Nutrients you may be low in if you are VEGAN
While studies have shown that there may be many health benefits to a vegan lifestyle, there may be potential health risks in store if you are not eating the right combination of foods and are not getting all the nutrients your body requires for optimal health.
Documentaries, social media and overall planet and health awareness have increased the popularity of living a vegan lifestyle at a very fast rate over the past decade. While years ago it was difficult to find premade foods or a restaurant that would cater to a vegan lifestyle, now it is more unusual to notfind several animal product free options in both grocery stores and trendy restaurants alike.
And while there is plenty of scientific research that encourages cutting out (or even reducing) animal products from your diet to promote positive changes in your health, there is a risk that you may not be getting optimal amounts of all the essential nutrients your body needs from your food alone.
Organic, pasture raised, high quality meat, fish and eggs provide certain nutrients that are very difficult to get from a plant based way of eating. While I am not suggesting that you need to abandon a vegan lifestyle, you should be aware of what nutrients you could be missing.
Listed below are the top nutrients you might be lacking along with hints of how you can find ways to add them back into your diet.
B12 – Studies show that vegans (and vegetarians) have a higher risk of having B12 deficiency than those who eat meat. Symptoms of deficiency include low energy, muscle weakness, pale skin and mucous membranes. B12 is needed for the formation of normal red blood cells, a healthy nervous system, growth in children and is essential for mental health.
It is mostly found in meat, fish and eggs and is therefore a hard one to get in a vegan diet. Vegan options for B12 sources are either foods that are fortified with B12 such as some plant milks, soy products and breakfast cereals, or supplementation. If you choose to supplement, do your research. Not all supplements are created equal and many have unnecessary (and unhealthy) fillers and additives.
Iron – Iron is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin in bone marrow, for carrying oxygen in the blood and to make new DNA and red blood cells. It is also key for energy metabolism which is why one of the main symptoms of iron deficiency is fatigue. Other symptoms include paleness, headaches and dizziness. While animal sources of iron (heme iron) is more readily absorbable by the body, there are plenty of non-heme, or plant based, sources of iron as well. These include nuts and seeds, beans, lentils, tofu and potato skin.
Omega 3’s – Omega 3’s are one of the essential fatty acids that our bodies need for a variety of functions. They are essential because our body cannot make them – they must be obtained from food. While the best source of Omega 3 is through fish, vegans can get Omega 3 from flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts. There are also many plant based Omega 3 supplements available. Omega 3 is an important fatty acid that increases blood flow, can improve symptoms of depression, is beneficial for the skin, lowers blood pressure and is essential for a healthy brain among other things. Omega 3’s are also anti-inflammatory which can protect the body from many inflammation related diseases.
Vitamin D – This is a very common deficiency in all people whether you are vegan or not. Most of our vitamin D is manufactured by our bodies via cholesterol in our skin when it is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is responsible for regulating calcium and phosphorous metabolism and normal calcification of our teeth and bones. It is also helpful in maintaining the nervous system, normal blood clotting and supports a health immune system. Best sources of vitamin D are fatty fish, beef liver, eggs and cheese which again is not in a vegan’s favour. If you are vegan it is best to take a supplement to ensure you are getting enough of this important vitamin. It is important to note that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin meaning it needs to be taken with a source of fat in order for our bodies to properly absorb and use it effectively.
Protein – Last but most certainly not least is protein. Protein is often overlooked by vegans as something to look out for because it is well known that many plant products contain protein. What is often less known is that the majority of plant products do not contain a complete protein profile which is why combining the right types of plant based protein is so very important.
Protein is composed of amino acids – the building blocks of protein. There are 22 amino acids and 9 of them are considered essential, meaning the body cannot make them and they must be obtained from food. Every tissue and organ in the body is made up of protein. It makes up nails, hair, muscles, tendons, ligaments and many other body structures. If our bodies do not take in adequate protein for its needs, it will breakdown our muscles and reassemble those amino acids for growth and healing. Protein also balances blood sugar, can increase energy, increase muscle tone and stabilizes mood.
Deficiency symptoms include excess fluid retention, nausea and dizziness, low immunity, muscle wasting, low hormone levels, dull hair, poor wound healing and more. While the most obvious sources of protein are meat, fish and eggs, protein is also found in beans, grains, nuts and seeds, vegetables and fruit. Combining these plant based items in the right way is what will ensure you are getting the entire amino acid profile that your body needs. Here’s how you do it:
Combine beans with:
-nuts & seeds
Combine brown rice with:
-nuts & seeds
Combine other grains with:
Don’t be fooled that nutrient deficiencies only occur to vegans – even plenty of meat eaters can have significant nutrient imbalances that can lead to a host of health issues. The best way to prevent any nutrient deficiency is to eat a variety of real, whole foods. Eat the rainbow and continuously rotate through different vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and healthy whole grains like brown rice and quinoa.
If you would like help creating a balanced meal plan – whether you are a vegan or not – please check out the services offered on my website at www.besimplyfed.comor send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is no one size fits all method of eating and I would love to help you find the best way of eating that will have you experiencing optimal health.