Veganism is a lifestyle choice that excludes animal exploitation and cruelty. People choose to be vegan for a variety of personal reasons such as for environmental, ethical, or health reasons. Within the framework of veganism, different natures of vegans exist. Some vegans avoid animal products all together, while others don’t mind incorporating certain animal products in their everyday clothing and cosmetics.
There is a wide spectrum of dietary habits paralleling distinctive vegan intents. While there are plant-based vegans who solely consume raw foods limited to fruits, vegetables nuts, and seeds, there are also junk-food vegans that rely heavily on processed vegan foods such as french fries and non-dairy ice cream.
Vegan or omnivore, well-rounded meals are key to successfully reaching the daily vitamin and mineral recommendations. Eating a plant-based diet means being more conscious about reaching the daily recommended amounts to prevent symptoms of vitamin deficiency. That’s why we’ve compiled the most common nutrient pitfalls for vegans below.
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps keeps the body’s nervous system and blood cells healthy as well as helps make DNA and red blood cells. Vitamin B12 prevents megaloblastic anemia which occurs when the body isn’t able to produce enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body.
The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg for adults, 2.6 mcg for pregnant woman, and 2.8 mcg for lactating women. Vitamin B12 isn’t naturally produced within the body and usually found in animal-derived foods making it problematic for vegan and vegetarian diets. Long term vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to nervous system damage, anemia, bone disease, heart disease, and infertility.
Foods rich in vitamin B12 include certain certain mushrooms, nori, spirulina, chlorella, and nutritional yeast. Vitamin B12 fortified foods such as plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals and vitamin B12 supplements are all great options to avoid vitamin B12 deficiency. Most people, regardless of dietary preference, are at risk for deficiency in that vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small doses and less able to be absorbed with age.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an important vitamin that actually functions like a hormone in that it influences the body’s immune system, mood, memory, and even muscle recovery. Naturally produced within the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, Vitamin D also helps the body utilize calcium and phosphorous in the gut as well as help bone growth and bone remodeling.
The recommended daily allowance of Vitamin D for both children and adults is 600 IU per day. Pregnant women, lactating women, and the elderly should try to reach 800 IU per day. Vitamin D deficiency can often lead to rickets in children, osteomalacia in adults, and osteoporosis in the elderly.
Foods rich in vitamin D include mushrooms, tofu, orange juice, fortified plant-milks, and plant-derived supplements. Vitamin D deficiency is a world wide phenomenon for both vegans and omnivores as few foods naturally contain vitamin D. The increased use of sunscreen and lack of sun exposure can bring about symptoms of fatigue, tiredness, bone loss, depression, and muscle pain.
Calcium is a necessary mineral for both bones and teeth. Calcium also plays an important role in muscle function, nerve signaling, and heart health. The recommended daily allowance for calcium is 1,000 mg for most adults. A calcium deficient diet can often lead to an increased risk in bone fracture. Most calcium supplements come contain vitamin D and magnesium to help absorption.
Calcium can be found in a variety of plant sources including broccoli, butternut squash, bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, and collard greens. Calcium can also be found in beans, chickpeas, fortified plant milks, or juices.
4. Essential Omega 3
Essential fatty acids are important for maintaining heart health and controlling inflammation. These essential omega-3 fatty acids are not produced by the body and can only be attained through proper diet.
Foods rich in omega 3’s include chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, soybeans, canola oil, tofu, and hempseeds. It’s easy to incorporate a couple walnuts into your diet as well as sneak a scoop of chia seeds into your daily smoothie.
Iron is crucial to make red blood cells and DNA. Iron is essential to carry oxygen into the blood as well as for energy metabolism. The recommended daily allowance for iron is 8 mg for men, 18 mg for women, and 27 mg for pregnant women.
Foods rich in iron include leafy green vegetables, seaweed, whole grains, seeds, tofu, lentils, peas, and dried fruits. Eating iron with vitamin C can help iron absorption so make sure to incorporate citrus fruits along with the consumption of vegetables. Squeezing a lemon or drinking water with lemon during your meal is an easy trick.
Zinc is an important mineral necessary for metabolism, immune function, and cell repair. The recommended dietary allowance for zinc is 8-9 mg for adults, 11-12 mg for pregnant woman, and 12-13 for lactating women.
Foods high in zinc include whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, sprouted legumes, sprouted nuts, and sprouted seeds. Zinc can also be found in fortified foods including breakfast cereals and plant-derived milks. Zinc absorption from plants foods is low due to their phytate content.
Achieving optimal healthy and longevity comes with following a balanced diet. Other common vegan nutritional deficiencies include selenium, iodine, and protein. Check with your doctor to see if you are deficient in any essential nutrients your body may be lacking for maximum daily function. Blood tests can help vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike pinpoint nutritional deficiencies.