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Why You Cannot Mineral Balance On A Plant Based Diet

Why You Cannot Mineral Balance On A Plant Based Diet

Why You Cannot Mineral Balance On A Plant Based Diet


The current trend leans heavily towards adopting plant-based, vegetarian, or even vegan lifestyles, driven by various ethical, environmental, and health considerations. This shift prompts a critical inquiry: Do these dietary choices enhance our health more than traditional omnivorous diets, specifically regarding mineral balance?

Unfortunately, reality reveals a complex challenge. While offering numerous benefits, plant-based diets often fall short in supplying critical nutrients essential for optimal mineral balance. In this discussion, we aim to unravel the intricacies of these nutritional gaps, specifically addressing how they might affect the body's mineral balance. We'll identify the necessary nutrients at play, and explore the differences in nutrient availability from plant versus animal sources. Additionally, we will delve into the health benefits of a vegetarian diet and how to meet nutritional needs, including the importance of dietary supplements and addressing potential mineral deficiencies on a plant-based diet. This comprehensive approach is crucial for maintaining mineral balance and ensuring overall health and wellness on a vegetarian or plant-based diet.

Understanding Plant-Based Diets

A plant-based diet emphasizes foods originating from plants. This includes various fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. While it predominantly features plant-derived foods, the degree to which animal products are included can vary. Some individuals might strictly avoid animal products (adopting a vegan approach), while others incorporate occasional animal-derived items into their meals, aligning more with a vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle. Regardless of the specific approach, it is important to prioritize a healthy diet ensuring a balance of nutrients, including leafy vegetables, and avoiding highly processed foods like crackers, cookies, and white bread. Plant-based diets have also been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and some types of cancer, as well as lower rates of illness and death from degenerative diseases such as the risk of heart disease. Incorporating healthy eating habits into a plant-based diet is essential for maintaining overall health and preventing chronic diseases.

Vegetarianism involves abstaining from meat, poultry, seafood, and other animal flesh, yet vegetarians enjoy various plant-based foods. Depending on the type of vegetarianism practiced, dairy products and eggs may also play a role in the diet. Variants of vegetarianism include:

  • Lacto-Vegetarian: Excludes meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs but embraces dairy.
  • Ovo-Vegetarian: Avoids meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy but allows eggs.
  • Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Steers clear of meat, poultry, and seafood but includes dairy and eggs.
  • Pescatarian: Primarily vegetarian but includes seafood.
  • Flexitarian: A mainly plant-based diet with occasional meat or fish consumption.

A vegan diet is the strictest form of vegetarianism. It eliminates all animal products, including meat, poultry, and seafood, as well as dairy, eggs, and honey. Vegans concentrate on a diverse range of plant-based foods and alternatives to animal products.

Beyond dietary choices, veganism, which strongly emphasizes plant-based diets, often extends into lifestyle choices that actively promote mineral balance. It meticulously avoids products derived from animals, such as leather and wool, as well as products tested on animals, reflecting a broader ethical stance against animal exploitation. Adopting such plant-based diets not only aligns with ethical considerations but also requires a mindful approach to maintaining mineral balance essential for health. Each dietary approach offers a unique perspective on nutrition and ethics, with veganism placing a significant emphasis on the use of plant-based ingredients to support both ethical living and optimal mineral balance.

Potential Issues with Plant-Based Diets

While plant-based diets are praised for their health and ecological advantages, it is essential to recognize and address several potential challenges:

Nutrient Considerations

Adopting a plant-based diet requires a mindful approach to nutrition to prevent deficiencies. Essential nutrients typically abundant in animal products—like vitamin B12, iron, calcium for strong bones, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and protein—can be less accessible in plants. 

Protein Composition

Plant proteins, unlike their animal-based counterparts, sometimes fail to deliver all essential amino acids. As a result, those on a plant-based diet should be proactive in combining different protein sources to ensure a balanced amino acid intake.

Digestive Considerations

Transitioning to a plant-based diet rich in fiber through legumes, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables might lead to digestive discomfort, including bloating and gas for some individuals. A gradual increase in fiber and adequate hydration is recommended to ease these symptoms. Nonetheless, digestive tolerance varies widely between individuals, with metabolic function playing a central role.

Balance and Moderation

Despite the nutrient density of plant-based diets, excessive calorie consumption and potential nutrient surplus can occur if particular plant foods, like nuts, seeds, and oils, are eaten in large quantities. Embracing a well-rounded diet focusing on moderation is critical to avoid such pitfalls.

