Plant-based diets have been growing in popularity, with influencers and professionals promoting their lavish plant-based lifestyles, however cutting out animal products entirely, leaves your body in deficiencies in crucial essential nutrients that will eventually bring you down.
In this article, we’ll go through the essential vitamins that plant-based diets lack and why your body needs these in order to thrive, survive, and function properly.
WHAT KINDS OF VITAMINS DO VEGANS NEED?
1) VITAMIN B12
Contrary to what some vegans believe, vegetarians and vegans who do not take a vitamin B12 supplement have a higher risk of becoming vitamin B12 deficient. B12 is a very important vitamin responsible for protein metabolism, forming red blood cells, as well as the health of your nervous system. Many studies have confirmed that a deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to nervous system damage, anemia, heart disease, and bone disease.
While some plant foods may naturally carry B12, there is a lot of debate on whether or not the form of B12 is active in humans. Therefore, the best way for vegans to receive the daily recommended amount of 2.4 mcg for adults is to consume foods that are fortified with B12 or take a B12 supplement. The best B12 fortified food sources include soy products, plant milks, nutritional yeast, and some breakfast cereals.
If you are concerned that you are not receiving the adequate amount of daily B12 through fortified foods, it is recommended to take a daily supplement of 25-100 mcg of cyanocobalamin or a weekly dose of 2,000 mcg.
2) VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is known for its role in bone health. According to a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this vitamin plays a vital role in the absorption of calcium, and phosphorus; and also influences mood, immune function, and muscle recovery. The recommended intake for adults is 600 IU or 15 mcg per day. However, there are very few foods that naturally contain vitamin D and foods that are fortified with vitamin D contain insufficient amounts to meet the daily requirements.
It is true that vitamin D can be produced sin your body from sun exposure. However, in order to make adequate amounts of vitamin D you would have to spend 15 minutes each day in midday sun without any sunscreen. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is not recommended by dermatologists due to the harmful effects of UV radiation exposure.
3) OMEGA 3 FATTY ACIDS
There are three types of Omega 3 fatty acids. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which you can only get from your diet, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic (EPA), which can be made from ALA. Plants such as flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and soybeans contain a high amount of ALA. However studies have reported that converting ALA to EPA and DHA may be as low as 0%-5%.
Since these long chain fatty acids play important roles in brain development, preventing inflammation, depression, and breast cancer, it is important to receive the recommended amounts. According to the Medical Journal of Australia, a daily supplement of 200-300 mcg containing EPA and DHA should be adequate. The best way for vegans to achieve this amount of omega 3 fatty acids is to limit intake of omega 6 fatty acids (found in corn oil, soy oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil), consume ALA rich foods, and take a krill oil supplement.
It is no secret that adequate iodine equates to a healthy functioning thyroid, and a healthy thyroid means a well-controlled metabolism. In adults, iodine deficiency leads to hypothyroidism which may manifest itself through weight gain, low energy levels, depression, forgetfulness, and dry skin.
The recommended amount of iodine for adults is 150 mcg per day. Interestingly, the level of iodine in plant foods depend on the iodine content in the soil its grown in. The only types of food that contain high amounts of iodine include seafood, seaweed, dairy products, and iodized salt. The good news is that only half a teaspoon of iodized salt will provide your daily iodine needs. If you do not want to consume iodized salt, then an iodine supplement is recommended.
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common types of anemia. This nutrient is required to help carry oxygen in the blood, make red blood cells, as well as new DNA. The most common symptom of iron deficiency is fatigue and decreased immune function. The recommended daily intake for iron is 8 mg for adult men, and 18 mg for adult women.
It is important to note that there are two different forms of iron, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only found in animal products, while non-heme iron is mostly found in plants. According to the Medical Journal of Australia, heme iron is more readily absorbed than non-heme iron. Therefore, it is often recommended that vegans should aim to consume around two times the normal recommended amount.
