The 8 Nutrients That All Vegans Should Be Aware Of

I very frequently work with individuals who are either newly vegan/vegetarian or considering a conversion or partial to conversion to that dietary style.

I honestly thoroughly enjoy working with this type of client because I acknowledge that eating more plant-based foods is a fundamental dietary strategy to improve health and longevity.

Aided by the rise of hard-hitting documentaries like The Game Changers , there are more vegans and vegetarians today then ever before.

But this also poses some potential problems.

Not enough of the general public understands the nutritional nuance associated with being vegan/vegetarian and as a result I see clients all the time, including long-term vegans, with serious dietary inadequacies.

The Vegan Problem

It’s well understood that a well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet can be perfectly adequate across all essential nutrients.

The key word is well-planned.

In order to carry out a well-planned vegan or vegetarian diet, one must be aware of the nutrients that are most commonly problematic and know how to address those concerns whether through dietary means or, if necessary, supplementation.

I help people navigate these waters all the time, and I’d love to help you as well.

In today’s article, I will give you a little taste of how to get started down the path to balanced vegan eating.

Let’s roll!

The 8 Nutrients All Vegans Should Be Aware Of

#1 Vitamin B12

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

How can most vegans get enough?

By consuming 2 cups ( 500ml) of fortified soy or almond milk daily and working in 1-2 tsp of fortified nutritional yeast* into your day.

If nutritional yeast is not your thing, a third cup of fortified milk alternative will help although supplementation may be required in certain contexts.

*Check your local health food store or online

#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?

I personally suggest a minimum of 2 cups (500 ml) of fortified soy or almond milk daily in combination with a bare minimum of 400 IU daily supplement of vitamin D.

Recent studies suggest supplementation beyond these levels may be required and I strongly suggest reading my latest article on the issue of Vitamin D status in Canada to learn more.

#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.

#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