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Avoiding Nutritional Deficiencies in a Vegan Diet

Plant-based foods for an increased nutritional intake (Photo from Healthline)

Adopting a vegan lifestyle can have many health benefits. Studies have shown that it can help improve heart health, as well as reduce the risk of diabetes and types of cancer.

Although vegan diets can be highly nutritious, some nutrients are hard to obtain from only consuming plant-based foods. This is mainly due to the fact that vegan diets exclude all animal products which provide many essential nutrients. Therefore, it’s important to be more aware of nutrient intake by eating a range of plant-based foods, in order to maintain health and prevent nutritional deficiencies from occurring.

This article will explore 4 nutrients often excluded from vegan diets, as well as suggest plant-based sources or supplements which may enhance your nutritional intake.

1. Vitamin B12

According to Medical News Today, teenagers and adults need to consume 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12 per day.

As an essential nutrient found in many animal-sourced foods including meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products, vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in developing red blood cells and keeping our nerves and brains functioning.

Diets with no restrictions on animal products predominantly contain sufficient vitamin B12 to meet most nutritional needs. As for a vegan diet, without supplements or nutritious foods, those eating plant-based may often develop vitamin B12 deficiencies. With that being said, research suggests vegetarians also have a high risk of this deficiency, although some vegetarians such as lacto-ovo-vegetarians can consume dairy products and obtain adequate amounts of this nutrient.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiencies include:

  • Weakness

  • Fatigue/soreness

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Psychological disorders

In order to boost vitamin B12 intake, vegans should consider taking supplements or consume foods rich in this nutrient, such as:

  • Soy products

  • Breakfast cereals

  • Plant-based meats

  • Bread

2. Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are a major part of our daily fat intake. These healthy fats provide numerous health benefits and especially contribute to brain and heart health.

Symptoms of omega-3 deficiencies include:

  • Dry skin

  • Swollen, itchy rashes

  • Hair changes

This family of nutrients can not be produced from our bodies and must be consumed from our diet. There are three main types of omega-3s- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from plant sources, and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) from animal sources of food. Even though ALA can be consumed from vegan-friendly sources of food including nuts and seeds, as the conversion rate between the types of omega-3 above is very low, it’s vital to regularly consume foods with omega-3s.

Plant-based foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Plant oils

  • Forfeited foods, including cereals and juices

3. Iron

Iron is an essential dietary mineral needed for many functions in our body, such as oxygen transportation through our red blood cells.

Inadequate iron intake can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, due to the lack of iron preventing haemoglobin production and oxygen delivery to the cells of our body.

Symptoms of iron deficiencies include:

  • Tiredness, weakness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lack of concentration

There are 2 forms of iron- heme and non-heme. Heme iron can only be found in animal products such as in meat, fish and eggs, whereas non-heme iron is found in plant products including nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens. Although iron can be found in both animal and plant products as mentioned above, heme iron is more easily absorbed in our body compared to non-heme iron.

According to Medical News Today, the iron intake for adult males and females are around 8mg and 18mg of iron per day, respectively. However, since non-heme iron is harder to absorb, those under vegan diets should aim to consume twice of the recommended daily intake.

Plant-based iron sources:

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Dried fruits

  • Whole grains

  • Leafy greens

4. Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral often known for helping build and maintain strong bones. It also plays a key role in muscle contraction and the functioning of our cardiovascular system.

As stated by Healthline, adult intake of calcium is 1,000mg per day, with elderly, children, and teenagers requiring higher calcium consumption.

A calcium deficiency can affect different parts of our body including our nails, hair, and skin, and at the same time, heighten the risk of bone-related problems such as bone fractures.

Many people typically associate dairy products as calcium-rich sources of food. However, many plant foods contain this mineral as well, such as:

  • Soy products

  • Beans and lentils

  • Vegetables: broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale

To conclude, a vegan diet may not provide all essential nutrients. In order to avoid nutritional deficiencies, those under a vegan or plant-based diet should be more aware of their nutritional intake, as well as consume alternative plant-based sources to maintain nutrition.


How to avoid deficiencies in a vegan diet -

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids? Explained in Simple Terms -

5 Signs and Symptoms of Omega-3 Deficiency -

Iron-Deficiency Anemia: Symptoms, Causes, and More -

Calcium: Health benefits, foods, and deficiency -

Written by Lorraine Ng

Edited by Cissy So

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