As you strive to eat healthier, you probably add plenty of foods to your plate, like vegetables (especially the green ones), healthy fats, and lean proteins—but there are foods you might pull from your daily grub, too. We’re not just talking cookies, sugary cereals, and cheese doodles here; when many people start eating healthier, they end up leaving anything from dairy and grains to meat and eggs behind.
Whether you’re team plant-based all the way or just can’t stomach dairy, you do you! Just keep in mind that depending on your dietary restrictions, you may wind up missing out on certain important nutrients—even if your eating habits seem stellar. Talk to your doc about testing for any possible nutritional deficiencies and read on to find out what vitamins and minerals you may be missing, and how you can boost your intake.
If You’re A Vegetarian…
When you’re meat-free, your biggest concern is getting enough protein, since animal meat is a common source, says Mandy Enright, R.D.N., creator of Nutrition Nuptials. Protein maintains the structures in your body, like your organs, and helps you build muscle mass and rev your metabolism.
If you don’t eat meat, you can get protein from dairy, eggs, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and soy, says Enright. Fill between a quarter and a third of your cup with protein at every meal and you’ll be in good shape.
Fill Gaps With A Plant-Based Protein
Vegetarians also need to be mindful of vitamin B12, which is another nutrient we typically get from animal flesh. Vitamin B12 helps your red blood cells function and contributes to energy production and digestion. Adults need 2.4 micrograms a day and without enough, you may feel weak and moody and have trouble sleeping.
“Typically, if you’re not eating a lot of animal meat, taking a supplement would be the best way to get vitamin B12,” says Enright. That said, you can also find some in eggs (0.4 micrograms per egg) and milk (one microgram per cup), as well as fortified foods like cereal and non-dairy milks. Nutritional yeast and nori—the seaweed used to wrap sushi—also contain some B12.
If You’re A Vegan…
Though we associate bone-boosting calcium with milk, it’s actually found in lots of other foods. One particularly good source: soy. Adults need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and at 200 milligrams per cup, a serving of soy gets you a fifth of the way there. You can also find calcium in cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and bok choy), nuts, and seeds.
Iron, which our blood needs to transport oxygen from our lungs to the rest of our body, is another mineral we associate with meat. Adult men need about eight milligrams a day while women need 18 (more if pregnant), and deficiency is associated with fatigue, weakness, pale skin, and irregular heartbeat. There are plenty of best plant sources, though, including white beans (eight milligrams per cup), lentils (three grams per half cup), and spinach (three grams per half cup.) Just keep in mind that since plant-based iron (called ‘non-heme’ iron) is less bioavailable than animal-based iron (called ‘heme’ iron), you may need to eat more than those daily recommended amounts to meet your mark.
Another mineral vegans may fall short on is zinc, which helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses. While it’s found in oysters, red meat, poultry, and dairy, you can also get it from beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Women need eight milligrams a day, while men need 11. You’ll find about three milligrams of the mineral in half a cup of baked beans, 1.6 milligrams in an ounce of cashews, and 1.3 milligrams in half a cup of chickpeas.
Last but not least is vitamin D, which even non-vegans have a hard time stocking up on from food. “Usually the best food source is egg yolks, which vegans can’t have,” says Enright. Adults need about 600 IU of vitamin D—which helps us absorb calcium and supports our immune system—per day. Vegans can turn to fortified non-dairy milks and orange juice for vitamin D, but it may be easiest to just take a supplement—especially if you don’t spend much time in the sun, she says.
If You’re Dairy-Free…
When you live without milk, yogurt, and cheese, you have to work a little harder to get enough calcium and vitamin D, since most milk is fortified with 400 IU of vitamin D and contains about 300 milligrams of calcium, says Enright.
As you now know, you can find calcium in cruciferous veggies, nuts, and seeds. And if you eat non-dairy animal products, you have a few options for vitamin D, such as fatty fish like salmon (447 IU) or tuna (156 IU), and egg yolks (41 IU).
If You’re Gluten-Free…
Fiber, which is found in a number of gluten-containing whole grains, is the number-one thing you have to keep an eye on when eating a gluten-free diet. Fiber feeds the healthy bacteria (a.k.a. probiotics) in your gut, bolsters your digestive system, and supports healthy blood sugar and cholesterol. If you fall short—and many of us do, gluten-free or not—you may experience major bowel backup. Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber a day; men should aim for 38 grams. Luckily, you can find fiber in tons of other plant-based foods, like chickpeas (six grams per half cup) and chia seeds (10 grams per two tablespoons). Fruits and veggies are also loaded with fiber, so Enright recommends filling half your plate with produce at every meal.
The gluten-free eater’s second concern: vitamin B6, which we typically get from grains. This vitamin helps us metabolize protein, and can be found in a few gluten-free sources, like animal meat (such as chicken, turkey, and salmon) and beans (such as chickpeas). Adults need 1.3 milligrams of vitamin B6 every day. A cup of chickpeas packs 1.1 milligrams of B6, while a serving of tuna offers 0.9 milligrams.
Folate is another B vitamin you can fall short on without gluten in your diet. Since it plays a key role in the synthesis of DNA and RNA, folate is especially important for women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant. These women need 600 micrograms a day, while the average adult needs 400. You can find folate in spinach, asparagus, peas, spinach, and broccoli, says Enright. Half a cup of boiled spinach offers 131 micrograms, and four spears of asparagus offer 89 .
If You’re Paleo…
The popular Paleo diet preaches one guiding principle: Eat only foods that our primal ancestors could’ve eaten back in the day. That means grass-fed meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils (like olive and avocado), but no cereal grains, legumes (like peanuts and beans), dairy, sugar, potatoes, processed foods, or vegetable oils.
Since Paleo eaters stay away from dairy, they should pay special attention to their calcium and vitamin D intake, says Enright. Since they also stay away from grains and beans, they should also keep an eye on fiber. Chia seeds, hemp seeds, and produce are some of your best Paleo-approved fiber sources.
If You’re Keto…
On a ketogenic diet, you eat about 80 percent of your daily calories from fat and limit carbs to just 20 to 30 net grams (total carbs minus fiber) per day, according to certified natural medicine doctor and clinical nutritionist Josh Axe, D.C.
When you keep carbs that low, processed foods, grains, most dairy, and starchy veggies are off limits, and you may miss the mark on fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins (folate and B6). Since the keto menu is so limited, you may need to turn to supplements to meet your nutritional needs.
Additionally, many keto eaters lose electrolytes (like potassium, and magnesium) as they slash carbs and drop water weight (even if they drink lots of water), says Axe. Adults need 4.7 grams of potassium, and 310 (women) to 400 (men) milligrams of magnesium per day.
Drinking is a simple, hydrating way to replenish electrolytes, says Axe. Axe likes to drink bone broth for its electrolytes, but you can also find these important minerals in foods like nuts, avocados, mushrooms, salmon, spinach, artichokes, and leafy greens—all of which are a-okay on the keto diet in the right amounts.
If You’re On Whole30…
The super-trendy Whole30 is an elimination diet in which you cut out dairy, grains, legumes, soy, alcohol, and anything highly processed or that contains added sugar for—you guessed it—30 days. The eating style is supposed to help you identify food sensitivities and establish healthier habits.
Following a Whole30 way of eating long-term can be tricky, though, since it blacklists multiple of the nutritious food groups we’ve already discussed. Without dairy, grains, and legumes, you’ll need to be vigilant about getting calcium, vitamin D, B vitamins, and iron from other food sources or supplements, says Enright.
Keep your nutritional needs straight with this infographic: