Certain vitamins and minerals can be tricky to find in your diet when you’re vegan. Here’s how to nail those essential nutrients
If you’re already a vegetarian or flexitarian, there may be one question stopping you going vegan: will I get enough vitamins and minerals?
It’s a valid concern: some nutrients – such as vitamin B12 and omega-3 – are naturally more plentiful in meat, fish or dairy.1
The good news is that a balanced vegan diet can give you all the vitamins and minerals you need.2 You just need to know which ones are a little trickier to get hold of…
Which vitamins and minerals could be missing on a vegan diet?
Here are the nutrients you can go short of – and how to get enough. Choose carefully and it’s easy to get enough essential nutrients to live a healthy vegan life.
Find it: This mineral, needed for healthy cells, is found in the largest amounts in meat, shellfish and dairy foods.3
Fix it: Include wholegrains, soya, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds in your diet – all are good vegan sources of zinc.
Find it: Vitamin B12, needed for normal metabolism, is only naturally found in meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may not get enough.4
Fix it: Plant milks, yeast extract and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 – eat them twice a day. A B-complex supplement containing at least 10mcg of B12 a day (or 2000mcg a week) can help top up your levels, too.5
Find it: Iron is essential for healthy red blood cell production but it is found as haem iron in meat and fish, and non-haem iron in plant sources. Researchers have found that non-haem iron is harder for our bodies to absorb.6
Fix it: Plant sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, nuts, wholegrains and dried fruits. To improve absorption, pair your meals with vitamin C-rich food and drink, like berries or orange juice.
Find it: Omnivores and vegetarians get much of their calcium – essential for healthy bones and teeth – from dairy foods, which can make it tough to get enough on a vegan diet.7
Fix it: Tuck into sesame seeds, kale, tahini, almonds, pulses, and dried fruit. Calcium-set tofu is good too – look for calcium carbonate or calcium sulphate in the list of ingredients. Plant milks (apart from organic versions) are often fortified with calcium, too.
Find it: Oily fish is the best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids, vital for healthy brain, heart and eyes, particularly two types called EPA and DHA. A plant source of omega-3 is ALA, but our bodies can only convert 10-30% of ALA into DHA – leaving vegans at risk of a deficiency.8
Fix it: Chia seeds, walnuts, linseeds, hemp seeds and rapeseed oil contain ALA, while seaweed and algal oil supplements are a vegan source of EPA and DHA
Find it: Dairy foods, fish and shellfish are the richest sources of this mineral. We need iodine for normal thyroid function, growth and metabolism. Seaweed is a highly concentrated vegan source of iodine, but take care; eating it more than once a week can provide too much, and is linked to thyroid gland disorders.9,10
Fix it: Limit eating seaweed to just once a week, or choose something where the iodine content is regulated – either a daily multivitamin containing iodine, or a sea kelp supplement.
Try out our Vegan Recipes packed with essentials vitamins and minerals
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies
Written by Carole Beck on November 8, 2018
Reviewed by nutrition consultant Fiona Hunter on November 28, 2018
1. NHS. Vegetarian and vegan diets Q&A. Available from: www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/
2. BDA. British Dietetic Association confirms well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages. Available from: www.bda.uk.com/news/view?id=179
3. NHS. Others: vitamins and minerals. Available from: www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/others/
4. NHS. B vitamins and folic acid. Available from: www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/vitamin-b/
5. The Vegan Society. Vitamin B12. Available from: www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/nutrients/vitamin-b12
6. Young I, et al. Association between Haem and Non-Haem Iron Intake and Serum Ferritin in Healthy Young Women. Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5793309/
7. Ambroszkiewicz J, et al. The influence of vegan diet on bone mineral density and biochemical bone turnover markers. Available from: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21092700
8. HSIS. Omega-3 fatty acids: a review of the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. Available from: www.hsis.org/omega-3-fatty-acids-a-review-of-the-benefits-of-omega-3-fatty-acids/
9. BDA. Iodine. Available from: www.bda.uk.com/foodfacts/Iodine.pdf
10. National Institutes of Health. Iodine. Available from: www.ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional/