Plant-based diet, AKA vegan diet has become so popular that many restaurants and eateries have accommodated vegan delicacies on the menu. With so many plant-based vegan burger options and food labels displaying the word “vegan” on their options, it is definitely hard to miss it these days.
A vegan diet is linked to many health benefits because it delivers more dietary fiber, plenty of antioxidants, healthy fats, and other nutrients. Studies show that vegans tend to have lower body weight and fewer health risks like heart disease and blood pressure. Research reveals that compared to their omnivorous counterparts, cholesterol levels and body mass index measurements of vegans were low. Such benefits definitely pique the interest of anyone that wants to steer clear of high blood cholesterol and weight issues.
What is a vegan or a plant-based diet?
Vegan diets eliminate all animal products like meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy, and honey. It includes wholesome plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds and plant-based products such as wheat flour and plant-derived oil, to name a few. If followed correctly, a whole-food, plant-based diet improves health and energy, helps you lose weight, and keeps many degenerative health conditions at bay! No doubt vegan diet is popular by the day and catching the attention of health-conscious people.
Although a completely plant-based diet offers many benefits there are a few key nutrients that may be low or missing in vegan foods. This may be because some nutrients are naturally absent in plants. The situation is further exacerbated due to unhealthy eating habits. Yes! It is possible to choose unhealthy while following a vegan diet as well! Think about a bag of potato chips; technically, it can be 100% vegan, but it can be unhealthy because of the refined fat and carbohydrate with low fiber content.
No matter the diet, if you fail to include wholesome, nutritious foods or do not plan your menu correctly nutritional deficits will happen. Since the focus of this article is on the vegan diet, let’s look at the nutrients that are low or absent in 100% plant-based eating.
Key nutrients that are missing in a vegan diet
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is also called the sunshine nutrient since your body makes this vitamin. While vitamin D does not have to come from your diet, one can still fall short of this nutrient irrespective of the type of diet. So, breathe easy, following a vegan diet alone is not a reason for being deficient in this vitamin. Vitamin deficiency occurs because of many factors poor sun exposure, excessive use of sunscreen, and the inability of your body to make vitamin D because of aging or metabolic conditions. Foods like milk, dairy products, fatty fish, and eggs can provide small quantities of vitamin D but not at optimal levels. Since vegans avoid all animal-based products they have extremely low levels of vitamin D. Hence it is crucial to reach for vitamin D supplements to keep up with your body’s needs.
Vitamin D deficiency can cause:
- Osteoporosis, weak bones, fractures
- Depression and mood disorders
- Certain types of cancer
- Heart disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle wasting in older adults
- Impaired brain function
Researchers recommend consuming vitamin D supplements that provide the D3 form (the active form) of the vitamin for better bioavailability.
Vitamin B 12: This water-soluble B-vitamin is one nutrient that is not available when following a vegan diet. On the other hand, animal dietary sources like eggs, dairy products, fish, and meat provide B12. Since these foods are excluded from a plant-based diet, vegans are low on B12. Vitamin B 12 is necessary to make red blood cells and maintain nerve cells.
Low B12 levels can cause:
- Mood/neurological disorders
- Increases risk of Alzheimer’s disease
- Poor cognitive function
- Megaloblastic anemia
- Risk of heart disease
There is evidence that without supplements, vegans and vegetarians are at a high risk of B 12 deficiency. To get an optimal amount of B12 in the diet it is recommended that vegans must take B12 supplements or take food fortified with B12.
Omega-3 fats: Omega-3s are essential fats necessary to keep your heart and brain healthy. The three types of omega-3 fats are ALA (alpha linolenic acid), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is primarily found in plants, while EPA and DHA are found in marine algae and fish that eat these algae. Since EPA and DHA are not readily available from plants unless you consume algal foods, vegans tend to have low reserves of these two essential fats. Although your body can convert some ALA into EPA and then to DHA, it only happens in small amounts. Research confirms consuming a direct source of EPA and DHA is a practical way to increase the levels of these beneficial fats in your body. Marine algal supplements are the safest and best way to increase omega-3 intake in your diet.
