vegan holding a bunch of green veggies

How to Combat Nutritional Deficiencies in a Vegan Diet

Diet trends come and go, but veganism is here to stay. According to The Vegan Society, veganism is not just a diet, but a lifestyle that seeks to eliminate the use of all animal products from food, clothing, medicine, and entertainment. Vegan diets have been gaining popularity in recent years, but in 2020 alone there was a 40% jump in veganism in the UK1. At the start of 2020, around 1.1 million Brits were following a vegan diet. Recent reports estimate about 1.5 million people, or 3% of the population, are now ditching meat and dairy for plant-based alternatives.

When making such drastic changes in your diet, it is important to ensure you are still receiving the nutrients you need. Since many of our necessary nutrients are found in meat and dairy products, it is common to experience nutritional deficiencies when implementing a vegan diet. Luckily, there are vegan sources you can utilize to supplement these nutrients and thrive in your new lifestyle.

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 creates DNA. That means it is essential for keeping your blood cells, nerves, brain, skin, and nails healthy. Vitamin B-12 also prevents anemia, birth defects, vision problems, osteoporosis, and depressive symptoms2. Unfortunately, it is a challenge for vegans to get enough of it in their diets since it is mainly found in animal products such as meat, eggs, and yogurt. Insufficient levels of vitamin B-12 can result in anemia, fatigue, weakness, and constipation.

Getting More Vitamin B-12

The solution is simple. Per the National Health Service, adults should be getting 1.5 micrograms of vitamin B-12 each day3. To start, you can take vitamin B-12 supplements like our Puro Vitamin B12, which provides you with 40,000% of your daily recommended dose in a single capsule. Or, you can incorporate more vitamin B-12 dense foods into your diet such as legumes, leafy greens, nutritional yeast, and sunflower seeds.

Vitamin D3

Vitamin D3 works in conjunction with calcium to keep our bones, teeth, and muscles strong. While we get most of our vitamin D3 from soaking up the sun, spending time indoors and regularly wearing sunscreen has us relying on foods such as fish and egg yolks to help us meet our daily dose of this essential nutrient. Low levels of vitamin D3 can leave you susceptible to a painful bone condition called osteomalacia.

Getting More Vitamin D

To reach your recommended 10 micrograms of vitamin D3 each day3, you can take a supplement or spice up your meals with wild mushrooms and fortified soy milk, orange juice, cereals, or oatmeal.  

Iron

Iron is a crucial component of hemoglobin which assists red blood cells in carrying oxygen from our lungs to all parts of our bodies. In food, iron comes in two forms – heme iron and non-heme iron4. Heme iron is found in animal flesh and non-heme iron is found in plant products. However, non-heme iron is much harder to absorb so we must consume more of it to obtain adequate levels of iron. An iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which is a lack of healthy red blood cells distributing oxygen throughout your body. You may experience fatigue, weakness, dizziness, pale skin, or cold hands and feet.

Getting More Iron

Taking iron supplements is an easy way to reach your daily dose of iron. National Health Services suggest men get 8.7 mg per day and women get a slightly higher 14.8 mg to account for blood loss during menstruation3. However, Vitamin C assists in iron absorption, so consider adding it to your regime to make the most of the iron sources you already have! Vegan sources of iron consist of cooked spinach, pumpkin seeds, tofu, beans, dried fruit, nuts, and fortified breakfast cereals5.

Iodine

Iodine is a mineral found in food that is responsible for producing thyroid hormones. However, a study out of the Laboratory of Human Nutrition in Zürich shows that 2 billion people globally are not getting enough iodine6. Inadequate levels of iodine can cause goiter, or swelling of the neck, hypothyroidism, cognitive impairment, and slowed metabolism. The consequences are especially severe if you are pregnant.

Getting More Iodine

Iodine is commonly found in seafood, but there are vegan-compliant ways to secure the recommended 140 micrograms of iodine each day3. Iodine supplements are widely available. Also, try adding seaweed or a sprinkle of iodized salt into your next recipe – both are great sources of iodine!

Calcium

We all remember our parents giving us big glasses of milk to have strong teeth and bones – and they were right! Calcium, commonly found in dairy products, is essential for building and maintaining strong bones, proper muscle function, and hormone release. Without adequate calcium, our bones can weaken leaving us prone to osteoporosis and fractures.

Getting More Calcium

Since the most common sources of calcium are not compliant with a vegan diet, we have to find other ways to get our recommend 700 mg of calcium3. Calcium is commonly found in multivitamins and taking one each day can help fill multiple nutritional gaps. Luckily, there is an abundance of vegan, calcium-rich foods you can include in your meals such as soybeans, tofu, tempeh, beans, chickpeas, seaweed, oranges, and blackberries. With so many options, you’re bound to find recipes you love that are jam-packed with all the calcium you need!

Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is one of three omega-3 fatty acids. DHA is found in every cell of your body which means it plays a major role in the health of your skin, brain, eyes, and heart. Our bodies cannot produce DHA so we solely rely on our diets to obtain it. Without proper levels of DHA, your cells cannot communicate with each other as quickly or as efficiently. You may have a DHA deficiency if you notice problems with your hair, skin, or nails, fatigue, trouble concentrating, joint pain, hives, or eczema7.

Getting More DHA

Consuming adequate levels of DHA can be a challenge for vegans because DHA is mainly found in fish and fish byproducts. Omega-3 enriched food such as walnuts, soybeans, grapeseed oil, tofu, and algae can boost your DHA intake to the recommended 100 mg per day3.

 

References

[1] Chiorando, M. (2021, January 8). Number Of Vegans In Britain Skyrocketed By 40% In 2020, Claims Survey. Plant Based News. Available at: https://plantbasednews.org/culture/ethics/vegans-in-britain-skyrocketed/.

[2] Berkheiser, K. (2018, June 14). 9 Health Benefits of Vitamin B12, Based on Science. Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-b12-benefits.

[3]3 National Health Service. (n.d.). NHS Choices. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/

[4] Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health. (2020, October 19). Iron. The Nutrition Source. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/iron/

[5] Lewis, D. E. (2021, January 11). Heme Iron vs Non-Heme Iron in Foods. Hemochromatosis Help. https://hemochromatosishelp.com/heme-iron-vs-non-heme-iron/

[6] Zimmermann M. B. (2011). The role of iodine in human growth and development. Seminars in cell & developmental biology, 22(6), 645–652. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.semcdb.2011.07.009

[7] Bjarnadottir, A. (2019, May 28). DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid): A Detailed Review. Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/dha-docosahexaenoic-acid#early-life.