Once upon a time, people who relied on plants to fuel their bodies were seen as hippies or lunatics. For centuries, we have been a nation of meat-eaters. After decades in which the number of people choosing to cut out animal products from their diet has steadily increased, being a vegan or plant-based muncher is no longer looked down upon.
On the contrary, these days being a vegan is the new trendy way of living. What was once a difficult-to-maintain lifestyle is now as easy as walking into your favorite store and picking the foods you love. From bleeding burgers and sausage rolls to cheeses and icecreams, everywhere you look right now, there is a vegan alternative to the foods previously laden with animal products.
As veganism and vegetarianism have become more mainstream, the world has made it easier for us to stick to this new style of living. More and more restaurant owners are starting to see the importance of catering to our plant-based needs.
This, however, doesn’t mean deficiencies in vitamins and minerals are history. Whether you have been a plant-based muncher for years or just starting your adventure questions related to adequate nutrition are likely to pop up in your head and the heads of people surrounding you.
I have probably been asked a million times if I am getting enough protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B12 on a vegan diet. The answer is YES! And it is actually easier then you might think.
Aside from vitamin B12, which is naturally absent in plant foods, plant-based munchers will not need supplementation and get enough of all vital nutrients through eating a well-balanced vegan diet. Experts in the field all agree on this.
“Although nutrient deficiency is a primary concern for many people when considering plant-based eating, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics states that “vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”
A well-balanced, plant-based diet is composed of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, and a small number of nuts and seeds.
How to Fix Common Nutrient Deficiencies on a Vegan Diet
Though vitamin B12 is the only micronutrient you should worry about, I’ll leave it out of this list as I have written about my struggle of vitamin b12 in the past.
The only thing I’ll quickly say about it is that plant-based fermented foods and drinks such as kimchi, kombucha, and saurkraut as well as fortified cereals and plant milk and b12 supplements are a crucial topic to research when you decide to join the plant munching tribe.
ALSO READ: Vitamin B12 Deficiency, A Silent Epidemic
Here are 5 Micronutrient Deficiencies Often Associated with a Plant-based Diet and How To Sneak More Of These nutrients Into Your Diet
Iron is one of the main components of hemoglobin, the substance within red blood cells that serves to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Though you might immediately think of red meat when you think of iron, this is not the only source were decent amounts of iron can be found.
There are two forms of dietary iron, heme and non-heme. Heme iron is found only in meat, poultry, seafood, and fish, while non-heme iron is found in plant-based and animal products such as grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds. eggs and dairy products.
Heme iron found in red meat is more easily absorbed than non-heme. Therefore, it’s important to consume a wide variety of iron-rich foods on a plant-based diet.
FYI: caffeinated tea and coffee can make it more difficult for your body to absorb iron while vitamin C increases the absorption.
The recommended daily need for iron is 14.8mg for women between 19-50 years and 8.7mg for women over 50 and men.
Plant-based sources of iron: leafy greens (spinach, kale, collard, etc), legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc), dark chocolate, blackstrap molasses, sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, spirulina, and dried fruit.
ALSO READ: 5 Healthy Alternatives To Coffee You’ll Love
Calcium is another very important and essential nutrient, mostly know to keep our teeth and bones strong. But it is also important for muscle control, blood clotting, and the proper functioning of our nervous system.
Getting enough calcium in your diet is of vital importance to prevent our bodies from extracting it from our bones and teeth. Also, it’s important to get enough vitamin D as it regulates calcium metabolism in the body. Furthermore, to assure excellent bone and teeth health it is also important to get enough vitamin k, vitamin B12, fluoride, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They all play an essential role in bone metabolism.
Though most people believe, milk is the best source of calcium, there are many other calcium-rich foods out there that are 100% plant-based and much better than dairy products.
The recommended daily need for calcium is 700mg per day.
Though many vegans consume foods fortified with calcium, this is not needed. Let’s take a look at some other plant foods rich in calcium.
Plant-based sources of calcium: grains, beans, nuts, seeds, hemp milk, cooked amaranth, kale, collard greens, blackstrap molasses, turnip greens, broccoli, blackstrap molasses, chickpeas, dried figs, dried fruits, green leafy vegetables.
FYI: to increase absorption of calcium, soak or sprout nuts, seeds, grains, and beans first to eliminate phytates as they may inhibit absorption. Also, diets high in sodium (salt), caffeine, and protein may lead to heightened excretion of calcium.
Scroll down for more common nutrient deficiencies on a vegan diet and how to fix them
Iodine is another essential mineral essential to thyroid function. Deficiency can lead to miscarriage and serious problems in children. Though many people believe iodine can be found in sea salt, gourmet salt, and salty foods, this is not the case.
The main plant-based sources of iodine include iodized salt and sea vegetables (seaweed, dried kelp, etc.). Eggs, lima beans, corn, prunes, green peas, and bananas are other sources of iodine.
FYI: a high intake of goitrogens – an antinutrient found in cruciferous vegetables, soy products, flaxseeds, millet, peanuts, peaches, pears, pine nuts, spinach, sweet potatoes, and strawberries – can interfere with iodine absorption. However, there is no need to avoid these goitrogenic foods as long as you add enough iodine to your diet.
And we don’t need a lot of it. Only 150 microgram a day is needed to avoid thyroid issues.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that fights free radical damage. It also plays a vital role in thyroid hormone regulation, reproduction, and DNA synthesis.
The recommended daily need for zinc is 200mg per day.
The main plant-based sources of selenium include crimini and shiitake mushrooms, brazil nuts, barley and other whole grains, sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, mustard seeds, legumes, asparagus, and most other vegetables.
Zinc is another essential micronutrient that supports immune function and wound healing, synthesis of proteins and DNA, and growth and development throughout pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence.
Due to the presence of phytates, the bioavailability of zinc from plants is lower than from animal products.
FYI: certain food preparation methods – such as soaking, sprouting, leavening, and fermenting – will reduce antinutrients and improve the absorption of zinc.
A zinc deficiency can also lead to hair loss, acne or other skin problems, a suppressed appetite, and a weakened immune system.
The recommended daily need for zinc is 8-9mg per day (11mg for men).
Plant-based sources of zinc: legumes, peas, lentils, (soy), pumpkin seeds, whole grains, nuts, sunflower seeds, yeast wheat germ, collard greens, spinach, chickpeas, and corn.
A good reminder of where to find the most important micro- and macro-nutrients on a plant-based diet
FYI: Though there are a lot of contradictory options about soy, given my own expiernces I would recommend staying away from soy products.
ALSO READ: Is Soy Bad For You Or Not?
Thanks for reading. I hope this information was helpful. Until next time!
Crazy cat lady, life and food lover, certified biologist, and holistic health coach.