One of the most challenging aspects of a vegan diet is to ensure that all your nutritional needs are met despite the elimination of certain types of foods from your diet.
Following a vegan diet means cutting all animal foods such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products. It may seem restrictive and may even be counterproductive without the right knowledge and resources at hand. Studies have shown that vegans tend to have higher levels of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, and manganese compared to conventional diets. At the same time, there are a few key nutrients that aren’t easily found in a
plant-based diet, plus poorly planned vegan diets can contain lower levels of essential nutrients.
Therefore, if you have decided to follow a vegan diet, it is important to identify vegan-friendly sources of these nutrients.
Vegan and vegetarian diets can be hugely beneficial for your health; However, it’s still important to think about exactly what nutrients you need and where you’re getting them from.
Vitamin B12, which is found mainly in food of animal origin, such as meat, fish and poultry, is essential to utilize the iron in our bodies and to release energy from the food we consume.
Experts admit that it may be possible to get enough B12 by intentionally eating foods fortified with the vitamin — nutritional yeast, soymilk and some cereals are a great example. However, for vegans and vegetarians, it’s difficult to consume enough vitamin B12 in the diet as there are only few plant-based sources.
To avoid deficiency, it’s important that anyone following a plant-based diet takes a daily vitamin B12 supplement or consumes foods fortified with the essential vitamin.
Vitamin D is the only vitamin that our body can produce independently. It is synthesized in reaction to sun exposure, that’s why this nutrient is also commonly called “vitamin of the sun”.
Vitamin D is actually a cluster of vitamins: vitamin D2 and D3 are the two most common vitamin D types found in diets — the former found in fortified foods like breakfast cereal and mushrooms, while the latter can only be found in animal products such as egg yolk, liver, butter, and fish oil.
How to get Vitamin D on a vegan diet?
Theoretically, you can activate all the Vitamin D you need just by exposing your skin to the sun. However, vitamin D tends to break down quite quickly, meaning that body stores can run dangerously low over the winter, especially in parts of the world that are frequently overcast and particularly in people with darker skin tones.
Vegan sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals and some types of mushroom.
However, most natural food sources don’t contain enough vitamin D to meet the daily recommended requirements without eating very large quantities, which is impractical. This is why the best way to ensure you’re getting enough is to take a daily vitamin D supplement.
Sources of Zinc - Why It Matters for Vegans
Zinc is a mineral that’s crucial for metabolism, immune function, and the repair of body cells. The high phytates content (found in cereals, legumes and seeds) of vegan diets reduces our bodies ability to absorb zinc, making it much more important for vegans to include zinc food sources in their diet.
To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day. These include legumes, tempeh, and tofu, along with many nuts, seeds, and grains.
It can also be derived from a variety of fortified products, like plant-based milk, many kinds of cereal, and even certain meat-substitutes. If you are concerned about your zinc intake you may consider taking a daily supplement that provides 50–100% of the daily recommended requirements.
Obviously, it’s best to speak with your doctor before beginning a new supplement regime.
Vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3
Omega-3s are often overlooked when talking about nutrients and vitamins for vegans, but these long-chain fatty acids are essential for protecting your body against heart disease by curbing inflammation, regulating “good” cholesterol, and reducing blood pressure.
Omega-3 fatty acids are readily available in a wide variety of plant foods. Sources include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, edamame, seaweed, and algae. Other green leafy vegetables and beans also contain small amounts
Is There a Dairy-Free Omega-3 Supplement?
Yes. Omega-3 supplements made from plant sources are free from dairy and all animal products. Many of the best vegan omega-3 supplements are plant-based like algal oil.