Vitamins and Minerals for a Vegan Diet
With many people taking part in Veganuary last month, our friends at Amaranth health & wellbeing would like to share their insight in to the vegan diet, including the benefits and important things to be aware of:
Vitamins and Minerals for a Vegan Diet
By Zoe Taylor, Nutritional Therapist at Amaranth
The vegan diet is growing in popularity, the trend rising fastest amongst 15-34 year olds1. It is seemingly easier than ever to follow with increased access to information, widely available vegan products and a new wave of vegan and restaurants, including of course our neighbours Vertigo on Cross Street that offer a delicious range of wholefood, freshly made vegan dishes.
There are many proven health benefits to the vegan lifestyle. A well-planned, varied vegan diet can increase your intake of protective nutrients and minimize the dietary factors implicated in several chronic diseases. In the last two decades vegan diets have been used therapeutically for coronary heart disease, diabetes and some cancers with significant results2,3.
Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet Include:
- Reduced risk of heart disease – vegans tend to have lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure4.
- Reduced risk of some cancers – due to less carcinogen exposure and increased fruit and vegetable intake. Cancer rates are typically 50-70% lower in vegetarians than the general population5.
- Reduced risk of obesity – vegans tend to be leaner with a lower BMI thus reducing the risk of several chronic diseases6.
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes – a high fibre diet aids blood sugar control. Diabetes rates for vegans and vegetarians are less than half those of the general population7.
A little word of caution here though, these benefits come from a diet rich in wholefoods including vegetables, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds. More and more pre-packed vegan ‘junk foods’ are appearing on the supermarket shelves and at fast food outlets. Like any processed food, these are often high in trans-fats, salt and sugar and will not give the benefits of a wholefood vegan diet.
There are some essential nutrients that it can be harder to get from a vegan diet so a little planning is required to make sure you get everything you need to maintain your energy, vitality and immune function. Specific supplements are also recommended. We have listed our favourites here and the nutritional therapists at Amaranth offer a free health review and can make personal recommendations for you.
The nutrients that may be lacking in a vegan diet are :
- Omega-3 fats
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
So what can we do to make sure we are getting it right?
Protein: Include a variety of plant-based proteins such as pumpkin seeds, lentils, chickpeas, quinoa, beans and nuts. Although protein deficiency is rare, it is essential to vary your intake to ensure you consume the full range of amino acids that your body requires.
Plant-based proteins may be less digestible than proteins from animal products; a daily intake of 1g per kg of body weight is recommended9. Protein powders are a simple way to top up your intake. Favourites of the Amaranth team are from Purition, Vivo Life, Pulsin and Supernova.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Due to the absence of marine-sourced fats, vegan intake of omega-3 can often fall below the recommended requirements10.
Combining whole food sources of ALA with supplemental algae-derived DHA & EPA will help optimise levels11. Food sources of ALA include chia, flaxseed, hemp seeds and walnuts.
Iron and Zinc: Vegan diets commonly contain higher amounts of phytates, found in whole grains and legumes, which inhibit the absorption of iron & zinc12. Food preparation techniques such as soaking, sprouting and fermenting can reduce phytate levels and increase bioavailability13. Reducing intake of tannins, found in tea, coffee & cocoa may also assist with absorption.
Iron is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies, yet many plants provide this important mineral. Sources include beans, seeds, lentils, chickpeas, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms and dried apricots. Iron uptake is increased when eaten alongside vitamin C such as peppers, kiwifruit, oranges and berries.
If you feel tired or have pale, sallow skin, this may be a sign that you need an iron supplement. We recommend Viridian Balanced Iron complex as this contains a gentle form of iron that will not upset the digestive system.
Your GP can test your iron levels so this can be a useful way to find out if you are getting enough.
Plant-based sources of zinc include nuts and seeds, beans, legumes, quinoa, mushrooms and spinach. Again, be sure to soak legumes and grains.
Vitamin B12: Primarily available from animal food sources, vegan diets lack adequate levels of vitamin B12. Daily supplementation is recommended to ensure optimal levels of this essential vitamin are met14,15.
There is a range of vegan vitamin B12 supplement options on our shelves. Viridian offer a high potency capsule (1000 µg), Vivo Life offer B12 in liquid form (500 µg per serving) and Cytoplan offer a capsule (1000 µg) to be taken sublingually for those who may not absorb other forms as well.
Calcium: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. There are many vegan-friendly sources of calcium including leafy green vegetables, legumes, almonds, dried figs and chia seeds3. A rich and varied vegan diet can offer good levels of calcium but exercise caution with salt and caffeine as these can increase calcium loss.
Additionally, low vitamin D levels can reduce calcium absorption.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D is naturally present in very few foods, it is primarily produced by the skin following sunlight exposure. Due to the cooler climate, many Northern Europeans have low levels of vitamin D, particularly during the winter months.
The richest food sources of vitamin D are animal derived and many supplements are developed from lanolin in sheep’s wool and so are unsuitable for vegans.
Recent research has shown both algae and lichen to be rich in vitamin D3 and we stock supplements derived from both. Viridian’s lichen supplements are available in liquid and capsule form, and are available in doses of 400, 1000 and 2000IU. Vivo life’s liquid vitamin D3, derived from algae, is 2000IU. Pop in store for more information16,17.
Iodine: Plant foods contain variable and often low amounts of iodine. The amount is dependent on the soil in which the plant is grown. Good vegan sources of iodine include mushrooms, strawberries, kelp and sunflower seeds18.
Although seaweed is an excellent source of iodine, some types are contaminated. Our Viridian kelp supplement is a fully organic whole food harvested from the oceans surrounding Iceland and Ireland. Each capsule offers the full recommended daily intake19.
The Bottom Line:
A vegan diet can be very healthy but whole food choices and planning is needed to make sure that you do not become deficient in key essential nutrients. Some nutrients, namely B12 and Vitamin D are not present in plant foods and so supplementation is required. A good quality B12 and Vitamin D are recommended as a minimum, alternatively the Viridian Nutrition Vegan Multivitamin contains both of these has been designed to fill the nutritional gaps in a vegan diet.
Our nutrition team are here to help and provide advice. You can book a free health review via our website at Free Health Review – Amaranth (amaranth-wellbeing.com), and we will make specific recommendations for you.