08th June 2018 | Blog
Vitamins For Vegans: The 4 Micronutrients You Might Be Deficient In
If you’re vegan, you’ve probably heard about B12 and why you should be supplementing it. Beyond the cries of “But where do you get your protein from?”, B12 is often cited as the only thing vegan’s need to supplement. However, it’s not the only micronutrient that you might be lacking in on a vegan diet.
Here are four micronutrients that a vegan, living in England, would find difficult to get from food.
Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues. In fact, it’s only found in plant based foods when they have been contaminated with micro-organisms from manure, or in legumes from nitrogen fixing bacteria in the roots. Neither of those sound like they’d look good on your Instagram feed. Unfortunately, that means it’s not possible for vegans to get enough B12 form their food.
What’s the risk of not getting enough B12?
Vitamin B12 is crucial for a healthy brain function and maintaining your immune system. You need to be supplementing daily to avoid deficiency. If not, you may start noticing fatigue, muscle weakness, tingling sensations, forgetfulness and dizziness. In the long term, a serious shortage of B12 will lead to anaemia. The damage that a vitamin B12 deficiency causes can remain hidden for many years before showing any serious effects, so it’s vitally important to keep on top of your supplementing.
Us Brits don’t get enough vitamin D across the board, regardless of whether or not you’re a meat eater, vegetarian or vegan. We just don’t get the sunlight on our skin to synthesis the vitamin. However, Vitamin D can also be absorbed from dietary sources. Unfortunately, it’s mainly from animal sources - Vitamin D3 occurs naturally in certain fish, meat, egg and dairy. A lot of foods are fortified with vitamin D, including cereals and milks, however vegans need to be careful as it will either be derived from sheep’s wool or lichen (a vegan-friendly source).
Why do I need Vitamin D? Vitamin D is needed to help keep our bones healthy, as it helps to control the levels of calcium and phosphate in our bodies. It's recommended for an adult to get 10mcg a day of vitamin D.
Vitamin A is available to the body in two forms: preformed vitamin A, which is only found in animal foods and provitamin A, which we can get from plant food. However, provitamin A has to be converted to the preformed vitamin in the liver. This means you need to be getting much more than your meat-eating counterparts. Curiously, as well, for some people this conversion isn’t even possible – if you’re one of these unlucky folks, you’ll need to supplement.
In addition to this, it's important to make sure you're getting enough fat in your diet. It’s only when we consume fat that our body can produce the bile salts that are needed to convert the provitamin A into the useable form. So low-fat and raw vegan diets aren’t necessarily the ideal.
Vitamin A is important for normal vision, the immune system, and reproduction and you need to be getting between 700 and 900mcg of it per day. If you’re not getting enough you may experience some problems with your sight.
Although Zinc is found in seeds, legumes and grains (the main staple of many vegan diets) the bioavailability of zinc is much higher in animal sources. But that’s okay right, you can just eat more?
Well, turns out that certain foods such as phytates, oxalic acid, calcium and high fibre diets all inhibit absorption of zinc. This means that for vegans, who will generally have a lot of these in their diet, they will find it difficult to get enough zinc from their food.
Zinc helps the immune system, helps make proteins and DNA and is important for proper taste and smell. As an adult you should be getting 8-11mg a day, or you risk hair loss, diarrhoea, eye and skin sores and loss of appetite.
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