What vitamins and minerals am I missing on a vegan diet?

Published March 28, 2014

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A well‐planned vegan diet can be healthy and nutritionally adequate. It may even provide a number of health benefits. However, vegans may have lower intakes of certain vitamins and minerals if they aren’t extra careful. These nutrients include:

  1. Vitamin B12– B12 is an essential nutrient that’s not found in many plants. Reliable sources of vitamin B12 for vegans are B12 fortified products including some soy and cereal products, and B12 supplements.1
  2. Protein– Protein is made up of many amino acids, nine of which are termed “essential” because we can’t make them in the body, so they must be consumed. A “complete” protein contains all nine of these essential amino acids. Animal foods are ‘complete’ proteins, but plant foods are not. For vegans to obtain all the essential amino acids, they need to consume a variety of amino acid sources throughout the day to provide a range of different amino acids; providing a complete complement of protein.2
  3. Omega 3– Diets that miss out on fish, eggs and generous amounts of algae may be deficient in the omega 3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are needed for heart, eye and brain health.3 While plant‐based omega 3 can be converted to EPA and DHA, the conversion rate is relatively low, so vegans need to increase their intake of flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, walnuts and canola, or take an omega 3 supplement if necessary.3
  4. Zinc – The absorption and use of zinc in the body is generally lower in people following a plant‐based diet. This is mainly due to a higher intake of phytic acid, found in some grains, legumes and seeds. Phytic acid tends to bind to zinc and carry it out of the body through waste. To reduce the binding of phytic acid and zinc, vegans should use soaking and sprouting techniques for beans, grains and seeds and consume leavened bread.3
  5. Iron – The availability of plant‐based iron is much less than that of animal sources so it’s important that vegans increase their intake of iron‐rich plant foods. Vitamin C enhances iron’s absorption therefore try to consume meals that include both these nutrients in the same dish. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables.4 An iron supplement may also be beneficial.
  6. Iodine – Plant‐based diets are generally lower in iodine because of inadequate iodine in the soil that they’re grown in. To increase iodine which supports thyroid function, vegans should consume seaweed such as Kombu and nori.5
  7. Calcium – A large study conducted over five years found that vegans had a higher risk of bone fractures than meat‐eaters, fish‐eaters and vegetarians. This appeared to be as a result of their lower calcium intake.6

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