If you’re a vegan or plant-based eater, you can feel great knowing that you’re taking steps towards your healthiest self! However, there are some deficiencies that are common that you should know about. Addressing these with food and supplementation can help you get the most out of your vegan lifestyle!
1. Vitamin B12
Plant-based eaters need to give B12 serious consideration, due to the likelihood of deficiency. As it’s mainly found in animal products, if you are vegan, you have to be extra diligent to make sure that you’re getting enough.
What does vitamin B12 do for you? You need this crucial vitamin to keep your nerves and blood cells healthy, plus to make your DNA!
How do you know if you’re deficient? A blood test will tell you, but some telling symptoms of B12 deficiency include fatigue, poor balance and anaemia. If you’re unsure, always get a blood test because symptoms can be masked by other conditions, or you may be asymptomatic.
Who is most at risk? If you’ve been vegan for a long time, and avoid fortified foods that contain b12. Babies are also at risk when they are breastfed by mothers whose own b12 intake is low.
Product recommendation: Sublingual B12 1000 by Herbs of Gold
When you’re a vegan, it can be easy to load up on plenty of healthy carbohydrates from fruits and veggies, but you need a decent amount of protein too. Protein will help you build muscle when you exercise, and help prevent muscle loss as you get older (sarcopenia). Not only is protein needed for building and repairing your body, it is also a macronutrient that helps keep you fuller for longer.
Some excellent sources of plant-based protein include:
- Black beans
- Hemp seeds
The challenge with relying on plant-based protein sources like above is that they are often incomplete amino sources. This means that they are lacking in one or more of the nine essential amino acids. The easiest way to get around this is to make sure you’re getting a wide variety of sources; make sure to cycle your proteins for the best results.
To get a wide amino acid spectrum in an easy and convenient dose, consider using a supplement!
Product recommendation: Ultimate Plant Protein by b Raw
Vegan or not, iron is essential for all. Women especially are at risk of being low in iron - make sure to get your levels checked! If you're a menstruating woman, you are naturally losing blood each month. As a plant-based eater, you aren't eating the most easily absorbed forms of iron (heme iron), found in red meat, chicken and fish.
What does iron do for you? It's a mineral that is key in the production of red blood cells. In order to maintain life, oxygen needs to be carried from the lungs to the rest of the body, and this is what iron does.
You can consume plant foods that have non-heme iron such as:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Fortified cereals
- Whole grains
- Dried fruit
The challenge is that you need to be consuming quite a lot, as the body doesn't absorb this form of iron as readily as heme iron.
To address deficiency, your doctor may suggest an iron infusion, or suggest supplementation. If supplementing, make sure it's a vegan-friendly product.
Product recommendation: Megazorb Mega Iron by Ethical Nutrients
4. Omega 3
Omega 3 is a tricky one for vegans – why? The predominant source is from oily fish, which is obviously a no-no for plant-based eaters. You can find omega 3s in plant foods like chia seeds, flaxseed oil and hemp oil, but the issue is that these foods are rich in Alpha-Linolenic-Acid (ALA). Your body needs to convert ALA into the semi-essential fatty acids Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Deocosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which it can only do in a very small amounts (less than 1%). A more potent source of EPA and DHA is from fatty freshwater fish like salmon.
Omega 3 is necessary for healthy brain function, bone health, to manage inflammation, and the health of hair, skin and nails. To increase your intake of healthy fats, plant oils can be a useful tool.
Product recommendation: Udo’s Oil 3-6-9 blend
5. Vitamin D3
This is your sunshine vitamin! Again, both vegans and non vegans alike should be making sure to get enough of this crucial vitamin. If you're not getting regular doses of sun, you'll have to supplement, as dietary sources for vegans aren't enough to cover your needs.
What does vitamin D3 do for you? Though it's labelled a vitamin, it acts as a steroid hormone in your body. It has an important role in immunity and the health of bones, muscles and teeth. It also plays a critical role in maintaining a balanced mood - do you find you tend to feel 'down' in the winter months, when the sun isn't shining?
Look for a vegan supplement, as vitamin D3 can be sourced from animals.
Product recommendation: Vitamin D3 1000IU by Blackmores
According to research, vegans are at most risk of calcium deficiencies. As you may know, calcium plays an important role in the health of your teeth and bones. Did you know it also plays a critical role in the health of your muscles and heart?
If you're having muscle aches, spasms and cramps, you might be dealing with early signs of calcium deficiency. Left unchecked, calcium deficiency can turn into hypocalcemia, causing symptoms such as hallucinations, depression, numbness and easy bone fracturing.
Find calcium in these plant foods:
- Dark leafy green vegetables
- Fortified calcium products (like plant milks with calcium added)
It can be difficult to get enough calcium from these plant foods alone. If you want to take calcium as a supplement, there are many options for you. Taking it alongside vitamin D3 is also a great way to enhance the absorption!
Product recommendation: Green Calcium by Green Nutritionals
Being a vegan can give you a new lease on life you never thought you'd have! Plant-based eaters often report greater levels of energy, mood and vitality than ever before. To make your vegan life the best it can be, make sure that you're taking care of the basics, to avoid any deficiencies that might occur down the track. By having a varied diet and using supplementation when necessary, you can enjoy all the benefits the plant-based life has to offer.
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