Maintaining a balanced diet is essential for overall health and well-being. Regardless if you choose a plant-based diet or not, understanding macro and micronutrients is key to tailoring your diet to support your nutritional needs. In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of these nutrients and provide tips on constructing a balanced plate that caters to any diet.
Macronutrients are the three primary nutrients that bodies require in larger quantities for energy production, growth, and various physiological functions. They include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. They are broken down into glucose, which fuels our cells, muscles, and brain. In simpler terms, there are two kinds of carbohydrates, simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates, found in whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, provide a steady release of energy and are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals. Simple carbohydrates, found in fruits and refined sugars, provide quick energy but lack the fibre and nutrients found in complex carbohydrates.
Proteins are essential for the growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissues, including muscles, organs, skin, and hormones. They are made up of amino acids, which are commonly referred to as the building blocks of proteins. In plant-based diets, protein sources include legumes (such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas), tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, and soy products. Combining different plant-based protein sources throughout the day helps ensure the intake of all essential amino acids.
Fats are an important part of our diet and are necessary for energy, insulation, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). However, not all fats are created equal. Healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are beneficial for heart health and can be found in plant-based sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. These fats also provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Finding and incorporating a healthy balance of these macronutrients is the first step to building a balanced plate.
Micronutrients are essential vitamins and minerals that our bodies require in smaller amounts but are crucial for various physiological processes, including metabolism, immune function, and overall well-being.
Vitamins are organic compounds that play vital roles in maintaining good health and preventing nutrient deficiencies. They are classified into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
Water-soluble vitamins (such as vitamin C and the B vitamins) are not stored in large amounts in the body and need to be consumed regularly through our diet. Plant-based diets are abundant in many water-soluble vitamins. Fruits like citrus fruits, berries, and kiwi are excellent sources of vitamin C. Whole grains, legumes, leafy greens, and nuts are rich in various B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate.
Fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K) are stored in the body's fatty tissues and liver. While plant-based diets can provide some fat-soluble vitamins, meat-based diets offer additional sources. For example, dairy products, eggs, and liver are rich in vitamin A. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Minerals are inorganic substances that are essential for various bodily functions, including bone health, nerve transmission, and enzyme activity. Major minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, and chloride. Plant-based sources rich in major minerals include leafy greens (calcium), legumes and whole grains (magnesium and phosphorus), and fruits and vegetables (potassium).
While needed in lesser volumes, micronutrients play a vital role in achieving an overall holistic diet.
Constructing your balanced plate
Now the fun part, actually constructing your balanced plate a.k.a. your next meal.
A general rule of thumb is to divide your (hypothetical) plate into quarters and use the following as guidelines:
- Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables: Aim to include a variety of vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, and cauliflower. These vegetables are low in calories and rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
- Allocate a quarter of your plate to whole grains or starchy vegetables: Choose whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat bread, or whole wheat pasta. Alternatively, opt for starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, corn, or peas. Whole grains and starchy vegetables provide complex carbohydrates, fibre, and various micronutrients.
- Reserve a quarter of your plate for protein. Plant-based options include our Soy Free Tofu, legumes, tempeh, seitan and more.
- Include healthy fats in moderation: Add a small portion of healthy fats to your plate, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, or olive oil. These sources offer unsaturated fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which can support heart health when consumed in moderation.
Remember that your nutritional needs may vary based on important factors such as age, activity level and health conditions. We still do highly recommend consulting a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to personalise your diet plan to your exact nutritional requirements.