The 7 Nutrients That Vegans Should Be Aware Of

There are more vegans and vegetarians today than at any other time in recent history.

Whether driven by ethical, environmental or economical considerations, I cannot help but observe that this demographic has become increasingly representative in my diverse private practice clientele.

I fully support anyone pursuing a more plant-based style of eating whether or not it fulfills the label “vegan/vegetarian”  is a secondary consideration to the health benefits to be enjoyed when one diversifies their protein intake across the spectrum of available options.

In today’s article, my goal is to support anyone pursuing a more plant-based lifestyle to better understand the nutritional considerations that must be addressed to ensure optimal health and dietary adequacy.

I’d also like to remind everyone that I’ve helped hundreds of plant-based eaters, whether newly minted and vastly experienced, optimize their dietary pattern to achieve the best possible state of health that this style of eating has to offer.

If you’d like to work together in this capacity, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Now let’s get to the good stuff!

The 7 Nutrients All Vegans Should Be Aware Of

Please note that the guidance below, while comprehensive and useful, is not the FULL story when it comes to vegan dietary optimization.

It represents a great starting point, however working with a dietitian like myself to incorporate this guidance will almost certainly help you bring this guidance together at a higher level.

#1 Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a crucial role in the healthy development of red blood cells.

How can most vegans get enough?

Through a combination of fortified products ( plant-based milks, meat-alternatives, nutritional yeast) and supplementation.

#2 Vitamin D

Vitamin D is most notable for its role in calcium absorption and bone health, although recent research points to a much broader role.

How can most vegans get enough?

Vitamin D is probably the most elusive vitamin for vegans and omnivores alike, read my article on vit D to learn why supplementation is probably the path forward.

#3 Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There are three types of omega-3 fatty acid; ALA, EPA and DHA.

ALA is found in great abundance in plant sources whereas EPA and DHA is found primarily in fish.

Your body can convert some of the ALA you consume into EPA and DHA, but it is not a particularly efficient process.

There are algae-based supplements that contain both EPA and DHA and could be considered as a support to an ALA rich diet for vegans and others who don’t consume fish.

Adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is fundamental for good health, and may also play a role in anxiety management.

How can most vegans get enough ALA?

Regular consumption of soy-based products including soy milk, edamame and tofu.

Regular consumption of ALA rich nuts + seeds including ground flax seeds,hemp, chia seeds and walnuts.

Potential supplementation, to be discussed with your healthcare provider.

#4 Calcium

One of the most well-known nutrients owing to its highly publicized role in bone health.

How can most vegans get enough?

At least 2 cups daily fortified soy or almond milk

Daily consumption of leafy greens such as collards, spinach and kale ( multiple cups)

¼ cup of almonds multiple days weekly

Daily consumption of legumes ( beans, peas, lentils) at least ¾ cup per serving.

Want to learn more about alternative calcium sources? Read this.

#5 Iron

The essential component of a properly functioning red blood cell, iron is famous for being found in ample supply in red meat but many people forget many how rich plant-based sources there are.

How can vegans/vegetarians get enough?

The first thing you need to understand is that iron is found in many foods of plant-origin.

However, the iron in these foods is not as well absorbed as the iron from meat.

But, if you consume plant-based iron sources in combination with a source of vitamin C, it helps to enhance absorption such that it becomes less of an issue.

So the question to ask is what are the top sources of plant-based iron and what are the top sources of vitamin C?

Iron:  pumpkin and squash seeds, almonds butter, almonds and other nuts, legumes ( peas, beans, lentils), tofu, tempeh, edamame, hummus, cereal and oatmeal.

Vitamin C: red pepper, green pepper, kiwi, orange ( including juice), strawberries, broccoli, kale, Brussel sprouts, mango cauliflower.

Remember:  Consume the foods above daily and abundantly. Mix and match foods from both groups at the same snack or meal to optimize absorption.

Certain foods, such as coffee and tea, inhibit iron absorption and speaking with a dietitian can help you determine the extent to which iron-interfering foods like these, and others, should be maneuvered around your diet.

#6 Zinc

Zinc helps with energy metabolism and immune functionality. If you’ve followed my advice up until this point you should be okay, but let’s take a closer look anyway.

How can most vegans get enough?

¼ cup pumpkin or squash seeds most days. Nuts such as almonds, cashews etc are a reasonable alternative.

At least ¾ cup tofu or tempeh most days

At least ¾ cup lentils, baked beans or other legumes most days

At least ¾ cup Oatmeal or bran-based cereals most days

Using 1-2 tsp of fortified nutritional yeast (as per vitamin B12) will also help.

#7 Vitamin B2

Often unheralded, vitamin b2 is important to help your body utilize the energy you consume from food.

How can most vegans get enough?

A diverse and varied diet including many of the foods already discussed such as spinach, almonds, tempeh and fortified soy milk.

Different mushroom varieties also contain various levels of Vitamin b2.

Final Thoughts 

I sincerely hope that today’s article has helped demystify some of the nutrients of concern in the average vegan  diet and given you much more confidence to carry out your plant-based eating style in a well-planned manner.

And for those vegans and vegetarians out there who have received opposition in the past, the knowledge gained from today’s article should help!

There are important details beyond what I’ve discussed in today’s post ( including total protein intake) that are also very important to be aware of.

If you are a current or potential vegan/vegetarian and want help to navigate the waters, please reach out to me about working together.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH



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