Important vegan vitamins and minerals are often overlooked in the scheme of vegan nutrition. When a vegan diet is balanced and well-planned, it can be completely nutritionally adequate for those in all stages of life, including athletes! While many vegans worry about not getting enough protein, and may require protein supplements for their training. Here are a few of the most important vegan vitamins and minerals to consider on a vegan diet:
Vitamin B12 is one of the biggest concerns in vegans and vegetarians, as it is mainly only naturally found in animal products. A recent study found around half of vegans in the UK to be deficient in vitamin B12! However, thanks to improved food technology, many cereals and alternative milk products are now fortified with vitamin B12. A well-balanced vegan supplement can also help prevent this deficiency. Vitamin B12 plays a role in DNA synthesis and red blood cell formation (red blood cells carry oxygen to working muscles!). Lack of vitamin B12 in a vegan diet can lead to fatigue, anemia, and severe neurological disorders.
Vegans might stress about calcium deficiencies because of the lack of dairy products in a vegan diet. However, many non-dairy milk products are fortified with calcium, and plenty of vegetables are rich in this essential vitamin. Calcium is essential for bone health and muscle contraction – especially for vegan athletes! Calcium also plays a role in maintaining salt balance in bodily fluids. Low calcium intake can lead to weak bones, greater susceptibility to stress fractures, and eventually osteoporosis. Leafy greens and broccoli are rich in calcium, but consider vegan supplements if you worry you’re not getting enough.
Iron has a wide variety of functions in the body – it carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues as hemoglobin, it’s a transport medium for energy within cells, and it’s integral to a variety of enzyme reactions. Iron deficiencies can manifest in many ways – fatigues, weakness, decreased resistance to infection, and reduced attention span. Iron is more readily absorbed through animal products (a form known as heme iron), but can also be found in vegan supplements, and some fruits and vegetables like spinach and peas. Combining iron-rich foods with citrus fruits and juices (vitamin C) also enhances absorption of non-heme (plant-based) iron!
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain and nervous system health, and they boast anti-inflammatory properties. Vegans and vegetarians are particularly susceptible to omega-3 deficiencies because these fatty acids are only obtained through the diet (they can’t be synthesized in the body). While most people associate these important nutrients with fatty fish, they can also be found in flaxseeds, walnuts and hemp seeds.
Nutrient deficiencies mess with your bodily processes at the cellular level. Resolving these deficiencies is incredibly important for optimal growth, development, and function.
“Our bodies are our gardens. Our wills are our gardeners” – William ShakespeareSince deficiencies can be sneaky, it’s important to eat a whole food plant-based diet with variety and balance. If you need to, keep a log of what you eat for a couple days and review the levels of essential nutrients that you’re consuming. If you’re lacking in one of these vital nutrients, consider a vegan protein or vitamin supplement. Your body will thank you.