Cultural and Personal Adaptation

Transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle can be met with cultural and personal hurdles, including established taste preferences, cooking expertise, and ingrained food traditions. These factors may present obstacles for some when trying to adhere to and maintain a plant-based diet.

Mineral Balancing and Plant-Based Diets

The Role of Copper and Zinc

When evaluating the impacts of mineral balance on a protocol or general health, especially in the context of plant-based diets, it's worth noting that these diets typically contain high levels of copper. While copper isn’t inherently harmful and is, in fact, necessary for optimal mineral balance, its excessive presence in the body, a scenario more likely with plant-based diets, has been linked with chronic viral and fungal infections, increased vulnerability to mold, anxiety, and other mental health problems, skin issues, and more. Ensuring a balanced intake of minerals is essential when following plant-based diets, to avoid the potential downsides of too much or too little of any one mineral, including copper.

On the other hand, plant-based diets often lack sufficient bioavailable zinc—considered a pivotal foil to copper overabundance. Zinc, an indispensable mineral for the body, serves multiple critical functions as outlined below:

Immune Support: Zinc contributes significantly to the proper operation of the immune system. It assists in managing immune cell activity, fosters the creation of antibodies, and aids in wound healing and infection control.

Cell Growth and Division: Cell division and growth, pivotal for healthy growth and development, heavily relies on zinc. This is especially relevant during infancy, childhood, and adolescence.

Protein Production: Zinc is crucial for protein synthesis. This has wide-reaching implications for body functions such as muscle growth and repair, enzyme activity, and hormone creation.

Gene Expression: Zinc influences gene expression by aiding in the activation and deactivation of genes involved in numerous physiological operations.

Taste and Smell Functions: Zinc is integral to properly functioning taste and smell receptors. Adequate levels of zinc are required to maintain healthy tasting and smelling capacities.

Wound Healing: By fostering collagen synthesis, cell proliferation, and immune function, zinc is actively involved in wound healing processes.

Reproductive Health: Zinc's importance extends to reproductive health and fertility for both genders. It plays a role in sperm production, hormone regulation, and fetal development during pregnancy.

Antioxidant Defense: As an antioxidant, zinc helps defend cells from oxidative damage by neutralizing harmful free radicals. This reduces the risk of diseases related to oxidative stress.

The Role of Iron

They not only have low levels of zinc but also exhibit a deficiency in bioavailable iron, specifically heme iron. While the body can convert non-heme to heme iron, this process can be burdensome and inefficient, with not all non-heme iron utilized effectively.

Iron is an indispensable mineral that fulfills several vital functions in the body. Below are the primary reasons highlighting the importance of iron:

Oxygen Transport: Iron's fundamental job is transporting oxygen in the bloodstream. It's a crucial part of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells, which captures oxygen in the lungs and distributes it across the body's tissues. Insufficient iron levels can disrupt tissue oxygen supply, resulting in fatigue, weakness, and reduced physical capability. Vitamin supplements, specifically those containing iron, can help correct deficiencies and improve oxygen transport in the body.

Energy Production: Iron plays a significant role in producing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the cell's energy currency. As a cofactor for enzymes in cellular respiration, iron aids in energy generation from nutrients.

Immune Function: Iron's presence is critical for the immune system's effectiveness. It facilitates the growth and function of immune cells like lymphocytes and macrophages, which are key in combating infections and pathogens.

Brain Function: Iron is vital for proper brain development and functioning. It aids in creating neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, which are crucial for regulating mood, behavior, and cognitive abilities.

Temperature Regulation: In thermoregulation, iron assists the body in maintaining a consistent internal temperature through heat production and dissipation mechanisms, which is essential across various environmental conditions.

DNA Synthesis: Necessary for DNA synthesis, iron supports cell division, growth, and repair, especially in fast-reproducing tissues like the bone marrow and gastrointestinal tract.

Detoxification: Iron contributes to metabolizing drugs, toxins, and other harmful substances in the body. It is involved in enzymatic reactions that neutralize and remove these substances, supporting the body's detoxification process.

Pregnancy and Fetal Development: During pregnancy, iron becomes even more critical due to the increased blood volume and oxygen requirements of the mother and developing fetus. Iron deficiency can lead to anemia and heighten the risk of complications for both mother and child.

The Role of Sulfur

Contrary to widespread belief, plant-based diets have low sulfur content, even though this is essential. Sulfur-rich vegetables such as garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables are included in these diets, but they are notably deficient in specific amino acids like taurine, cysteine, carnitine, and methionine. These amino acids play an essential role in detoxifying the body by aiding in removing heavy metals.

