7 Most Important Nutrients You Need As A Vegan (Part 1)

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Veganism is great. It saves animals lives, helps prevent environmental destruction and has tons of health benefits.

However, a vegan diet can be lacking in certain nutrients, unless you plan it well. Want to make sure you are nutritionally covered? Keep reading! 

Here are 7 nutrients that vegans can commonly miss out on

plus: what you can do to avoid deficiencies. 

NOTE: The recommended levels that I state are based on UK dietary recommendations. Dietary recommendations vary from country to country, therefore you should check what your local guidelines are. Also, speak with your Healthcare Professional before taking any supplements, as they can confirm if they are suitable and necessary for you.

 

1. VITAMIN B12

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria and it's important for the proper functioning of the nervous system. Deficiency can lead to anaemia and irreversible nervous system damage, therefore getting sufficient amounts of this vitamin is crucial!

Where does vitamin B12 come from? Back in the day, plants used to be covered in B12 because the soil they grew in which was rich in bacteria, produced vitamin B12. These days, with strict sanitation procedures in place at farms (which is understandable for health and safety reasons), plants are devoid of this vitamin. Meat also contains vitamin B12 and therefore many people think they have to eat meat. However, the only reason meat contains vitamin B12 is because animal feeds are supplemented with vitamin B12. Animals have to get vitamin B12 from bacteria, just like us. Therefore, it’s fully possible to skip the meat, where the vitamin has been filtered through an animal's body, and just take a supplement yourself (if you’re vegan).  

 

How much do I need and where can I get it?

The daily recommendation is 1.5 micrograms. However, it’s recommended by the UK Vegan Society to take a supplement of 10 micrograms per day. The bioavailability (how well you absorb it) can vary from person to person, so a higher dose ensures you are covered. However, as mentioned, dietary guidelines can vary. For example, in Germany, the recommended intake is 3 micrograms per day.

An alternative to supplementation is to eat vitamin B12 fortified products, such as fortified plant milk, nutritional yeast and cereals. A minimum of 3 micrograms per day from food is necessary to get sufficient amounts. Therefore it’s important to check how much vitamin B12 is in the products as this can vary. Many find that taking a supplement is easier than relying on fortified foods.  

 

2. IRON

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Iron is important for the normal production and functioning of red blood cells and transportation of oxygen around in the body. Iron deficiency symptoms include tiredness, fatigue and poor concentration. Not much fun!

Iron deficiency is unfortunately very common and affects both vegans and non-vegans. But don’t worry, you can get more than enough iron on a vegan diet.

 

How much do I need and where can I get it?

The daily recommended amount for adults is 8.7 mg per day for men and 14.8 mg per day for menstruating women.

Good sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa, molasses and fortified breakfast cereal.

 

Coffee induced iron deficiency??

Several factors influence iron absorption. For example, coffee and tea reduce iron absorption. However, vitamin C helps to increase iron absorption. It can be a good idea to combine iron-rich foods with vitamin C to help your body absorb more iron. Good sources of vitamin C include red pepper, broccoli, strawberries, kiwi cabbage or a glass of orange or grapefruit juice. Try to avoid having coffee or tea with your iron-rich meals.

Feeling tired all the time? For my ladies out there, have you missed your period? Do you get dizzy when you stand up? If you have the slightest suspicion that you might have low iron levels, don't hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor! They can do a blood test to confirm if you need extra iron, or possibly a supplement, to get your iron levels back up again.   

 

3. IODINE

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Iodine is important for the production of thyroid hormones. You might be thinking “What the heck is that?”. Thyroid hormones are produced in the thyroid gland located in the neck. These hormones are super important as they act on almost every cell in the body. For example, they help to regulate and increase metabolism, protein synthesis and bone growth and are crucial for overall health.

Iodine deficiency can lead to fatigue, feeling cold and unexpected weight gain. Iodine deficiency is actually quite common in certain areas of the world, which is why some countries have iodised salts.

 

How much do I need and where can I get it?

In the UK the recommended amount is 140 micrograms per day.

The amount of iodine present in plant foods varies a lot and is dependant on the soil the plants grow in. The only plant which has a high iodine content is seaweed, however, sometimes the levels are too high and it's not advisable to eat too much seaweed. As mentioned, some salts are also iodised, however, it’s recommended to keep salt intake low. Therefore iodised salt is not a reliable way to get enough of this mineral.  

Iodine supplementation is arguably the most reliable way to get safe and adequate amounts of iodine for vegans. Speak with your doctor to check if you need a supplement.

 

4. ZINC

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Zinc is important for growth (think skin, hair and nails) and to support your immune system. Luckily, you can get enough zinc on a vegan diet.

How much do I need and where can I get it?

The recommended intake is 7mg for women and 9.5mg for men. Good sources of zinc include chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, lentils, walnuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa and wholemeal bread. Make sure to include these foods in your diet. If you do not normally eat these foods, check if you need a supplement.

Want to know the remaining 3 important nutrients you need, plus a bonus vitamin? Read part 2 here

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Need food inspiration? Look no further...

Your recipe book is here! Full of quick and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes, you will be blown away by how easy and satisfying a plant-based lifestyle can be!