Vegans should try to consume as many iron rich foods as possible. This includes peas, cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans. Foods that are fortified with iron such as cereals, plant milks, and some enriched breads may also help. Other ways to boost iron absorption include cooking with a cast iron pan, and consuming iron rich foods with a source of vitamin C. Avoiding foods and drinks that may interfere with iron absorption such as coffee and tea can also help enhance absorption.
In order to find out if you are iron deficient, getting your hemoglobin levels checked with your healthcare practitioner is the best bet. Though iron is an extremely important nutrient, taking unnecessary iron supplements can do more harm than good. Excessive intakes of iron can lead to cell damage as well as interfere with other vitamin and mineral absorption.
Like vitamin D, calcium is equally important in bone and teeth health as well as muscle function, heart health, and nerve signaling. The daily recommended amount is 1,000 mg for adults, and 1,200 mg for adults over the age of 50.
Plant sources such as broccoli, bok choy, kale, watercress, chickpeas, mustard greens, turnip greens, some tofu, and fortified plant milks and juices contain calcium. However, many studies seem to indicate that vegans still do not get enough daily calcium. Vegans who do not consume enough calcium are at risk for increased bone fracture. Therefore, taking a calcium supplement should be considered.
There are very few plant sources that contain zinc. Some studies have indicated that zinc absorption from plants is limited due to the high amounts of phytate. Therefore, vegans are encouraged to consume 1.5 times more than the recommended daily intake of 8-9 mg for adults. Symptoms of zinc deficiency include hair loss, diarrhea, and poor wound healing.
To naturally maximize your zinc intake, consuming foods that are rich in zinc such as whole grains, tofu, wheat germ, legumes, nuts, seeds, and sprouted breads is beneficial. If you have a zinc deficiency taking zinc gluconate or a zinc citrate supplement is recommended.
8) VITAMIN K-12
There are two different forms of vitamin K: vitamin K-1, and vitamin K-2. In general vitamin K helps with blood clotting. Vitamin K-1 is found naturally in plants such as dark, leafy greens. However, K-2 is found dairy and egg yolks.
The bacteria in your gut can turn vitamin K-1 into K-2, and a deficiency in vitamin K is unlikely. However, some vegans choose to supplement their diet with K-2 by taking a vegan probiotic supplement, which may help your gut process vitamin K.
WHAT YOU SHOULD LOOK FOR IN CHOOSING A VEGAN/PLANT-BASED VITAMIN BRAND
When choosing a plant-based vitamin, ensure that their products are in fact plant based and manufactured according to cGMP practices in an FDA inspected facility.
It is also important to look at the amount of vitamin that is present in the vitamin and what vitamins vegans and plant-based athletes are commonly deficient in. Many vitamins contain over the recommended amount. Sometimes, this cannot be avoided. However, choosing vitamins that are as close to the recommended amount is recommended. Taking an excessive amount of vitamins and minerals can lead to other issues.
If you are interested in choosing a multivitamin rather than taking individual supplements, it is important to know what vitamins you are deficient in first. This can either be done by looking at what you're most likely to be deficient in based upon your diet, or by doing a blood test. After you know what vitamins you need, you can then choose a multivitamin that contains those specific vitamins in the recommended amount.
We know that finding a high quality natural multivitamin designed for athletes can be confusing. That's why we created our own multivitamin. No questionable additives and made with 42 fruits & vegetables providing you with vitamins we're most commonly deficient in.
With proper planning, vegans and plant-based athletes can obtain all their nutrition needs. It is always better to get your nutrients from food rather than supplements. However, it may be difficult to consume the recommended amount of nutrients with just foods or fortified foods. With that being said, the vitamins that plant-based athletes especially need to be aware of is vitamin B12, vitamin D, and long chain omega-3 fatty acids.
It is important to remember that taking unnecessary supplements is not recommended. Excessive intake of any vitamin or mineral can cause other problems including nutrient absorption interference.
If you are concerned about any nutrient deficiencies talk to your healthcare provider to get tested and choose supplements that will best suite your needs. Along with consuming the appropriate foods, supplements are a great bonus boost (not replacement) to help fulfill your dietary needs.