The 8 Nutrients That All Vegans Should Be Aware Of

My post today was inspired by an interaction with one of my private practice clients last week.

The client was a vegan with some gaps that I identified in his iron intake.

He told me he was previously advised, encouraged and implored by another practitioner to eat meat in order to resolve this issue.

Obviously, such guidance fell on deaf ears because, again, the client was VEGAN.

Not only is encouraging a vegan to eat meat extraordinarily unethical, it’s simply not necessary from a nutrition perspective.

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.

That’s exactly what today’s post will help you to do.

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 do it.

*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.

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 400 IU daily supplement of vitamin D.   Margarine also contains vitamin D.

#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.

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, chia seeds and walnuts.

#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.

#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!

I should also note that protein can sometimes arise as a concern in vegans/vegetarians, but that if you follow the guidance laid out in today’s article, you should be well covered for that too.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH