One of the best ways to keep healthy is to eat a diet rich in whole foods. However, there are a few vitamins and minerals that can be typically low when following a plant-based diet. It’s a good idea to get blood work done by your healthcare provider at least once a year to make sure your levels are up to par. Often, people may not even know they are deficient until they start experiencing symptoms later on. I was surprised how low I was in a few of these nutrients after seeing my blood work but have gotten my levels back on track through my diet and supplements.
5 Vitamins & Minerals
Vegans Should Keep An Eye On
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin)
Needed for: cell division (production of DNA), healthy red blood cells, production of myelin sheath around nerves, fat and amino acid metabolism, folate activation.
While you can get a blood test for B12, a better marker for deficiency methylmalonic acid (an organic acid which can be tested in urine). If MMA is high, it indicates a true B12 deficiency.
There are no naturally occurring plant-based foods that contain B12, however, some foods (like nutritional yeast) are fortified with them. It is essential for vegans to get enough B12 so while it may be possible to get the amount needed through fortified foods, it’s easier to take a supplement and be done with it.
Needed for: calcium level regulation in blood and tissues, bone density, cell growth and development, immune system cells.
Bloodwork will test 25 OH D levels. If levels are low, which many times they are for vegans especially in the winter because vitamin D is synthesized by the sun, you can take a supplement to get them back up to normal. Once normalized, supplements can be re-evaluated with your nutritionist or doctor.
Plant-based food sources of Vit D: There are not many naturally occurring foods with Vitamin D except for mushrooms if they have been treated with UV rays. Some fortified foods like some non-dairy yogurt and milk, orange juice, cereals, and tofu contain vitamin D – just be sure to check the packaging.
Needed for: bone and tooth health, nerve cell transmission, muscle function, blood clotting, intracellular signaling.
There is no real test for calcium deficiency because your body tightly regulates calcium levels. If you are low in calcium, your body will take it from your bones so you want to make sure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet to prevent osteoporosis.
Plant-based food sources of Calcium: leafy greens (kale, turnip greens, mustard greens) fortified soy and other nondairy milk, fortified tofu, white beans, bok choy, broccoli, and watercress.
Needed for: oxygen transport, muscle formation, energy production, enzyme function.
Many vegans are low in iron because many sources of iron are meat-based. You can get a full iron panel done which includes iron and Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC), ferritin, and transferrin blood tests. It’s good to get these checked every once in a while to make sure levels are adequate and to prevent iron deficiency anemia. For better iron absorption, eat foods high in iron with vitamin C rich foods. There is decreased bioavailability when taken with tea or coffee.
Plant-based food sources of Iron: lentils, carrots, soybeans, broccoli, oatmeal, quinoa, fortified cereals.
Needed for: proper immune system function, cell division and growth, wound healing, antioxidant and enzyme function.
Plant-based food sources of Zinc: lentils, green peas, white beans, wheat bran, corn, oatmeal.Find out the most common vitamins and minerals typically low when following a vegan diet. Click To Tweet
Mary Ellen Valverde MS CNS LDN received her Master’s degree in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. As a Certified Nutrition Specialist, Mary Ellen helps her clients regain their health through a plant-based diet. She uses a functional approach to nutrition and wellness to help uncover the root cause of imbalances that may be impacting health.