6 Nutrients to Focus on for a Balanced Plant-Based Eating Pattern

Posted by Sharon S on

Nutrition powered by Plants

Plant-based has been gaining the spotlight at many meals and for well-deserved reasons too. If you’re new to the plant-based space (welcome!) or even have been for some time and don’t know where to start with nutrition, you’ve come to a great starting point. Whether you’re an advocate for plant-based for environmental, animal welfare or health reasons, there are several benefits of consuming more plant whole foods. For health, these include:

There can be an overwhelming amount to learn about nutrition when making the switch to a more plant-forward or vegan diet. Adopting this change can feel like you’re learning a new skill for the first time but I’m here to help make the journey sustainable and realistic! I’ve narrowed it down to the 6 common nutrients that plant eaters can focus on to ensure a well-nourished body. Read on to learn more!

A balance of Nutrients

It’s not uncommon for people to start a plant-based diet, experience some undesirable symptoms and then realize that they might need a checkup. These symptoms can come from an over-reliance on starchy foods, imbalance of the nutrients and even too much vegetables (yes, it is possible to eat too many vegetables)! We’re going to tackle the balance of nutrients and how to get these into the plant-based diet. 

Keep in mind that these nutrients are ones vegans and plant-based eaters can watch out for. They tend to be commonly missed in the diet or consumed in  inadequate amounts when making the transition but that does not undermine the importance of the other nutrients and a balanced whole food approach! 

While some numbers are also provided primarily as a reference, it’s more important to look at the diet as a whole rather than be boggled down by the intricacies. Taking a food-first approach where possible as opposed to multiple supplements and getting enough of all the macronutrients through the balanced plate method  is key. The plate method also helps meets the needs of most individuals while considering a few supplements. Plus, eating whole food is much more enjoyable in my opinion!

Vitamin B12

One of the most commonly praised nutrients to look at when starting a plant-based diet is Vitamin B12. It has roles in keeping the body’s nerves and blood cells healthy as well as being a coenzyme (it helps metabolic reactions in the body even just to create energy!). Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products because of the microbes in their bodies that are able to make them. If you’re a flexitarian and eat some animal products from time-to-time, this may be a less of a focus but still important!

RDA*: 2.4mcg per day for adults 19-50 years

*The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) is a nutrition reference intake level that will meet the nutrition needs of almost all healthy individuals in each life-stage group

What foods can I find this in?

  •  Fortified beverages: Soy, almond or rice (soy is usually the best choice. Look for daily percent values of  around 45%) 
  • Nutritional yeast. This adds a great 'cheezy' flavour to many sauces including the cashew bechamel in our lasagna
  • Fortified meat alternatives such as veggie burgers (check the label)

What to look out for: Feeling tired, decrease cognitive performance or having pale skin may be a sign of a Vtiamin B12 deficiency

Tips:  If you’re starting out from an omnivore diet, you don’t need to take a Vitamin B12 supplement right away. That’s because we have long term storage of Vitamin B12 in our liver and about half of it is stored there. Assuming we’ve had enough Vitamin B12 intake previously and then suddenly have no further B12 intake, our storage would supply enough B12 to prevent deficiency for 3-5 years!1 How cool is that? You could consider supplementation at a later stage and it would be recommended especially for long-term vegans who consume only plant-based foods.


We often associate calcium intake with bone health but it has equally important roles for muscle contraction and brain activity. That’s right, just getting the heart to beat and having daily brain signals sent relies on the presence of calcium! If you’re going vegan, you won’t get any calcium from dairy products but good news is that calcium is abundant in several foods.

RDA: 1000mg per day for adults 19-50 years

What foods can I find this in?

  •  Calcium-fortified soy, rice, almond milks (soy is usually the best choice. Look for daily percent values of around 35%)
  • Firm tofu (look for calcium sulphate in the ingredient list which is the most absorbed form) 
  •  Almonds and almond butter
  • Tahini (sesame seed paste) 
  • Leafy green vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, collards, bok choy) 
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Legumes and kidney beans

Tips/Things to know: In nutrition, there are interactions between nutrients that can either impair or enhance each ones’ absorption. Although it is very complex, we generally do not think about mixing and matching foods to maximize nutrient absorption to 100% otherwise we could think about meal planning for the whole day! For example, even though fiber can reduce calcium absorption, it’s still recommended to include fiber at your meal while including protein and vitamin D as enhancers. If you plan to have a cup of tea or coffee, try to have it 1 hour after your main meal. Not everything is meant to be absorbed however, we can be mindful of the following nutrient interactions.

  • Things that enhance calcium absorption: Vitamin D, Protein, Sugars 
  • Things that reduce calcium absorption: Fiber, Phytic Acid (found in whole grain breads, seeds, legumes), Oxalic acid (found in spinach, rhubarb, chard), too much Zinc or Magnesium
  • Things that increase excretion of calcium: Sodium, Protein, Caffeine

VITamin D

Oh, the sunshine vitamin. Vitamin D often gets overlooked but is quite the hero for its roles. In fact, Vitamin D is more of a hormone because of its gene-related actions and its role in balancing calcium in the body (everything is connected!) Despite this, Vitamin D is not abundant in the food supply which makes it even more difficult to get, especially if you’re not outside in the sun often. We’ll have to do some label-checking in fortified vegan foods and consider supplementation.

