Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, seeds, nuts—the vegan diet introduces so many valuable, whole foods into your daily nutritive intake. Many of the foods that make it into the vegan lifestyle bring many advantages for the body.
According to Vegan News, over the last 15 years, a growing number of people in the U.S. have transitioned to following plant-based, vegan diets. As of 2020, 9.6 million people were eating a diet that consisted only of plant-based foods, which is a 300 percent increase since 2005.
As popular as the vegan diet may be and as valuable as it may be for your body, some nutrients can be lacking and harder to find in plant-based foods. Here is a short list of nutrients to keep an eye on with your daily intake and where you may be able to get more of them.
1. Vitamin D3
You likely know that vitamin D is important, but what you may not know is that two types exist: ergocalciferol (D2) and cholecalciferol (D3). Vitamin D2 is found quite readily in certain mushrooms and a few other plants, but vitamin D3 is generally found in meat and dairy, and D3 seems to be absorbed by the body more efficiently. To up your intake of vitamin D3, opt for breakfast cereals that are fortified with the vitamin or consider a vegan-friendly supplement made from lichen—one of the few plants containing D3.
Vegans can be more likely to have lower levels of iron intake than non-vegans. The general recommended iron intake for adults is 45 mg per day for both men and women.
Many plants are rich in non-heme iron, which the body may not as readily absorb. Heme iron, which is present in red meat, is shown to be more readily absorbed. Therefore, even if you are eating some iron-rich plants, your body may not be getting enough iron. Thankfully, upping your intake of iron-rich plants may be enough to offset the difference. A few of the best iron sources found in the plant world include:
- Fortified grains
- Palm hearts
- Beet greens
Omnivores and vegetarians who consume milk-based products usually do not have issues taking in enough calcium because dairy is widely recognized as a top calcium source. However, without proper monitoring, a vegan diet can be short on ever-important calcium intake. Recommended calcium intake can change with age, but adults’ baseline should be at least 1,000mg per day.
Thankfully, calcium can be found in several plant-based foods. You must only make sure you are getting these foods into your diet to supply your body with what it needs. Some plants that are good sources of calcium include:
- Bok choy
- Collard Greens
- Calcium-fortified fruit juice
- Vegan-friendly calcium supplements
4. Vitamin B12
Vegans can be more prone to not getting enough vitamin B12 than vegetarians and omnivores. In one study of the three groups, 92 percent of vegans had low levels of holotranscobalamin (holo-TC), an indicator of low B12. A few ways to get more B12 in your plant-based diet include:
- Nori seaweed
- Fermented soy (tempeh)
- Yeast extracts
- Fortified cereal
- Some meat substitutes, especially those containing soy
Looking to learn about fermented foods? Take a look at the benefits of fermented sauerkraut, kombucha, and more.
DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) is a valuable omega-3 fatty acid, but vegans may be more prone to having low DHA intake than those who eat meat. While you can find ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) in some plant foods that essentially translate to DHA after consumption, the conversion is not always efficient. Chia seed and flaxseed are common components in the vegan diet because they contain ALA. You can find DHA supplements derived from a specific type of microalgae known for having good fatty acid levels.
Zinc can be found in small amounts in some plants and fortified foods. So, if you suspect you are not reaching your daily intake goals, it may be worth looking at what foods you can incorporate. The recommended dietary allowance for men is 11mg of zinc per day, and women should get 8mg of zinc per day. A few foods that can be higher in the zinc mineral include:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Kidney beans
- Fortified cereal
Want to know why zinc is important? Find out more about how zinc can support your overall health.
A Vegan Diet Doesn’t Have to Mean Missing Out
Just because you choose to steer clear of animal-based food products, it does not mean your nutritive intake has to take a hit. With careful monitoring, fortified foods, the right supplements, and meal planning, you can easily get in the nutrients you need. Check out your lineup of usual food choices and their nutritional content to ensure your plant-based diet is yielding everything you genuinely need to stay healthy.