Vegan vitamins and minerals

Veganism can be a perfectly healthy alternative to eating; the key word being “can”. As with any diet, consumption of all the essential vitamins and minerals is necessary, but special attention must be paid with vegan diets because it is easier to become deficient in a vitamin or mineral when you severely restrict food sources. In general, plants are excellent sources of vitamins and minerals, but getting ALL of the necessary ones is a different story. If you’re completely eliminating meat, and often dairy products, you are seriously narrowing your vitamin and mineral intake to those found solely in plants. Animal products are major sources of certain essential vitamins and minerals that the body needs, such as Omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients must come in through vegetables, fruits, grains, cereals, nuts, seeds, and legumes. It is possible to successfully be a vegan and not have to worry about deficiencies, but you must know which vitamins and minerals to make up for and how to avoid these inadequacies by getting the appropriate number of servings from each food group.

Biggest Concerns

Foods must be selected carefully to alleviate the concerns of nutritional deficiencies involving calories, vitamins, minerals, and protein. The way to do this is with proper planning and a clear understanding of nutrient sources.

  • While insufficient caloric intake is one of the least important concerns, it is more common for vegans to be underweight because plant foods are not as high in calories as animal foods. Eating higher calorie foods that are acceptable on a vegan diet can easily solve this minor problem. These include nuts, beans, corn, green peas, potatoes, avocados, orange juice, and dried fruit. Insufficient caloric intake becomes a major concern when an eating disorder is involved.
  • Vitamin deficiencies are very common and easily incurred. Vitamin B12 is not found in plant foods so is often lacking from a strict vegan diet. This source can be made up for in fortified soy milk, fortified breakfast cereal, or a B12 supplement. A less common deficiency can be found with vitamin D because this is not found in plant foods, but if exposed to sunlight for at least 15 minutes every day, then this is not a problem.
  • Mineral deficiencies can be common as well because some plant foods form compounds during the digestion process that block the absorption of some minerals. The ones affected are iron, zinc, and calcium. Including foods rich in these minerals, and balancing the intake of grains, legumes, and vegetables will negate this problem.
    • Iron-rich plant foods: beans, nuts, dates, prune juice, dried fruit, dark green leafy vegetables, and grain products that are enriched with iron.
    • Zinc-rich plant foods: whole wheat bread, peas, corn, and carrots.
    • Calcium-rich plant foods: broccoli, spinach, cabbage, mustard greens, and calcium-fortified beverages (soy milk and orange juice).

Protein deficiencies are the major concern for vegetarians in general, especially children who are on a vegan diet. The two types of protein taken in through food are complete and incomplete; complete proteins contain all of the essential amino acids, and animal products often fall into this category. Plant products are incomplete proteins. To make up for the deficit acquired from eating only plant foods,  a variety of plant sources should be eaten together to provide all of the essential amino acids necessary for proper health. These are called complementary proteins because one product may have the essential amino acid that another is lacking.

  • Grains and cereals are complemented by legumes because the carbohydrate group is lacking lysine and has significant amounts of methionine, while legumes have the exact opposite.
  • More specific examples of complementary proteins are bean and corn; soybeans and rice. All of these pairs make a perfect match because one group makes up in the amino acid that the other is lacking.

Food Guidelines for a Vegan Diet

This guide will help the vegetarian get all of the daily requirements for nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It may be necessary to take a supplement to avoid deficiencies if it is hard to maintain the amount of servings in a particular food group.

  • Grains/Starchy Vegetables: 8-11 or more servings
    • Food examples: barley, bran, whole wheat bread, corn, fortified cereals, enriched macaroni, potatoes, rye wafers or bread, and enriched spaghetti.
  • Legumes: 3 or more servings
    • Food examples: great northern beans, kidney beans, lima beans, pinto beans, soybeans, tofu, chickpeas, and lentils.
  • Nuts and Seeds:  3 or more servings
    • Food examples: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, peanut butter, pecans, walnuts, sesame and sunflower seeds.
  • Fruits: 4 or more servings
    • Food examples: apples, bananas, grapes, peaches, pineapple, citrus fruits, dried fruits, and 100% fruit juices.
  • Vegetables: 4-6 or more servings
    • Food examples: artichokes, asparagus, cabbage, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower), tomatoes, carrots, and lettuce varieties.
  • “Milk” Products: 3 or more servings
    • Food examples: non-dairy soy milk and non-dairy rice milk.
Last updated on Nov 4th, 2010 and filed under Nutritional Information. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response for “Vegan vitamins and minerals”

  1. Zarah says:

    You need to have a look at the China study then the World peace diet. Did you know that animals get most of there protein from plants, so why not go right to the source.

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