The Vegan Diet Vitamin + Mineral Supplementation
By Guest Blogger: @ChristinaSarich
There are 7 significant vitamins and minerals that vegans and vegetarians need to be sure they supplement, as they are often lacking in a primarily plant-based diet. In this article, we’re going to talk about which nutrients you might be missing if you’re vegan, how to conduct micronutrient testing to see if you lack them and the best ways to supplement these vital nutrients so that your health doesn’t suffer.
The 7 Nutrients Most Vegans are Deficient In
Anyone can be nutrient deficient no matter what their diets are, and with all the soil depletion and nutrient chelation in our crops that has happened due to industrial farming in the last 50 to 100 years, you can bet that even as a plant-eater, you’ll need to take a good vegan multivitamin to fill in nutrient gaps. That being said, there are usually seven nutrients that most vegans are lacking.
Vitamin B 12 for Vegans
B12 is most often derived from animal products, so it’s no wonder that vegans can become deficient in it, but it is a vital nutrient that we all need because it helps to create red blood cells and to synthesize DNA. Sufficient B12 levels can boost your energy, your cognitive functioning, and prevent heart disease.
B12 is absorbed by the body in small amounts, so it is best taken in food on a daily basis, or in a low-dose supplement regularly (around 10 micrograms daily).
There are plant-based sources of B12 and entirely plant-based supplements. Try adding the following foods to your diet on a regular basis, but look to a supplement to make sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient. Vegetarians and vegans are much more at risk for being deficient in this Vitamin so it’s really not worth the risk.
Calcium for Vegans
While most non-vegans get plenty of calcium from dairy for strong bones, you’re going to need to find a quality supplement or make sure that you eat plenty of plant-based, calcium-rich foods to get at least 1200 mg a day. Calcium is also important to eat with other phytonutrients to help its absorption. It is safest to consume calcium when paired with ample amounts of Vitamin D and magnesium for this reason.
Around 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3 taken daily can ensure that you absorb calcium in the right places, and it doesn’t start to deposit in your brain, in pineal gland specifically. The pineal gland is not only responsible for your sleep cycles, it is also called the “seat of the soul” and may be a doorway into higher levels of consciousness. So, keep your calcium going into your bones, and not into this tiny, pine-cone shaped organ in the center of your brain.
Plant-based calcium sources include:
- Sesame seeds
- If you live in the UK, wheat bread (calcium is added by law)
- Dried fruits like raisins, prunes, figs, and apricots
- Chinese cabbage
- Bok choy
- Collard greens
- Mustard greens
Iron for Vegans
Vegans who become iron-deficient due to a lack of it in their diets or from quality supplementation might also need to be sure they are eating enough Vitamin C. These two vitamins work synergistically to absorb into your cells and blood for optimal health. Vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron most easily.
There are also two types of iron, one being found in animal foods, and another in plants. It is true that the animal form of iron, called heme, is better absorbed by the body, so iron-deficiencies are more common in vegans and vegetarians, but it is an easy problem to solve.
If you are eating a healthy, varied vegan diet you shouldn’t have to worry, but make sure to eat the following foods to be sure to get plenty of iron and sufficient Vitamin C to help your body absorb it. This will help to prevent anemia and other health problems that arise from iron deficiency.
- Citrus fruits
- American Persimmons
- Nuts including cashews, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, pine, pistachio, etc.
- Legumes like Lima beans, black beans, etc.
- Swiss chard
- Collard greens
The less iron you eat in one sitting the better you absorb it, so the best way to get enough is to make sure you eat iron-rich foods at every meal.
Iodine for Vegans
As a vegan or even an omnivore, you need sufficient iodine so that your body can make thyroid hormones. Your thyroid does a lot, including make hormones that tell your metabolism to speed up or slow down.
There is practically no way to tell if a food has sufficient iodine in it, because most iodine comes from the soil your fruit and veggies are grown in. If the soil is iodine deficient, so too will your food be.
You can eat seaweed to get iodine, but it could have too much iodine, not enough or be contaminated.
When you consume iodine, you also need to be sure you are getting enough Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Selenium because they work together to ensure absorption and correct levels of iodine in the body.
It is vitally important particularly for women who are vegans to consume iodine. Your breast tissues contain some of the highest concentrations of iodine in the entire body. It is thought that this nutrient combats breast cancer and acts as an anti-carcinogen throughout the entire body.
Don’t think that you have to get your iodine from animal sources, though. Just one potato can have as much iodine as a glass of milk.
Good iodine sources for vegans include:
- Green beans
- Sea lettuce
Deficiencies in the mineral zinc wouldn’t seem to be a big deal at first, but it is one of the key minerals used by your immune system to fend off foreign pathogens and harmful bacteria. Your body also needs it to make important proteins and even your DNA.
Without enough zinc in your diet you might experience hair loss, bowel problems and many other unsavory side effects.
To get enough zinc, take a supplement or be sure to eat lots of beans, nuts, and whole grains which are a good source of zinc. You need between 8 and 11 grams daily.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are often insufficient in everyone, not just vegans. In fact, most of the U.S., who is eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) are top-heavy in the Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio. We eat too many Omega 6 fatty acids which can cause chronic inflammation, and not enough healthy Omega 3s which are incredible for your brain and skin, but also reduce inflammation in the body.
If you don’t already know this, inflammation is the cause of about every disease, with the exception of about six, on the entire planet. Harvard has even admitted chronic inflammation is killing us.
Fortunately for you, eating a plant-based diet is one of the first things to do to combat inflammation, but you also need Omega 3s.
Great vegan sources of healthy Omega 3 fatty acids include:
Sacha Inchi nuts
Algae and seaweed
Deficiencies in Vitamin D affect vegans and vegetarians, but omnivores, too. We depend on the sun to get enough Vitamin D, because it is the sunlight (ultraviolet B or UVB) absorbed through our skin that triggers its creation. The only problem is that with too much sun exposure, we can damage the skin and become more prone to skin cancer. It also makes us look old before our time causing wrinkles and dryness.
We need Vitamin D to regulate neurohormones that prevent seasonal depressive disorder, to act as a free-radical scavenger, and so much more.
The trick is to get as much sunlight as possible without burning. Go outside in the non-peak sunlight hours (before noon and after around 3 PM, but this will vary depending on where you live in the world) and soak up the sun. Just don’t get burned. Remember that the sun’s effect won’t show fully on your skin for at least 30 minutes to 3 hours, so go slow and figure out your optimal sun exposure.
When you are getting your Vitamin D from the sun, try adding these foods to your diet:
- Almond milk
- Vitamin D supplements (only plant based)
One of the most challenging thing for health-conscious people is to know when they are lacking certain nutrients. You will often be able to tell when really big nutritional gaps are affecting you because you will feel lethargic, suffer from brain fog, have strange food cravings, have acne outbreaks, and other symptoms, but with many deficiencies there is no way to tell until it is too late. The best way to make sure you aren’t missing out on nutrients you need is to take a quality vegan multi-vitamin, but also to do micronutrient testing.
You can conduct micronutrient testing with a professional nutritionist, at your doctor’s office in some cases, or by requesting a panel from a blood draw at a lab.
There are even online micronutrient tests you can purchase without health insurance, that measure your vitamin, minerals, antioxidants, and fatty acids in your white blood cells.
Once you know what you’re missing you can increase your intake so that you don’t overdo it, and offset the delicate balance of nutrients needed in your body for optimal health
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