Besides the above nutrients, vegans may also fall short of selenium, zinc, and iodine if the diet is not well planned out. Depending on your dietary intake, you may or may not need selenium, zinc, and iodine supplements. Talk to your provider before adding these supplements to your diet.
Despite its nutrient deficits it is beneficial to follow a vegan diet given its proven long-term benefits. A diet that is well-planned with wholesome foods, along with the right supplements to make up for the deficiencies.
Whether you are already following a plant-based diet or planning on eating less meat and more plant foods, choosing high-quality supplements is imperative. The right dietary supplements compensate well for the nutrient deficits of a vegan diet. They are an easy way to reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies. Here is a list of premium supplements that can help you get the crucial nutrients you may be missing out on in a 100% plant-based diet.
Vitamin D3 Vegan Liquid by Pure Encapsulations: Pure Encapsulations Vitamin D3 (vegan) liquid is a plant-based formula made from sustainably harvested lichen. The formulation is 100% vegan and made of hypoallergenic ingredients, suitable for individuals with stomach sensitivity. The liquid formulation is easy to dispense, convenient, and great tasting delivering vitamin D3, the active form of the vitamin.
Algae Omega by Nordic Naturals: Nordic Naturals Algae Omega comes from microalgae, Shiczochytrium sp nature’s original source of marine Omega-3. This dietary supplement is 100% vegetarian and is ideal for those who want to avoid fish oils and animal-based omega sources. The formulation offers both EPA (eicosa pentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosa hexaenoic acid) and is a pure, safe and fish-free alternative source of omega-3s in your diet. The supplement delivers 195 mg of EPA, 390 mg, and other 130 mg omega 3s of DHA in 2 soft gels. The omega-3 nutrients are suspended in algal oil and high-oleic sunflower oil. Other ingredients like rosemary extract, natural mixed tocopherols help preserve the nutrients and prevent rancidity. The product is free of gluten, milk derivatives or artificial colors or flavors. While most algal oils are short on EPA, Nordic Naturals Algae Omega delivers the right combination of both EPA and DHA to improve mood, vision, heart and overall health.
B12 5000 by Pure Encapsulations: This liquid B12 supplement is a convenient, great-tasting formulation that is made with hypoallergenic and vegetarian ingredients. The product provides 5000 mcg (micrograms of B12 as methylcobalamin) in one ml serving size (one full dropper). The suggested dosage is to take one dropper daily, along with a meal or as directed by your physician. The supplement is non-GMO and constitutes other vegetarian ingredients such as vegetable glycerin, apple juice concentrate, stevia leaf extract, potassium sorbate, and citric acid. The formulation is clinically tested to potentially support nerve cells and brain function while supporting energy levels and better immune health. The liquid form is convenient, well assimilated by the body and easily dispensable hence this is also suitable for those who cannot absorb B12 well from diet and supplements.
Zinc Picolinate 30mg by Thorne Research: Thorne Research Zinc picolinate 30 mg is a highly absorbable zinc. The elemental zinc is in combination with picolinate, ensuring a higher degree of absorption than other zinc supplements. Zinc supports immune health and reproductive health. The recommended dosage is to consume one capsule per day. The supplement is available in 60 and 180 vegetarian capsules for your convenience.
Iodine Synergy by Designs for Health: Designs for Health Iodine synergy provides iodine as potassium iodide along with selenium as selenomethionine. This supplement is a combination of two minerals, iodine, and selenium. The selenium in this dietary supplement works synergistically with iodine to help promote thyroid function. The recommended dosage is one capsule per day or as directed by your physician.
Selenium Plus by Douglas Laboratories: A formulation that offers selenium in combination with vitamin E and Vitamin C for antioxidant support and synergistic effects. One capsule gives 200 mcg of selenium, 100 mg of vitamin C as ascorbic acid, 60 IU of vitamin E as d-alpha tocopherol. The suggested dosage is to take one capsule per day or as directed by your physician.