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What nutrients are particularly important for vegans?

This might be helpful if you are vegan or considering becoming a vegan too!

 

There are many reasons why people go vegan, from wanting to make healthier life choices, to reducing their environmental footprint, to concerns about animal welfare. No matter the reason, people may find it difficult to meet the required nutrient intake targets for specific vitamins and minerals whilst following a vegan diet.

 

Before we start, I really want to acknowledge a favourite Templestowe local cafe – PowerPlant. You will love them, regardless of your food preferences! Just check out their insta (@powerplant_cafe)

The four most important nutrients you should be consuming to maintain a healthy diet include:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Iron
  • Calcium and 
  • Iodine

Below are some ways on how to ensure you are consuming enough of these vitamins and minerals in your diet.

It is important that if you are considering a vegan diet to contact your local GP and/or nutritionist to ensure you keep a healthy vitamin and mineral intake. If any of the following signs or symptoms matches what you are experiencing, please contact your local GP.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a role in the production of new red blood cells, DNA (your genetic code), components within myelin (coating around your nerves), and neurotransmitters required for proper brain functioning.

Symptoms of Vit B12 deficiency may include:

  • Lethargy & tiredness
  • Low exercise tolerance
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate or palpitations
  • Easy bruising and bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Bowel or bladder changes, and 
  • In some cases bleeding gums

Symptoms relating to nerve damage include loss of sensation in the hands or feet, feelings of being uncoordinated, brain changes including memory loss and mood changes and visual changes.

For vegans, plant sources of Vit B12 include some algae and plants exposed to bacterial action or contaminated by soil or insects. Traces of Vit B12 may be found in:

  • Mushrooms
  • Nori or fermented soybeans, 
  • Vitamin B12-supplemented soy or nut ‘milks’
  • Meat substitutes. 

Check the nutrition information on the labels for the B12 content.

Calcium

Calcium is required to help develop and maintain the bones in our body, and is stored within the teeth and bones. It also plays an important role in heart, muscle and nerve function.

Low calcium intakes have been associated with osteoporosis, or “brittle bones”, and a higher risk of bone fractures. Both low intakes of calcium and vitamin D levels may increase this risk of osteoporosis. 

Vegan food sources for calcium include:

  • Tofu or bean curd
  • Some fortified soy or nut beverages
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Legumes 
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Green leafy vegetables may also contain calcium

Iodine

Iodine is required to make specific hormones in the body required for normal growth, regulation of metabolic rate, and development of the body’s nervous system.

Low iron may lead to the enlargement of the thyroid gland (located in front of your throat). This is known as hyperthyroidism. 

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Lethargy & tiredness
  • Muscular weakness
  • Feeling cold
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor memory
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin 
  • Constipation

Iodine sources for Vegans may include:

  • Iodised salt
  • Commercial bread made using iodised salt
  • Fortified soy or nut milks (check the product label)  
  • Seaweed

Iron

Iron is needed in the body to make haemoglobin in red blood cells, a compound which carries oxygen around the body. Additionally essential in the production of energy in your muscles, concentration and maintaining a healthy immune system.

Deficiency may present as:

  • Reduced work capacity
  • Impaired brain function
  • Lower immunity  
  • Delayed development in infants

For adequate iron levels, a vegan diet should consist of foods from plant sources such as grains and vegetables. For example, this may include:

  • Mushrooms
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes 
  • Tofu

To increase iron absorption in the body, it is recommended that vitamin C rich vegetables and fruits are also consumed. 

 

If you’d like to talk to us further about anything mentioned above, or how your body can be affected by certain foods book an appointment here.

References:

Craig, W. J. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89(5), 1627S-1633S.

Information also retrieved from: https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2019/05/the-four-most-important-nutrients-for-vegans/