Without a doubt, anyone can thrive on a vegan diet. With some thought and a little planning, your body can get in all the vitamins and nutrients to remain strong and healthy!
Although, sometimes, if they don’t plan right, individuals who choose to follow a vegan diet may find it hard to get in all the nutrients they require.
So while a vegan diet offers numerous health benefits, if the recommended amount of vitamins and minerals aren’t met, it can have negative consequences on the body.
So whether you’re traveling as a vegan or just choosing to live on a plant-based diet, make sure you’re aware of these top 5 essential nutrients vegans need.
To stay happy and healthy, a vegan must get in the daily recommended amount of B12. It’s a miraculous vitamin, with only a small dosage having a huge impact on the body and brain.
But what exactly is this “miraculous” vitamin called B12?
B12, which is a group of microorganisms, is produced naturally only by bacteria. Although many believe that animal products are the only place to get naturally occurring B12, animals, plants, and fungi do not have the enzymes to produce B12 themselves.
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products and byproducts because the microorganisms that make up the vitamin are in the grass, feed, and water that animals ingest.
For example, a cow has B12 in its gut and system because it absorbs it from the grass – and clumps of soil attached to the grass – it eats.
So, why is it essential to get in enough B12?
B12 helps keep the body’s red blood cells healthy and nerves working. It also helps make DNA, which is the genetic material in all cells. A deficiency of vitamin B12 can result in severe nerve system damage and anemia.
It’s definitely one of the top 5 essential nutrients vegans need to get! Don’t be lacking in B12.
Get your Vitamin B12 supplements here.
Calcium is an essential nutrient because our bones contain large amounts of calcium, which makes them strong and sturdy – helpful in preventing breaks. It’s also important for other bodily tasks, like nerve and muscle function.
Although, because of heavy marketing and biased information out there in the world, many believe that dairy and cow’s milk is the sole source of calcium. But this is just complete nonsense, as there are numerous other plant-food sources that are high in calcium.
High calcium plant-foods include kale, fortified plant-milks like soy, cashew, and almond milk; tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, legumes, and more.
Although, if you’re sometimes like me and eat a bunch of vegan junk food, it may be a bit hard to get in the recommended amount. Thus, I recommended taking a calcium supplement!
Get an awesome calcium supplement here (with D3 – which is next on the list!).
Vitamin D is extremely important because it helps block the release of hormones that break down the bones, making them brittle and thin.
Additionally, vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, up the power of the immune system, and improve muscle function.
Although, this isn’t just one out of many essential nutrients only vegans need to be aware of.
Everyone who experiences winters where the sun is only out for a short amount a time per day should be aware of vitamin D. Fortunately, reversing a vitamin D deficiency is pretty easy.
The best way for vegans – and others – to increase their vitamin D levels is to head outside and soak up some sun.
But sometimes that isn’t really an option if the temperatures are in the negatives – that’s why I recommend a sun lamp. Also known as a happy lamp!
Alternatively, vitamin D supplements are readily available!
Get your quality Vitamin D supplements here.
And if you’re looking for a happy lamp, I love this one! I use it during the long Minnesota winters when the sun doesn’t shine as much as it does in the summer.
Probably saw this one coming, right? Right! That’s because it’s a common occurrence for a vegan to be slightly low in iron.
And although beans and leafy greens have just as much iron as most meats (sometimes even more!), there are two different types of iron, which is what differentiates the iron in meat from the iron in plant-based sources.
Iron comes in two different forms: heme and non-heme. Heme, which is the iron in meat, is well absorbed in the body. Non-heme, which is found in plants, is not as well absorbed as heme. Because meat is not on the menu for vegans, they need to be especially aware of the foods that contain a good deal of non-heme iron.
Plant-based sources that have a good amount are beans, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and bok choy; broccoli, and soybeans.
And pairing a food that’s high in iron with a food that’s high in vitamin C means the iron will be absorbed much easier! For example, having pasta and tomato sauce with a side of broccoli.
Although, if you’d like to take a supplement each day rather than monitoring your food intake, check these out.
Omega-3 fatty acids
There are a couple fats that are considered ‘essential’ because our bodies are unable to make them.
These fats are called omega-3 (alpha-linoleic acid [ALA]) and omega-6 (linoleic acid [LA]) fatty acids and they affect the immune system, brain, eyes, and nerves.
Omega-3s are particularly important because in this modern day, many who eat a western diet are getting in considerably more omega-6s than omega-3s. And it’s all about balance.
Chris Kresser explains that omega-3s and omega-6s compete for the enzymes needed for digestion and:
“In plain english, what this means is that the more omega-3 fat you eat, the less omega-6 will be available to the tissues to produce inflammation. Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 is neutral. A diet with a lot of omega-6 and not much omega-3 will increase inflammation. A diet of a lot of omega-3 and not much omega-6 will reduce inflammation.”
Considering omega-3 fatty acids are mostly derived from animal sources like fish, it’s more difficult for a vegan to get in the right amount of omega-3s.
Although, there are plant-based sources with a good amount of omega-3s. The best vegan sources include chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax oil and/or seeds, rapeseed oil, and walnuts.
If you’re still worried about getting in the right ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s, check out these omega-3 supplements.
So, there you have it! My top 5 essential nutrients vegans need to be aware of. Anyone can thrive on a vegan diet and with a little planning, your body can remain strong and healthy!
Although, if you’re a little overwhelmed with what vitamins you should be getting in more of and don’t want to hassle yourself with taking a hundred pills everyday, here’s a vegan multivitamin I can recommended.
It has all the right vitamins in it — including vegan DHA and EPA — and it’s a nice sized tablet! Perfect for those who are looking for something easier than a handful of supplements.
If you’re a vegan, have you ever thought about taking vitamins? Or do you currently take any of the vitamins mentioned above? Let me know in the comments below!