Common nutritional deficiencies vegans and vegetarians need to know
There’s lots to love about being vegan or vegetarian. But cutting out meat, poultry and seafood may also mean you’re missing out on some key nutrients.
Even if it’s just a few days a week, you may have decided that going meatless is a healthier option for you and the planet. And you’re certainly not alone.
Stats show almost 2.5 million Australians are now vegan, making us the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world. Many more than that are vegetarian.
While research shows plant-focused diets are naturally high in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fats, sodium and cholesterol (if healthy food choices are made), excluding animal products can leave us susceptible to lacking some important nutrients.
Here are five to look out for.
This vitamin is only found in reliable levels in meat, fish, dairy products and eggs, though you can also get it from fortified products like grains and non-diary milks and in nutritional yeasts.
Low levels of B12 can lead to anaemia, immune systems disorders, weakness, fatigue, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, nerve disorders, vision loss and more, which means supplementation can be helpful for non-meat eaters.
Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency in the world and is more common in vegan or vegetarian women than men, due to blood loss during menstruation.
There are two types of iron – heme, found in animal foods; and non-heme, from plants.
Unfortunately for non-meat eaters, non-heme iron isn’t absorbed as readily by the body as heme iron.
Up your intake of leafy green vegetables, whole grains, lentils, peas and dried fruits, add foods rich in vitamin C to help with absorption and consider an iron supplement.
We need calcium for strong teeth and bones, but this superstar mineral is also essential for heart, muscle and nerve function.
A popular source of calcium is cow’s milk, which is not going to work for those on a vegan diet.
A Belgian study of the calcium intakes of 1475 adults found that vegans were below national recommendations and had lower calcium intakes compared with vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians and omnivores.
Fortunately, calcium is also found in green leafy vegetables, tofu or bean curd, fortified non-diary drinks and nuts, seeds, legumes and breakfast cereals. It can also come via a supplement.
Known as the sunshine vitamin because it’s produced in your skin in response to sunlight, nearly every cell in our body interacts with vitamin D.
It has been shown to reduce inflammation and plays a vital role in bone health by helping the body absorb calcium.
If you don’t get enough vitamin D, you’re at risk of developing bone abnormalities such as soft bones (known as osteomalacia) or fragile bones (osteoporosis).
Foods containing this nutrient include shitake mushrooms and fortified oatmeal, breakfast cereals, almond milk and tofu.
If you’re not getting enough sunlight, particularly in winter, you may need to consider a supplement.
There are two main forms of vitamin D – vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).
Vitamin D2 mainly comes from plant-based foods such as mushrooms.
Vitamin D3 usually comes from animal sources, and is considered more effective at improving your vitamin D levels. Sources including oily fish, liver, butter, egg yolk, while many supplements use D3 derived from the lanolin of sheep’s wool.
An exception is Naturopathica’s vegan vitamin D, which is sourced from lichen.
Vegans and vegetarians need to be particularly aware of zinc, since this mineral’s availability is lower in plant foods than animal foods.
Our bodies don’t store excess zinc, so it has to consumed regularly as part of our diet.
Zinc deficiency can lead to hair loss, impotence, diarrhoea, slow wound healing, abnormal taste and mental fatigue.
While zinc can be found in beans, legumes and whole grains, it’s worth noting that phytic acid found in these plants can actually hinder zinc absorption.
Soak them before use to help combat this and look for a vegan supplement if needed.
What to look for in a vegan or vegetarian supplement
If you’re concerned you may be lacking key nutrients, you may consider taking a good-quality supplement.
As well as the five vitamins and minerals outlined, others to look out for include Omega-3 fatty acids, collagen and glucosamine, and everyday essentials such as magnesium and probiotics.
Naturopathica vegan vitamins cover all these and more, are expertly crafted using 100 per cent certified vegan ingredients that are free from animal products, artificial colours and preservatives, and are packaged using recyclable materials.
Importantly, Naturopathica has received official certification from Vegan Australia, which confirms that its vegan vitamins are free from animal products, not tested on animals and not made using animal products.
If you’re convinced a meat-free diet is right for you, monitoring your intake of key nutrients will help ensure you are glowing with good health!
*Written by Liz McGrath.
This post is brought to you by Naturopathica’s vegan supplement range. Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. Vitamins and minerals can only be of assistance if dietary intake is inadequate.