One of the more common misconceptions and ignorances about the vegan diet is that your food must be incredibly dull. Sure, how exciting can plant foods be, right?
As a vegan, that’s probably one of the most annoying questions to have to deal with. While it’s actually very easy to create mouthwatering recipes, the area of vitamins and minerals is something you have to pay close attention to.
When I first started my own lifestyle change, I did struggle a bit with getting enough vitamin B12 and D, as well as calcium, iron, and zinc.
Yes, it takes a bit more planning to get these essential nutrients into your body, but with the help of this article, you should be able to better understand what is important and how you can best get them into your diet without any need for animal products.
What Vitamins and Minerals Do Vegans Lack?
Vegans can often lack vitamin B12 and D, as a normal meat-eating diet would actually get them in large enough amounts from animal products. Additionally, there are three common minerals vegans often lack when switching to a plant-based diet, I know as I was one of them.
However, that doesn’t mean that vegans are at a loss here. It all comes down to education, and I want to start by addressing why these vitamins and minerals are so important.
B12 is essential for the creation of new red blood cells and also plays a critical role in your nervous system.
A severe lack of B12 can lead to anemia (a lack of red blood cells), which is generally accompanied by fatigue and being out of breath easily.
The only reliable source of vitamin B12 is through fortified foods, meaning foods that have been enhanced to include vitamins, but I’ll get into more detail on that shortly.
Alternatively, you could opt for a vegan-friendly B12 supplement. You can see this post for some of our top recommendations.
You’ll also hear this referred to as the sunshine vitamin because it’s mainly produced in skin cells while being exposed to sunshine. Doesn’t sound like much of a vegan issue, right?
However, here’s an interesting observation. People have become increasingly cautious about the amount of UV exposure they get due to concerns about skin cancer. In many cases, this can result in a lack of vitamin D, which means it needs to be sourced through your diet in order to keep your bones healthy.
While in the summer months, you can easily get enough of it through some safe sun exposure, it’s definitely a good idea to get some boosts during the winter.
Unfortunately, vitamin D is a bit more difficult to get through plant foods, and even supplements are often not based on animal-free ingredients (more on this below).
Along with B12, iron is absolutely critical for forming new red blood cells. The average adult will need a daily intake of about 15 mg.
That’s quite easy to achieve when you’re an omnivore, and you can choose iron-rich foods like red meat.
But vegans have some excellent natural options in leafy greens like kale and spinach.
But if you’re struggling to keep up with your daily need, then make sure you find iron supplements that contain heme iron, which is derived from plants. You can see this post for some of our recommended vegan iron supplements.
Similar to iron, zinc is abundantly available in meat and dairy produce.
There are very few areas of your body that don’t rely on zinc, with your immune system, hormone regulation, neurotransmitters, and even wound healing heavily relying on a steady stream of zinc.
Fortunately, it’s very easy to get some vegan zinc into you by adding some extra seeds, nuts, tofu, and whole grains to your meal plan.
Here are another 10 vegan food sources that are high in zinc.
Calcium is needed in order to create and repair bone tissue, and a calcium deficiency will eventually lead to brittle bones.
While vegetarians can easily get enough through dairy products and eggs, there are some excellent options for vegans too.
The best things you can add to your diet are broccoli, kale, cabbage, soybeans, and okra. You’ll be surprised how many great dishes you can prepare with these ingredients.
Should Vegans Look For Omega-3 Fatty Acids As Well?
When I spoke to my dietitian about this blog post, particularly this question, she confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids are indeed important nutrients for vegans. EPA and DHA are usually abundantly found in fish.
Obviously, fish is not exactly an option for you, but there is a solution.
One of the essential fats that you need to get through your diet is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), and you’ll be glad to hear that there are quite a few great sources of ALA that are very much vegan-friendly.
Now, here’s the even better news. Your body will actually break down ALA into the Omega-3s called EPA and DHA, which sounds like just a load of acronyms, but is actually quite important.
The bad news here is that vegan DHA/EPA capsules are by far the most expensive supplement that vegans commonly take. While a day’s worth of B12 can cost less than a penny, and your day’s chia seeds only a few cents, two DHA/EPA capsules can set you back about 50 cents.
- Ginny Messina, Blogger
Essentially, it means that by eating some extra chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts, you can boost your ALA intake and ultimately get all the Omega-3 you will need. However, if you really struggle with getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, I suggest getting yourself some vegan-friendly supplements.
