There are many reasons people go vegan, from wanting to be healthier, to reducing their environmental footprint; to concerns about animal welfare. No matter what the reason, many people find it difficult to meet the nutrient intake; targets for specific vitamins and minerals while on a vegan diet. These include vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and iodine . Here’s how to make sure you are getting enough of these vitamins and minerals while following a vegan diet.
1. Vitamin B12
Cobalamin or Vitamin B12, is essential for making red blood cells, DNA (your genetic code), fatty acids located in myelin (which insulate nerves); and some neurotransmitters needed for brain function. Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, so a deficiency probably would not happen in adults in the short term.
Symptoms of B12 deficiency
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include tiredness, lethargy, low exercise tolerance, light-headedness, rapid heart rate or palpitations, bruising and bleeding easily, weight loss, impotence, bowel or bladder changes, a sore tongue, and bleeding gums. Therefore, other symptoms related to the nervous system include a loss of sensation in the hands or feet; problems related to movement, brain changes ranging from memory loss to mood changes or dementia; but visual disturbances, and impaired bowel and bladder control.
Vegan food sources of B12
Vitamin B12 is abundant in animal foods including meat, milk and dairy products. For vegans, plant sources of vitamin B12 include some algae and plants exposed to bacterial action or contaminated by soil or insects. But the traces of vitamin B12 analogues can be finding in some mushrooms; nori or fermented soy beans, more reliable sources include vitamin B12-supplemented soy or nut “milks”, or meat substitutes. But check the nutrition information panel on the label for the the B12 content. Crystalline vitamin B12 added to these products can boost the B12’s absorption rate to a level similar to that from animal products.
Calcium is need to develop and maintain the skeleton bones; and is storing in the teeth and bones. It is also essential for heart, muscle and nerve function. Testing for calcium deficiency. But low calcium intakes are associating with osteoporosis or “brittle bones” and a higher risk of bone fractures. A bone scan is using to measure bone density, with osteoporosis diagnosing when bone density is low. Both low calcium intakes and low vitamin D levels increase the risk of osteoporosis. Check your bone health using the Know Your Bones online quiz.
Vegan food sources of calcium
Although the richest sources of calcium are milk and milk-based foods, vegans getting calcium from tofu or bean curd; but some fortified soy or nut beverages, nuts, seeds, legumes, and breakfast cereals. Calcium needs can be higher for vegans and vegetarians due to the relatively high oxalic acid content of foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beans, and the high phytic acid content of seeds, nuts, grains, some raw beans, and soy products. These specific acids can lower the calcium absorption from these foods by 10-50%. In a study of calcium intakes of 1,475 adults , vegans were below national recommendations and had lower calcium intakes compared with vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and omnivores.
Thyroxine, a thyroid hormone used in normal growth, regulation of metabolic rate, and development of the central nervous system. Iodine is required as concentrated form in the thyroid gland.
Vegan food sources of iodine
The iodine content of food depends on the iodine content of plants, which in turn depends on soil iodine content. When soil content is low, iodine may need to be supplemented. Major sources of iodine are seafood, dairy products, and eggs. For vegans, iodised salt, commercial bread made using iodized salt, fortified soy or nut milks (check the product label) and seaweed are important. Substances called goitrogens, which are found in brassica vegetables – including cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, sweet potato and maize can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones.
Iron is needed to make hemoglobin in red blood cells, which carries oxygen around your body. It is also needed for the production of energy in your muscles, and for concentration and a healthy immune system.
Vegan food sources of iron
In Australia and New Zealand, the biggest contributors to iron intake are wholegrain cereals, meats, chicken, and fish. The amount of iron absorbed from food depends on a person’s iron status (with those who are iron-deficient absorbing more), as well as the iron content of the entire meal, and whether iron is haem (from animal foods) or non-haem iron from plant sources such as grains and vegetables. Although iron from plant sources is less able to enter the body, you can boost your absorption by adding lemon or lime juice (citric acid) or other vitamin C-rich vegetables and fruits, which convert non-haem iron to a form than is better absorbed.