A vegan diet consists only of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, soy, nuts, and seeds, excluding animal products. Animal products, such as eggs, meat, poultry, and seafood, are not part of a vegan diet, nor are gelatin and honey.
A vegan diet can offer plenty of health benefits when it is followed cautiously, but it can still be tough to get all of your essential nutrients from food alone, especially when following a strictly plant-based diet.
This is because meat and animal products are the primary sources of a wide variety of nutrients, and when these sources of nutrients are eliminated from the diet, it can become more challenging to get all of the essential vitamins and minerals.
Certain nutrients are more likely to be missing from a vegan diet than others, such as vitamin B12, which can only be found in animal products and fortified foods.
Check Your Nutrient Requirements
Learning more about some of the most important vitamins and minerals commonly missing from a vegan diet can help you better understand what your regular diet may lack.
If you think you may be missing several vital nutrients, consult your doctor for a professional opinion. Your doctor may perform certain procedures, such as blood tests, in order to confirm whether you have low levels of some nutrients.
If your doctor determines that your nutrient levels are low, they may recommend supplementation accordingly to ensure that you are taking good care of your health. You should always speak with your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements to ensure they’re the right ones for your needs.
Most Important Nutrients to Focus On In a Vegan Diet
There are many different vitamins and minerals that are essential to human health, and some of these are particularly difficult to get adequate amounts of from the foods included in a vegan diet.
Plant-based foods are still excellent sources of nutrients, but some nutrients may be more challenging to digest when they come from plant sources rather than animal sources.
Some of the most essential nutrients that may be missing from a vegan diet include:
Iron works hard to create healthy red blood cells that help carry oxygen throughout your body. Iron can be found in red meat, beans, wheat, and tofu. However, iron found in plant-based foods can be more challenging to digest than iron that is found in animal products. If you are concerned about your iron levels, it can be helpful to know that vitamin C helps your body absorb iron as well.
Calcium helps your body build strong bones and may lower your risk of ending up with osteoporosis. Soybeans and dark leafy greens are excellent plant-based sources of calcium, and can also be found in fortified foods and beverages.
However, because dairy is a major source of calcium for non-vegans, eliminating dairy products from your diet may make it hard to consume enough calcium.
Vitamin D plays a key role in keeping your bones healthy and strong. Vitamin D works hand in hand with calcium to maintain bone health, and vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and promote the growth of your bones.
Some vitamin D is produced in your body when you spend time in the sunlight, but you may have insufficient levels of this vitamin depending on where you live and how much time you spend outside. Vitamin D can be found in dairy products and fortified foods and may be difficult to get solely from plant-based sources.
Vitamin B12 works to help produce healthy red blood cells and prevent anemia, and it is found mainly in fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products. Because all of these are animal products, there are no main sources of vitamin B12 in a vegan diet.
This vitamin can sometimes be found in trace amounts on produce because of soil residue, but these amounts are not substantial enough to provide adequate nutrition. Eating fortified foods can supply you with some vitamin B12, but it is typically necessary to take a supplement.
Zinc is a mineral that has an important role in keeping your immune system healthy and strong. It can be found in nuts, beans, and soy products. However, zinc may be missing from your diet if you have a soy allergy.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for supporting your heart health and cognitive function and can be found in flaxseed oil. However, these are not very commonly included foods in a vegan diet, and it may be difficult to get enough fatty acids just from your food.
Some food products are fortified with plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, but it may be necessary to take a supplement.
If you believe that you may not be getting enough of one or several of these key nutrients, you should speak with your doctor for advice. Your doctor can run tests to confirm a deficiency, and they can also suggest the proper supplements or foods that may need to be incorporated into your everyday life.
Hidden Ingredients to Look Out For
Some people following a vegan diet also choose to avoid animal byproducts and animal-related ingredients that are commonly found in many household products, including vitamins and supplements. It can sometimes be difficult to know whether or not certain ingredients come from vegan sources.
Familiarizing yourself with some of the most common hidden, nonvegan ingredients can help you avoid them. In fact, commonly used ingredients that may not be vegan include gelatin, stearic acid, lactose and lactase, and tallow, which is a term used to refer to body fat from pigs, cows, and sheep.
When you are looking for the right multivitamin for your everyday needs, it can be helpful to take the time to read the ingredient lists on the products in question before purchasing so that you can avoid unwanted ingredients.
Finding Vegan Vitamins and Supplements
In supplements, some nonvegan ingredients may be particularly common, including:
- Magnesium stearate
- Bee pollen
- Caprylic acid
Some ingredients have the potential to come from both vegan and nonvegan sources, which can make it even more tricky to determine whether or not the ingredients in a product have come from plant or animal sources.
Consult Your Pharmacist
When in doubt, you may want to speak with your local pharmacist.
Your pharmacist may have a complete understanding of the sourcing of certain ingredients, or they may be able to help you get in touch with the manufacturer for further information. Honing in on products that have been certified vegan may be one of the simplest ways to ensure that your supplements truly are vegan.
You should always speak with your doctor before you start taking new vitamins or supplements, and your doctor may be able to recommend certain products that they are sure are entirely vegan.
In addition, your doctor will always be able to suggest certain plant-based foods that may help you improve the nutritional value of your diet in general.
Anytime you have questions or concerns, your doctor will be your best resource, and they will help you determine the best form of supplementation for your needs. If you have low levels of multiple different nutrients, a multivitamin may be the most efficient way to make sure your needs are cared for.
In this case, you should be on the lookout for a multivitamin containing all of the critical nutrients you are lacking.
The Bottom Line
Making sure to eat various healthy foods can help you get most of your nutrients from food alone. But it can still be difficult to get sufficient amounts of all nutrients from a solely plant-based diet.
Vitamins like vitamin B12 and vitamin D and minerals such as iron, calcium, and zinc may be more difficult to supply your body with when following an entirely plant-based diet.
With supplementation, this may be necessary if your levels of these nutrients are dangerously low. Consult your doctor before you start taking supplements, and your doctor will help you determine which supplements you really need.