Personally, I love adding chia seeds to my breakfast and hemp seeds to my salads as they actually add quite a nice flavor as well. And ultimately, that extra Omega-3 will help with your heart and immune health, as well as general brain function.
Natural Sources Of Vegan Vitamins
Any dietitian will tell you that it’s best to get as much of your nutritional needs by eating a healthy and balanced diet. For vegan diets, there are only a few plant-based sources of B12 and D that you should try to maximize before you start looking at supplements.
This really is a tough one, and while algae, seaweed, and some types of mushrooms technically have some B12, there are some reservations I have about recommending them.
My dietitian recently pointed me towards some very in-depth research, which has shown that the amount of B12 that the body actually absorbs from these sources is very low.
My main concern is that people will become falsely reliant on them and may still end up anemic.
A solid alternative is a nutritional yeast, which one study has shown to have scientific evidence as being a suitable vegan option.
Anyway, my personal recommendation is to find some good vegan-friendly fortified foods. You can find some organic oatmeal with added B12, but as always, pay careful attention to the label.
This is where vegetarians have it a lot easier as milk and other dairy options are rich in vitamin D. But, the good news is that you won’t find it as difficult as getting B12 into your system.
First of all, spending some extra time in the sun will give you quite a natural boost, but if you’re concerned about damage to your skin or the lack of sunshine in the winter, then tofu and mushrooms are an excellent option.
You’ll also find some fortified almond and soy milk, which work great with some morning cereal.
You can also opt for a vegan-friendly vitamin D supplement if you really need that extra boost. See this post for our favorite recommendations.
Be Careful When Choosing Supplements
It never stops surprising me how often readers send in comments or emails about a vegan multivitamin they picked up in a regular supermarket, only to look at the label carefully to see it contains some traces of animal products after all.
In some cases, I found that the label actually referred to ground-up bone extract while at the same time having a reference to veganism on the front of the packaging.
So, before you blindly trust the label you see on packaging, do some extra research to make sure you really are getting a multivitamin for vegans. You can check this list of plant-based multivitamins.
Considerations For Different Ages
At different times in our lives, our nutrition requirements can significantly change. Adults obviously need larger volumes, but children have significantly changing needs as they go from early childhood through teenage years.
One thing I would recommend for kids is to find a vegan multivitamin that is specifically designed with a lower dose of vitamins and minerals. Too much of a good thing can quickly lead to stomach upset and cramping.
Also, look out for products that are high in vitamin D and calcium, as these are critical ingredients for bone formation.
Men and women will also have different needs, and it can be annoying to work out whether you need a smaller dose than what’s recommended on the bottle.
That’s why I always suggest that you buy a gender-specific option to avoid taking too high amounts. Also, for women, there will be a higher need for vitamin B12 and iron, especially during your period.
When it comes to pregnancy, it should all be about the health and wellbeing of your baby and you. During this time it’s important to keep things very balanced, but at the same time, you need some extra B12 and folic acid.
Fortunately, you can buy a multivitamin for vegans. These vegan vitamins are formulated to support a healthy pregnancy.
Where Do Vegans Get b12 From?
Vegans can get vitamin B12 from nutritional yeast and fortified foods. One of the easiest ways to get enough on a daily basis is through fortified oatmeal, which will set you up for a great start to the day.
What Nutrients Are Hard for Vegans to Get?
Vitamin B12, D, calcium, and iron can be hard for vegans to get through food alone. Once you get used to preparing meals with no animal ingredients, you can get this right, but taking some supplements for more flexibility is always a great idea.
How Does a Vegan Get Vitamin D?
A vegan can get vitamin D by either spending extra time in the sun or by adding more tofu and mushrooms to the meal plan. To be on the safe side, it’s still a good idea to get a boost through a vegan multivitamin.
How Do Vegans Get Omega 3?
Vegan’s can get Omega 3 by eating more chia and hemp seeds as well as walnuts, which provide more alpha-linoleic acid. This is then further processed by the body into EPA and DHA, which are fatty acids that bring a lot of health benefits.
The Bottom Line
Starting vegan diets can be a daunting task, and you certainly have a lot of things to learn about new recipes and all your macronutrients.
But, with the above information, you’re fully equipped to understand that the most critical minerals (iron and calcium), as well as vitamin B12 and D, need to be carefully monitored and added in sufficient quantities to your meal plans.