RDA: 600IU per day for adults 19-50 years old

What foods can I find this in?

  •  Some soft margarine 
  •  Fortified beverages: soy, almond, rice (check the label for around 45% daily value)

Tips/Things to know: Vitamin D and Calcium are probably the most well-known Vitamin friend pairs. Vitamin D is especially important for helping to absorb calcium. That’s why you’ll often find these two together in fortified beverages. 

As Vitamin D is limited in foods, a supplement is generally recommended (even for non-vegans or plant-based individuals). Discuss this option and suitability with your doctor or Registered Dietitian. 

Although Vitamin D formation is activated by the sun, factors including sunscreen use, clothing covering skin, skin colour, age, season and latitude affects how much Vitamin D is produced. Hence the amount your body produce varies significantly and will rely on the intake from your diet for the most consistency.


Zinc is an antioxidant (protector of reactions that can damage cells and tissues). It might be the lonely nutrient that is less commonly discussed but makes sure things are in order by healing wounds, developing the immune system, keeping insulin in check and so much more. The most significant sources of zinc come from animal proteins like seafood and meats with limited amounts in some plant foods. Like iron, zinc from plant based food sources are not as well absorbed than the sources from their animal counterparts, but we can work around this by including the a variety of options below and improving absorption where possible!

RDA*: 8-9mg per day for adult females 19-50 years old; 11mg per day for adult males 19-50 years old 

*Amounts are 1.5 times as much for vegetarians and vegans (about 13mg and 16mg respectively)

What foods can I find this in?

  • Lentils and beans (One of the most versatile sources! You can also find a hearty mixture of lentils in both our plant-based Shepherd's Pie and BBQ Mushroom Taco Filling)
  • Tofu 
  • Fortified soy beverages 
  • Nuts and seeds (ie. peanuts, sesame seeds, cashews)
  • Some grains (ie. wild rice)


Iron’s role in the body is also extensive but people commonly relate it to its oxygen carrying ability in the blood. That’s why fatigue can be a symptom if there is not enough iron in the body. Similar to zinc, not all iron is created equal. There are two types of iron, one found in plant foods (non-heme iron) and one found in animal foods (heme iron). The latter is more easily absorbed and is a reason why vegetarians and vegans need almost twice as much iron daily! Thankfully, it’s possible to get enough iron through the variety of plant sources available and when eaten with the right nutrients, symptoms like fatigue will be less common! 

RDA*: 18mg for female 19-50 years old;  8mg for adult males 19-50 years old

 *Amounts would be twice as much for vegetarians and vegans (36mg and 16mg respectively)

What foods can I find this in?

  • Beans and lentils 
  • Tofu (Try this as  a scrumptious Tofu Ricotta in our Lasagna!)
  • Fortified soy beverages 
  • Fortified grains: pasta and cereals 
  • Nuts and seeds 
  • Whole grains (amaranth and quinoa) 
  • Dried fruits 
  • Dark green leafy vegetables 
  • Blackstrap molasses

Tips/Things to know:  Include Vitamin C rich foods (citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries  ) with your meal. These will help improve iron absortion 

 On the other hand, compounds in coffee and tea reduce iron absorption so make sure to enjoy these a few hours after meals if you can!

Omega 3

Oh-mega goodness. These fats are known for their heart and brain health benefits with roles in reducing cancer and neurological disorders risk as well as inflammation. They’re also absolutely essential because our bodies does not have the enzymes to make them so they must come from the diet. The three forms are ALA, EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are more commonly found in fatty fish so these are not accessible to vegans. ALA is the most common type found in plant foods and can be converted to EPA and DHA although it is not a 1:1 conversion. If you’re curious to learn more about Omegas, check out this helpful guide here

RDA: 1.6g/day for adult men; 1.1g/day for adult women

What foods can I find this in?

  • Seeds: flax, chia, hemp
  • Walnuts 
  • Oils: canola, flax seed, walnut and soybean 
  • Soybeans and tofu 
  • Some fortified foods: soy beverages, orange juice (yes! Omega 3s are starting to become fortified in non-usual mediums)

All about variety

Nutrition can be complex area to dive into but it doesn’t have to be! You may have already noticed that several foods listed have a great overlap in the nutrients that they share. As with many patterns of eating, the key is to enjoy a variety of foods that is inclusive of all the food groups while supplementing on the side if needed. On top of it all, make sure you are eating enough to feel full and energized throughout the day (veggies alone won’t do the trick!) This means putting hearty whole grains (about 25%), healthy fats like olive oil, a rainbow of vegetables (about 50%) and protein-rich food like tofu (25%) onto each plate (or as often as you can). If you have further questions, make sure to catch up with a doctor or Registered Dietitian for a personalized plan. 

 Happy plant-based eating!



1Gropper SS, Smith JL, Carr TP (2017). Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. 7th Edition. Wadsworth Thomson Learning

At Komo, we’re on a mission to share the love of plant-based foods and make plant-based meals a staple at every dinner table. We believe change can start with a single bite and through our comfort foods, we aim to make plant-based eating easy, wholesome and hearty. We recently launched our shareworthy plant-based LasagnaShepherd’s PieChick’n Pot PieBolognese Sauce and Taco Filling locally in Vancouver, BC.

 Connect: www.komocomfortfoods.com | Instagram @komocomfortfoods

← Older Post Newer Post →

Leave a comment

our Promise