While a vegan diet is certainly beneficial for your health – numerous studies show plant-based eating prevents a number of diseases including Type II Diabetes and heart disease – vegans are often low in many key nutrients needed to truly thrive. These deficiencies can result in depression, lethargy, headaches and more. Below we take a closer look at 5 key nutrients all vegans should ensure they’re getting enough of. While we’ve provided recommended doses, if you suspect a deficiency, consult with your doctor to assess your levels and determine what amount is right for you.
What it does: B12 is needed to make red blood cells and prevents anemia. The body cannot make B12 on its own and relies on animal-based foods, fortified foods and/or supplements for this nutrient.
Signs of deficiency: weakness, tiredness, lightheadedness, pale skin, constipation or diarrhea, nerve problems like numbness, depression
Vegan sources: In addition to supplements, there are many vegan foods fortified with B12. These include non-dairy milks, meat substitutes, breakfast cereals, and one type of nutritional yeast.
Recommended dose: The National Institutes of Health suggests women and men 14 years of age and older receive 2.4 micrograms daily. Go here for complete dosing recommendations by age.
What it does: We all know that calcium is integral for strong bones and teeth, but calcium is also needed to support blood clotting and regulate nerve fibers in muscles. Muscles can cramp and even fail without enough calcium.
Signs of deficiency: muscle cramps, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, course hair, chronic itching, numbness or tingling in the extremities. Find a full list of calcium- deficiency indicators here.
Vegan sources: Blackstrap molasses, collard greens, tempeh, turnip greens, calcium fortified plant-based milks. This guide includes the amount of calcium found in each of these foods plus additional sources.
Recommended dose: The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults age 19-50 years and men 51-70 years receive at least 1000 mg of calcium per day. An intake of 1200 mg of calcium is recommended for women over 51 years of age and for men over 70.
What it does: Iron plays a key role in the production of red blood cells, which are essential for carrying oxygen throughout the body.
Signs of deficiency: exhaustion, pale skin, shortness of breath, restless leg syndrome, headache, anxiety
Vegan sources: Beans, broccoli, raisins, wheat, tofu and iron-fortified cereals. Getting enough iron can be especially challenging for vegans because plant-based sources of iron aren’t as easily digested as iron from meat. Foods rich in vitamin C, such as mulberries, can help your body absorb iron.
Recommended dose: The National Institutes of Health recommends that women age 19-50 years receive at least 18 mg of iron daily; men 19-50 should receive at least 8 mg.
Omega-3 fatty acids
What it does: Omega-3 fats support heart health. These fats, which the body does not produce, have been shown to be helpful for lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving blood vessel function, and, at higher doses, lowering triglycerides and easing inflammation.
Signs of deficiency: dry skin and hair, soft brittle nails, difficulty paying attention, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and inflammation. Read more here.
Vegan sources: Hemp seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, flaxseed oil, mustard oil, seaweed and leafy vegetables. You may also consider a vegan omega-3 supplement.
Recommended dose: The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults eat at least two servings of oily fish per week, which equates to roughly 500 mg.
What it does: Nearly every cell in the body interacts with Vitamin D. It’s shown to reduced inflammation and play an important role in bone health by helping the body absorb calcium.
Signs of Deficiency: exhaustion, difficulty thinking clearly, frequent bone fractures, muscle weakness.
Vegan Sources: The body produces its own vitamin D in response to sunlight. Getting outside for just 10 minutes of sunshine 3 to 4 times a week is a good place to start, though it’s challenging to satisfy your vitamin D needs from the sun alone. Foods that contain vitamin D include shitake mushrooms and fortified oatmeal, breakfast cereals, almond milk and tofu. In many cases supplementation is also helpful but be sure to select a supplement that’s vegan. Many are made with fish oil or lanolin, a waxy substance secreted by glands found in a sheep’s skin.
Recommended dose: The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults over age18 receive 1,500 to 2,000 IUs Daily. Go here for complete dosing recommendations.