In the Amazon Prime show: Eat, Race, Win which follows a chef cooking for world-class bike riders for the Tour de France, it was interesting to note that vitamin B12 was highlighted again and again. While we may not be superhuman athletes, a vegan diet is just as challenging to adapt to at first because it’s like a race to study all the food you have to start eating before suffering from the inevitable vegan diet nutrition deficiency. It was interesting to note how the chef from Nederlands goes to buy fresh tuna for the bikers and picks seaweed with the help of the fisherman. She was reminded of her homeland and the seaweed dishes from her childhood but for me, I recalled how a vegan cyclist could get his source of Vit B12 as this deficiency is quite large in the vegan community. Not to criticize the already critical deficiency but it turns out that not all seaweed absorbs well. So let’s dig into some real alternatives.
Vegan Diet Nutrition Deficiency: Here’s How To Eat Better!
Do you want to know if you are getting enough nutrients? Vegan diet nutrition deficiency is a concern for many as vegans might not be getting enough protein, iron, vitamins B1, B2, vitamin B12 and calcium. Let’s look at how we can increase your uptake of vital nutrients.
Do you think you are deficient?
Are you very tired, do you suffer from dizziness, palpitations, or ringing in the ears, do you look pale, do you sometimes feel tingling in your fingers or do you suffer from muscle weakness? All of these symptoms point to vegan diet nutrition deficiency, especially in iron or vitamin B12. Fun fact: A deficiency of protein and vitamin B1 is rarer if you can eat well, so let’s look at that next.
How can I eat healthy vegan food?
Without the consumption of any animal products (such as meat, eggs, fish, dairy, and E numbers of animal origin) vegans need to pay particular attention to whether they are getting enough vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B12, protein, iron, and calcium. These are nutrients found in animal products. So you have to get it from alternate sources.
Where can vegans find sources of protein, iron, B1, and B2?
As a vegan, you can get protein, iron, B1, and B2 from:
- Tofu and tempeh.
- Kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils, and other legumes.
- Nuts, peanuts, kernels, or seeds.
Keep in mind that:
Vegans need to consume a little bit more of these products if they are experiencing any symptoms of vegan diet nutrition deficiency. For example, I would eat a handful of nuts throughout the day or throughout the week. It is also recommended to be careful when you give children nuts. For vegan families, offer children under 4 some peanut butter or nut butters without sugar or salt instead of whole nuts. This is due to the risk of suffocation. Older children can still choke on nuts but this is a vital piece of food to include in your vegan diet.
2 additional tips for iron include:
1) the consumption of fruits and vegetables with meals as they are an excellent source of vitamin C, which ensures that your body absorbs iron better.
2) increased consumption of alternatives to meat or products with iron, such as
- Leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, endive, and green lettuce,
- Potatoes with the skin of the potato intact which has a lot of iron.
- Whole-grain cereal products, such as whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat breakfast cereals, whole-wheat couscous, bulgur, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta
Where can vegans find sources for Calcium?
Plant based alternatives such as soy and vegan yogurt:
You should replace calcium and vitamin B12 in particular if you do not take dairy products, such as milk and cheese. Replace this with plant-based alternatives to milk, such as soy drinks. There are also plant-based alternatives to yogurt and desserts. If you have children please note that children under the age of 1 need breast milk, infant formula, or follow-on milk. This is a must! For those kids who are older, you can start with plant-based alternatives, as recommended by your dietician or nutritionist.
Vegetables, nuts, and legumes:
Vegetables, nuts, and legumes also contain calcium. You should eat a lot of it to get the recommended amount of calcium. You can also use these products in addition to plant-based milk alternatives. For example, vegan adults need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day.
How much calcium is in vegetables, nuts and legumes are listen down below:
- In vegetables, the amount of calcium varies from just 8 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams in bell peppers to 175 milligrams of calcium per 100 grams of cooked spinach.
- In nuts, the amount of calcium per 100 grams ranges from 44 milligrams in cashews to 283 milligrams in almonds.
- In legumes, the amount of calcium ranges from 23 milligrams in lentils to 71 milligrams in cooked kidney beans.
A calculation example: if you eat 300 grams of cooked spinach, 100 grams of almonds (4 handfuls) and 300 grams of cooked lentils (4 to 5 serving spoons) you get 877 milligrams of calcium.
Where can vegans find sources for Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is naturally only found in animal products which is the number one reason why people suffer from a vegan diet nutrition deficiency.
If you do not take any animal products at all, it is recommended to take a vitamin B12 supplement or products fortified with vitamin B12 such as soy drinks with added vitamin B12 and ready-to-use vegan products with vitamin B12.
As we mentioned in the intro, certain seaweeds contain a type of vitamin B12 but your body does not absorb it well. These seaweeds are therefore not a suitable source of vitamin B12 as these variants do not absorb it well.
Where can vegans find sources for enough protein?
As a vegan you need 30% more protein than people who eat meat! This statistic is due to the fact that vegetable protein is so less than you need additional protein from different sources. Combine the protein from legumes, grains, alternatives to meat and milk, whole grain products for a well balanced source of protein.
Where can vegans find sources of Vitamin D?
The body can produce vitamin D in the skin under the influence of sunlight. Vitamin D is also found in food, especially in oily fish, and with lower levels in meat and eggs. In addition, vitamin D is added to low-fat margarine, margarine, baking and roasting products, and some plant-based dairy substitutes.
It can be useful to take a vitamin D supplement to prevent deficiencies. In supplements and products, the added vitamin D3 may come from sheepskin tallow. In the VEG 1 supplements from The Vegan Society, vitamin D3 does not come from sheepskin tallow.
Where can vegans find sources of iodine?
The risk of iodine deficiency is high amongst vegans. Iodine is in fish, eggs, dairy products, seaweed, and bread baked with iodized baker’s salt. If you take no or few animal products and eat little or no bread or bread without iodized salt, then you only increase your chances of vegan diet nutrition deficiency. The solution: use break with iodized baker’s salt.