How being vegan can affect your health

Published April 1, 2014

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People who follow a vegan diet consume only plant foods and avoid all animal products including eggs, dairy and honey. This could be for ethical or environmental reasons or as a healthy lifestyle choice. But while a well‐balanced vegan diet has a number of health benefits, when it isn’t carefully planned it can be missing vital nutrients such as:1

  • Protein.
  • Iron.
  • Calcium.
  • Zinc.
  • Vitamin B12.
  • Vitamin D.

How can I get all the vitamins and minerals my body needs if I’m vegan?

To ensure you get all the nutrients your body needs:

  • Consume enough protein – Protein is essential for many body processes including tissue building and repair. It’s made up of smaller components known as amino acids. Vegans should consume various sources of amino acids throughout the day from legumes such as peas, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, tofu and tempeh and whole grains.1 Quinoa is a particularly good source of plant protein.
  • Boost iron intake – Up to 22% of iron from meat is absorbed compared to only 1‐8% from plant foods.2 This means that vegans need to consume more iron to meet their requirements. Good plant sources of iron include dried fruits, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, seeds, lentils and beans.2Plant‐based iron absorption is improved by the presence of foods rich in vitamin C.
  • Include plant sources of calcium and zinc – Kale, broccoli, parsley, fortified soy milk, tofu and figs are all good sources of calcium for vegans.3 Zinc can be found in tofu, nuts, legumes, wheatgerm and wholegrains.1
  • Consider a B12 supplement – Vitamin B12 is important for the production of red blood cells and helps maintain a healthy brain and nervous system. Because B12 is naturally found in animal products, vegans may be missing out on this essential nutrient. While some vegan products are fortified with B12, a supplement may be beneficial.1
  • Ensure you get enough vitamin D ‐ Get moderate but safe sunlight exposure and consume fortified foods such as milk and butter.
  • Consider a multivitamin – While multivitamins are no substitute for a healthy diet, they may be useful for topping up vitamin and mineral levels and promoting good health.

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