What Nutrients Do Vegans Lack?
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
In recent years, veganism has grown in popularity as more people focus on their health, readjust their ethical beliefs, and consider the environmental impact of animal product production.
With more people following a vegan diet, it’s essential to look at all aspects of how the diet impacts an individual's health. Several studies have pinpointed beneficial effects of a vegan diet on human health, such as lower incidence of:
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
However, specific nutrient deficiencies could result in adverse health implications.
Studies show that participants following a vegan diet are more likely to show deficiencies in macro and micro-nutrients, like iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, calcium, long-chain n-3-fatty acids, vitamin B12, vitamin B2, and vitamin D.
Keep reading to learn which nutrients vegans should or need to supplement.
There is a belief that vegans who eat enough of the right plant-based foods receive enough vitamin B12 in their diet. However, B12 is a vital nutrient whose intake should be adequately monitored.
Vitamin B12 is essential for several bodily processes, such as:
The formation of red blood cells
Maintaining a healthy nervous system
A diet lacking in vitamin B12 can cause anemia, nervous system damage, infertility, and bone and heart disease.
The daily recommended intake of vitamin B12 for a healthy adult is 2.4 mcg.
If you follow a vegan diet, the only scientifically proven way to consume enough vitamin B12 is by eating fortified foods and/or taking a supplement. Common vitamin B12 fortified foods include:
You can also take a vitamin B12 supplement or a vitamin B-complex vitamin, ensuring you receive a well-rounded dose of essential vitamin B nutrients.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble and helps enhance the absorption of calcium and phosphorous from your gut. It also influences other bodily functions, such as:
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for adults is 600 IU. However, some evidence leads some to believe that the daily requirement is far greater than the current RDA. It’s also essential to point out that vitamin D deficiency is very prominent in vegans and omnivores, suggesting that vitamin D supplementation may benefit most of the population.
Vegans can receive vitamin D by exposing themselves to sunlight, consuming fortified foods, or taking supplements.
The best way to ensure you receive enough vitamin D in your lifestyle is to have your blood levels tested regularly. Those unable to get enough vitamin D from their diet should strongly consider taking a daily vegan vitamin D3 supplement.
Before we get into what long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are, we must explain that there are two categories of omega-3 fatty acids.
Essential omega-3 fatty acids – comprised of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); it’s essential, meaning you can only receive it through your diet; your body doesn’t naturally produce it
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids – include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); they aren’t considered essential because your body can synthesize them from ALA
EPA and DHA play a vital role in the development and health of your brain and eyes. Adequate levels also seem to reduce the risk of inflammation, depression, breast cancer, and ADHD.
Plants with high concentrations of ALA include:
Vegans typically don’t receive enough of the vital EPA and DHA because most long-chain omega-3s are found in fatty fish and fish oil. While ALA can be synthesized into EPA and DHA, studies estimate that the conversion of ALA to EPA can be as low as five to ten percent, while the conversion of ALA to DHA is as low as two to five percent.
Luckily, vegans can increase their EPA and DHA levels by supplementing with algae oil. They should also minimize their intake of omega-6 fatty acids, which come from corn, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils. And don't forget to maximize the intake of ALA-rich foods.
Should vegans take iron? Yes!
Everyone needs iron to make new DNA, the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your bloodstream and body, and for energy metabolism.
Low iron levels can cause anemia. With symptoms like fatigue and decreased immune function, you’ll want to ensure that your iron levels are always up to par.
The recommended daily allowance for adult men and post-menopausal women is 8 mg. However, this increases to 18 mg for menstruating adult women and 27 mg for pregnant individuals.
The two forms of iron include:
Heme – found in animal products
Non-heme – found in plant matter
Heme iron is more easily absorbed from the foods you eat than non-heme iron. Thus, it’s recommended that vegans try to consume 1.8 times their normal recommended daily allowance.
Iron-rich plant-based foods include:
Some foods, like cereals, enriched breads, and specific plant-based milks, may also be fortified with iron. You may also supplement with vitamin C to increase your body’s ability to absorb iron.
If you are unsure if your iron levels are adequate, ask your doctor to test your hemoglobin and ferritin levels. It’s essential to note that just as too little iron in your diet can lead to health problems, too much can damage cells and block the absorption of other minerals.
Calcium is needed for good bone and teeth health and plays a role in muscle function, nerve signaling, and heart health.
The recommended daily allowance for most adults is 1,000 mg and 1,200 mg for those over 50.
Plant sources of this mineral include:
Fortified plant-based milks
Most studies conclude that most vegans do not receive enough calcium in their diet. In fact, there’s evidence that suggests vegans who consume less than 525 mg of calcium a day tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures.
This mineral is vital for metabolism, immune function, and cell repair. If your diet lacks enough zinc, it can lead to developmental issues, diarrhea, hair loss, and compromised wound healing.
The recommended daily allowance for adults is 8-11 mg, 11-12 mg for pregnant individuals, and 12-13 mg for those who are lactating.
A review of 26 studies revealed that vegans typically have lower zinc intake and lower blood levels than omnivores.
Zinc-rich food includes:
(Miso may increase absorption)
If you cannot consume enough zinc through your diet, you may take a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement. These supplements can provide as much as 50 to 100% of the recommended daily allowance.
Your body needs iodine for proper thyroid function, which controls your metabolism.
An iodine deficiency in early pregnancy and infancy can cause irreparable intellectual disability.
Deficiency in adults can cause hypothyroidism. Symptoms of this condition include:
Tingling in your hands and feat
Studies show that, on average, vegans have up to 50% less iodine in their blood than vegetarians.
The recommended daily allowance of iodine for adults is 150 mcg, 220 mcg for pregnant individuals, and 290 mcg if you are breastfeeding.
Unfortunately, there is no way to know if the plant-based food you are consuming contains adequate levels of iodine because the iodine levels in plants depend on the iodine content of the soil they were grown in.
The only foods considered to consistently contain adequate levels of iodine are:
Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodized salt is enough to meet your needs. However, if your lifestyle requires a low-salt diet, strongly consider an iodine supplement.
Vegan Meal Delivery Services
At Salads 2 Your Door, we provide various options for all sorts of dietary needs. If you’re vegan and looking for healthy meal delivery in St. Louis or Kansas City, you’ve come to the right place.
We understand how frustrating and challenging it can be to always be on top of your health goals. Whether it’s making time to go grocery shopping or meal prepping for a busy week, we know that these things can easily fall by the wayside and make way for some not-so-healthy choices.
We care about your journey. Whether you’re vegan or not, we can accommodate your specific needs and wants to ensure that you receive the perfect salads for a perfect week.
Visit our website and check out our different meal plans, see what’s best for you, and sign-up today for a monthly subscription to receive full-meal salads that will crowd out the junk and leave you feeling healthy, satisfied, and ready to take on the world!