Bowl of almonds

8 essential nutrients for Vegans

Having a vegan diet has many health benefits, including being low in saturated fats, lower in sugar and having higher levels of antioxidants. However, excluding certain food groups can cause deficiencies in certain nutrients and minerals.

There are 8 nutrients that you need:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

For non-vegans, most of these nutrients come from meat, fish and dairy products, so as a vegan, it’s important to find alternatives to meet your needs.

Vitamin B12

B12 has a host of benefits including: fighting fatigue, keeping our bodies’ nervous system and blood cells healthy and it even helps to produce DNA.

For non-vegans, B12 intake comes from meat, fish and dairy products, so vegans must find alternatives to gain this vital vitamin.

Fortified foods like vegan-friendly milks, vegan spreads, yeast extracts, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast flakes all contain levels of B12. It’s important to eat these foods as regularly as you can to maintain your intake of B12. If you are unable to find ways to add foods like the above into your diet, it is advisable to look for a B12 supplement.

Protein

Protein is vital for the repair and growth of our muscles and bones, as well as carrying oxygen around our bodies – so its super important we get enough!

Vegan-friendly foods containing protein aren’t too hard to find and there’s lots to choose from.

Tofu, non-dairy milk, cheese or yoghurt, buckwheat, lentils, tempeh, nut butters, beans or pulses and vegetables are all great sources of protein and versatile enough to be eaten throughout the day.

Top tip: Make sure to have a protein based food with every meal.

Iron

Iron is needed to help our red blood cells carry oxygen around our bodies. Without enough iron, we can feel sluggish and tired.

Lentils, chickpeas, tofu, chia seeds, ground linseed, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots or figs, raisins, quinoa and some fortified breakfast cereals are all great sources of iron.

Did you know: Vitamin C increases the absorption of iron? Eat the above foods with ones that are full of vitamin C to help absorb iron both effectively: peppers, broccoli, cabbage, oranges and grapefruit.

Calcium

A vegan diet may contain low levels of calcium due to one of the main dietary sources being dairy foods. Calcium helps to keep our bones and teeth strong and helps our nervous system function.

Calcium-set tofu, calcium fortified bread (Burgen Soya & Linseed is a good choice) and calcium fortified milk or yoghurt are all great sources. You could also try kale, spring greens, dried figs, chia seeds or almonds.

Vitamin D

Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D, but as we live in the UK, it can be difficult to get as much as we need, especially during the winter months.

It’s hard to get enough vitamin D (10mcg per day) from our diet, so a vegan-friendly supplement may be the answer.

Vitamin D2 is suitable for vegans, but be sure to read the labels on other vitamin D variants as they may come from animal sources.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Unfortunately, Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids aren’t able to be produced by our bodies, so it’s important to gain these essential fats from our diet.

Foods that contain these essential fats include: seeds like linseed, pumpkin, sunflower or hemp, walnuts, soya spreads and vegetable oil.

Zinc

Zinc is beneficial for muscle growth and repair and helps keep our skin in great condition.

You should be able to get all the zinc you need (7mg for women and 9.5mg for men) through your diet. Zinc can be found in cashews, almonds, walnuts, chickpeas, beans, and hemp or pumpkin seeds.

Selenium

This mineral can help with healthy hair, skin and nails, help to keep your thyroid functioning well and help with male fertility.

Selenium can be found in onions, tomatoes, broccoli, garlic and brown rice. Brazil nuts have a particularly high selenium content and you only have to eat 2 a day to get the right amount your body needs (60mcg for women and 75mcg for men).

With this information and a little effort you can get all of the nutrients and minerals you need from vegan friendly foods.

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