Protein Quality

Protein quality varies significantly, mainly due to the following factors:

Complete Protein Profiles: Animal-based protein sources, including meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, typically provide a full array of the nine essential amino acids. These are vital for our bodies since they cannot be synthesized internally and must be ingested through our diet. Ensuring a proper balance of these amino acids is crucial for supporting muscle growth, repair, and overall bodily functions.

Bioavailability Concerns: Proteins derived from animal sources generally offer greater bioavailability. This means they are more accessible for the body to digest, absorb, and utilize than their plant-based counterparts. Part of this enhanced digestibility stems from the amino acids found in animal proteins, and the absence of anti-nutrients, sometimes present in plants, may impede protein absorption.

Concentrated Protein Levels: Animal foods often boast a higher protein content per serving than most plant-based options. This increased concentration allows individuals to fulfill their protein requirements more efficiently without consuming large food portions.

Muscle Protein Synthesis Efficiency: Some studies indicate that animal-based proteins might have a superior edge in promoting muscle protein synthesis – the pivotal process for muscle growth and repair after exercise. A contributing factor is the higher amount of leucine, an essential amino acid that plays a crucial role in this synthesis process, found in animal proteins.

Nutrient Richness: Beyond protein, animal-based foods are rich in other critical nutrients like iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Plant-based diets offer these same nutrients but often in a form less readily absorbed by the body. Including these nutrients is vital for maintaining comprehensive health and wellness, including weight loss.

When considering the balance of macronutrients, plant-based diets can sometimes present a disproportionately high carbohydrate-to-protein ratio. This could potentially influence blood sugar levels over time if not carefully managed. In summary, while plant and animal proteins differ in complete proteins, bioavailability, concentration, effectiveness in muscle-building, and associated nutrient densities, it's essential to consider individual dietary needs and preferences when choosing protein sources for a balanced diet.

Essential Nutrients in Omnivorous Diets

When following a plant-based diet, additional nutrients to be mindful of due to potential deficiencies or challenges in maintaining adequate levels include vitamin D, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient with several critical functions in the human body. Key benefits and roles of Vitamin D are:

Calcium Absorption: Vitamin D is integral in managing calcium absorption within the intestines. A sufficient amount of Vitamin D is needed to efficiently absorb calcium, thereby maintaining optimal calcium levels in the bloodstream. This process is crucial for robust teeth and bones.

Bone Health: Vitamin D helps in the deposition and mineralization of calcium in bone tissues, thereby significantly enhancing bone health. It aids in maintaining bone density and strength, reducing potential risks of osteoporosis, fractures, and other bone ailments, such as rickets and osteomalacia.

Muscle Function: Vitamin D plays an active role in muscle performance by regulating muscle contraction and relaxation. These functions are indispensable for movement, coordination, and balance.

Immune Function: Vitamin D's role extends to modulating the immune system and enhancing immune function. It regulates the production and action of immune cells like T cells and macrophages, safeguarding the body from infections and diseases.

Cell Growth and Differentiation: Vitamin D regulates cell growth, proliferation, and differentiation. It plays a vital role in gene expression modification and cell-signaling pathways in various physiological processes. These processes include cell repair, growth, and apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Inflammation Regulation: Vitamin D possesses anti-inflammatory properties and aids in controlling inflammation within the body. By modulating immune responses and inflammation pathways, it could reduce chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disease risk.

Mood Regulation: Certain studies suggest a correlation between Vitamin D, mood regulation, and mental health. A deficiency in Vitamin D levels has been linked with an increased risk of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and other mood-related disorders.

Cardiovascular Health: Emerging research indicates potential cardiovascular benefits of Vitamin D, including reducing hypertension, heart disease, and stroke risks. It may aid in blood pressure regulation, improve endothelial function, and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the cardiovascular system.

B Vitamins

B vitamins are a crucial group of water-soluble nutrients with myriad roles in maintaining health and functionality in the human body. Here are the key benefits and functions of B vitamins:

Energy Production: B vitamins, notably B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), and B7 (biotin), play a pivotal role in the body's energy metabolism. They assist in converting the carbohydrates, fats, and proteins from our diet into usable energy, fueling various physiological activities, including cellular respiration and ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production, which are crucial for metabolic processes.

Cellular Health and DNA Maintenance: Essential for the health and functionality of cells, B vitamins participate in DNA synthesis and repair, cellular division, and the creation of new cells and tissues. They produce neurotransmitters and signaling molecules critical for effective cell communication and function.

Nervous System Support: Certain B vitamins, such as B1, B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate deficiency), and B12 (cobalamin), are integral for the nervous system's proper operation. They aid in producing critical neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which are vital for mood regulation, cognitive processes, and behavior. Additionally, they contribute to myelin sheath formation, which is crucial for transmitting nerve impulses. Folic acid, also known as B9, is essential for women of childbearing age as it can lower the risk of birth defects in the developing embryo. Vitamin B supplementation can help ensure adequate levels of these essential nutrients for optimal nervous system function and prevent symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, diarrhea, poor growth, and a smooth, tender-feeling tongue. For those following a plant-based diet, it is essential to include fortified foods such as plant-based milk and breakfast cereals to ensure adequate intake of B vitamins and prevent nutrient deficiencies.

Red Blood Cell Production: B6, B9, and B12 vitamins are key players in producing red blood cells within the bone marrow, regulating hemoglobin synthesis. This process is essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body, and vitamin deficiencies can result in anemia and other blood-related conditions.

Immune System Enhancement: B vitamins support robust immune functions by regulating the production and activity of various immune cells, such as T cells, B cells, and natural killer cells. These cells are essential in defending the body against infections and pathogens.

Skin and Hair Health: B vitamins such as B3, B5, and B7 contribute significantly to skin, hair, and nail health by supporting skin cell renewal, collagen production, and sebum generation, which helps moisturize and protect.

Stress Management: B5 and B6 vitamins are mainly involved in the body's response to stress by influencing adrenal gland function and regulating cortisol production, the primary stress hormone. This capability helps the body manage stress and bolster its overall resilience.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential polyunsaturated fats vital for various bodily functions and overall health. Their importance can be highlighted across several key areas:

Heart Health: Omega-3 fatty acids, especially EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), significantly promote heart health and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet. They are known for their cardioprotective properties, including lowering blood triglyceride levels, easing inflammation, enhancing blood vessel function, and reducing hypertension. Additionally, omega-3s aid in preventing arterial plaque accumulation and the formation of blood clots, decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease and higher risk of mortality.

Brain Health and Development: DHA is crucial for brain health. It is highly concentrated in the brain and essential for its optimal function and development. It supports the structure of neuronal membranes, synaptic activities, and neurotransmitter signaling. Ensuring adequate omega-3 intake during pregnancy and early childhood is critical for the brain development of the fetus and infant, influencing cognitive performance and visual acuity. Additionally, studies have shown that folic acid supplementation can decrease the incidence of neural tube defects, making it an important nutrient for pregnant women.

Cognitive Health: Linked to cognitive preservation, omega-3 fatty acids, particularly DHA, may help stave off age-related mental decline and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and dementia. They bolster memory, learning, and executive functions by facilitating neurotransmitter function and preserving neuronal health.

Vision and Eye Health: DHA serves as a primary structural element of the retina, underscoring the necessity of omega-3s for maintaining vision and eye health. Appropriate omega-3 intake during pregnancy and early life correlates with a diminished risk of visual impairments and conditions such as macular degeneration and dry eye syndrome, which can lead to vision loss in later stages.

Inflammation Management: Omega-3 fatty acids exhibit anti-inflammatory effects by modulating the body's inflammation response. They decrease the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines while increasing anti-inflammatory mediators, aiding in the mitigation of chronic inflammation linked to conditions like arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Skin Health: Omega-3s contribute to skin health by enhancing the skin barrier function, reducing inflammation, and promoting hydration. They can also lessen the symptoms associated with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and acne.

Mental Health and Mood: Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA, are associated with enhanced mood and better mental health. By modulating neurotransmitter levels, including serotonin and dopamine, involved in mood regulation, omega-3 supplementation shows promise in alleviating symptoms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and mood swings.


In conclusion, adopting an omnivorous diet offers distinct advantages, particularly when embarking on a mineral balancing protocol, due to its superior nutrient bioavailability and the synergistic interactions among various nutrients. This dietary approach facilitates optimal health by ensuring efficient absorption and utilization of essential minerals and vitamins, such as the cooperative actions between copper, zinc, and iron; protein alongside calcium, zinc, and phosphorus; and B vitamins in conjunction with sodium, potassium, and cobalt, among others.

We have an article that talks about what you shouldn’t do while trying to balance your minerals. Check it out now!

Barbara Madimenos

Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis Practitioner

Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner

Integrative Nutrition Coach

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