labels to determine which added nutrients they contain.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/essential-nutrients-plant-based-diet

5 KEY NUTRIENTS FOR HEALTHY PREGNANCY

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

 

Eating a healthy balanced diet is crucial to support the optimal development of your baby during pregnancy. Your body has a greater demand for nutrients which can be met by making wise food choices. Dietitian Sally Shi-po Poon explains the 5 key nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.

 

  1. Folic acid

Folic acid, also known as folate, is a B vitamin that is important for pregnant women. Taking folic acid regularly before pregnancy and during pregnancy helps prevent major birth defects of the fetal brain and spine called neural tube defects. The requirement for folic acid increases from 400 micrograms (mcg) daily for non-pregnant women to 600 mcg daily during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends all pregnant women and all women who may become pregnant should take a daily vitamin supplement that contains folic acid.

Major food sources of folate include spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, avocado, oranges, papaya, peanuts, and breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid.

 

  1. Iodine

The body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones which are required for proper growth and brain development of your baby. The World Health Organisation recommends 250 mcg iodine daily during pregnancy. You should consider taking a prenatal supplement containing iodine, as it is difficult to get enough iodine from food alone when you are pregnant.

Seaweed, seafood, egg yolk, dairy products and iodised salt are main sources of iodine. Kelp, in particular, contains a very high level of iodine and eating too much can affect the thyroid function adversely. You should consume kelp in moderation and no more than once a week.

 

  1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA is important for the visual and cognitive development of your baby. Pregnant women should aim to attain an average daily intake of at least 200 mg DHA, which can be achieved by eating 8 to 12 ounces of fish or shellfish per week.

From the food safety point of view, avoid all raw and undercooked seafood including sushi made with raw fish.

People who do not eat seafood can eat foods rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil. Our body can produce DHA out of ALA, but the conversion rate seems to be very low. You can consider taking a DHA supplement if you do not eat seafood.

 

  1. Iron

Iron ensures optimal growth and brain development and prevents anaemia. Your body needs more iron during pregnancy and the daily recommended intake of iron is 27 mg.

Iron is found in most prenatal supplements. You should also eat a variety of iron-rich foods including red meat, poultry, fish, egg yolk, lentils, kidney beans, nuts, raisins, and iron-fortified breakfast cereals. Iron can be absorbed better if foods are eaten with vitamin C-rich foods, such as guava, oranges, kiwi fruits, sweet peppers, and tomatoes.

 

  1. Calcium

Calcium is required to build your baby’s bones and teeth. Pregnant women require 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Inadequate calcium intake during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm labour and gestational hypertension.

Milk, cheese and yogurt, are the best sources of calcium. Pregnant women are advised to consume two glasses of milk or calcium-fortified soy milk daily and choose calcium-rich foods such as Chinese cabbage (bok choi), kale, broccoli, sardines, and tofu made with calcium sulfate.

Vitamin D improves calcium absorption and is essential for bone health and development. Pregnant women need 600 International Units (IU) or 15 mcg of vitamin D a day. Expose to sunlight regularly and consume vitamin D-rich foods such as salmon and fortified food products can help you get enough vitamin D.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/5-key-nutrients-healthy-pregnancy

THINKING OF STARTING A FAMILY? READ THESE HEALTH TIPS FIRST

By Sally Shi-po POON (Registered Dietitian)

Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year (or longer) of regular unprotected sex. It is said to affect 1 in every 6 couples. While couples cannot control all of the factors causing infertility, they can control their eating habits and lifestyle as these can have significant impacts on the ability to get pregnant. The following are important steps to help you get ready for the healthiest pregnancy possible.

 

1. Maintain a healthy weight

In women, being underweight, being overweight or exercising too much may lead to infertility, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In men, obesity is also associated with infertility due to lowered sperm count and motility, according to the National Infertility Association. Therefore, couples should maintain an optimal body weight as well as waist circumference to increase the chance of getting pregnant.

Healthy Weight Ranges

Boyd Mass Index (BMI): 18.5-24.9 (Caucasian); 18.5-22.9 (Asian)
Waist Circumference: <94cm for men and <80cm for women (Caucasian); <90cm for men and <80cm for women (Asian)

Sadly, there is no magic solution to sustainable weight loss. To lose weight successfully, you need to make healthier food choices, eat a balanced diet with portion control, and be physically active. Furthermore, adherence to healthy diets favouring whole grains, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and seafood are associated with better fertility in women and better semen quality in men, according to a review published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2017.

Avoid going on a fad diet where you eat a very restrictive diet for a short period of time and often lose weight quickly. Most people on this style of diet get fed-up very soon, start over-eating, make poor food choices and regain the weight they lost. Fad diets can also deplete your body of the nutrients it needs for healthy pregnancy. Consult a dietitian who can help you lose weight in a way that suits your lifestyle.

 

2. Get plenty of iron from plants

A diet rich in plant-based iron may reduce the risk of infertility, according to results from The Nurses’ Health Study II. Plant foods that are rich in iron include lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tofu, black sesame, cashew nuts, spinach, fortified cereals, and whole grains. To absorb the most iron from the foods, avoid drinking coffee, tea or milk with meals and add vitamin C from guava, orange, kiwi, lemon, or bell peppers to your meals to enhance iron absorption.

 

3. Go low GI

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of female infertility. PCOS affects between 6% and 12% of women overall, which appears to be more common among overweight women. Women with PCOS often don’t have menstrual periods, or they only have periods on occasion. Because the eggs are not released, most women with PCOS have trouble getting pregnant. Research shows that weight loss of 5% is associated with improvement in amenorrhoea (absence of menstruation) for overweight women with PCOS.

Healthy eating tips for women with PCOS:

  • choose high-fibre, low-glycaemia index (GI) carbohydrates – at least half of all the grains eaten should be whole grains such as whole-wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice;
  • limit added sugars and refined grains such as sugary beverages, cakes, white bread and white rice;
  • choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, flaxseeds, walnuts, salmon, and sardines; and
  • limit saturated and trans fats such as butter, lard, stick margarine, shortening, and partially hydrogenated oil.

 

4. Stop drinking and smoking

Alcohol and smoking can damage the eggs and sperm, and reduce the fertility of both males and females. Therefore, if you and your partner are serious about trying to start a family, you should consider avoiding alcoholic drinks and quitting smoking to increase the chance of pregnancy.

 

5. Increase your folic acid intake

Folic acid won’t boost your fertility, but taking folic acid regularly before becoming pregnant and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects (malformations of the spine, skull, and brain) in babies. Therefore, all women who could become pregnant should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily from supplements. In addition, choose foods that are rich in folic acid, including asparagus, Brussels sprouts, spinach, mustard greens, oranges, peanuts, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, liver, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.

 

For more information about eating for fertility, consult a dietitian for personalized advice and diet plan.

 

Sally’s Nutrition Blog @ Hong Kong Tatler: https://hk.asiatatler.com/life/thinking-of-starting-a-family-health-tips