Plant based diets have become increasingly popular over the past few years! Vegan diets exclude meat, dairy and any other animal products and focus mainly on fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and grains. While we love incorporating more plants into the diet, any diet that excludes entire food groups raises cause for concern of deficiencies. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian or simply prefer to eat mostly plant based, you want to be mindful of which nutrients your diet may be lacking.
Protein is probably the most commonly discussed nutrient of concern when it comes to a vegan diet. This is mainly because protein is found in large amounts in dairy, meat and egg products. Our bodies need protein to build, repair and recover in a range of 10-35% of our daily caloric intake. This can vary depending on your activity level as those who lift weights or are trying to put on muscle may need to take in larger amounts of protein. While being vegan makes protein a little more challenging to get in, it isn’t impossible. Foods like tofu, edamame, nuts, lentils, hemp seeds and vegan protein powders are all good sources of protein. Make sure to eat a wide variety of different plant based proteins to ensure you’re getting a complete protein source with your meals. A complete protein source is one with all nine essential amino acids. This is found in tofu, soy and animal products, but not found in most other plant proteins.
Vitamin B12 is commonly deficient in a vegan diet. This is because it is found in animal products in large amounts, but not as common in plant products. The amount of vitamin B12 needed varies by individual, but for most adults the recommendation is 2.4mcg per day. In a vegan diet, vitamin B12 can be found in nutritional yeast with one serving containing more than the recommended daily value. Nutritional yeast works great on avocado toast, pasta or salads. B12 may also be found in fortified cereals or milks. If you suspect you still aren’t getting enough, you may want to consider a B12 supplement.
Iron is another nutrient found largely in meat and fish, making it a cause for concern for a vegan diet. However, iron is also found in foods like spinach, legumes, quinoa and pumpkin seeds. Vegans can obtain enough iron through their diet if they are conscious of their intake and make sure to include iron rich foods on a daily basis. Daily recommendations are about 8mg for men over 18 and 18 mg for women over 18. These recommendations change for those pregnant or lactating. If you do not think you get enough iron in your diet, consider taking a supplement.
Here at Nourished Routes we encourage a diet rich in fruits and vegetables as well as plant based protein sources and grains. A vegan does not automatically equate to a healthy diet, and when eating an entirely plant based diet it is especially important to include a variety of different foods to make sure you’re not missing out on any essential nutrients!
This article was written by Lindsey Moser, nutrition intern of Nourished Routes. Fact checked by Allison Tallman.