One of the biggest debates in the vegan community is regarding the use of supplements; some support this, while others oppose this. Remember that by following this eating habit, you avoid consuming all types of animal-based food products and by-products. This means that you do not consume dairy and eggs, which are two of the best sources of nutrition in any type of diet. Due to these reasons, people who follow vegan diet plans have a higher risk of developing deficiency diseases. In this article, we will discuss in detail vegan supplements and their health benefits.
Nutrient Deficiency In Vegan Diet
Nowadays, people are switching to plant-based diets or have started eating more plant-based food. This is due to their health benefits and higher nutritional value. However, some of the essential nutrients are either absent or are not easily absorbed from plant-based foods. They are vitamin B-12, vitamin D, iodine, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, vitamin K-2, and zinc. So, most health care experts recommend that these nutrients must be supplemented in a vegan diet.
Vitamin B-12 can be considered the most important nutrient that vegans must pay attention to as it is required for maintaining many biological processes. For instance, it plays a key role in the formation of red blood cells, is required for a healthy nervous system and the metabolism of proteins. You must know that people absorb and use this vitamin differently, and the body’s ability to use it declines with age.
Vegans have a higher risk of developing vitamin B-12 deficiency because this essential nutrient is not found in most plant-based foods. So, people who follow vegan diet plans must test their vitamin-B12 levels from time to time. Vegans can supplement this nutrient by regularly eating nori. It is a type of seaweed rich in this vitamin. Another option is to eat vitamin B-12 fortified foods.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient required for proper immune system function, healthy teeth, bones, and muscles. This nutrient is mainly produced by the body when the skin gets exposed to the UV rays in sunlight. Because of this, doctors recommend that you must expose yourself 15 to 20 minutes to the sun. Remember that most food does not naturally have this nutrient in them. The best source of vitamin D for vegans are fortified foods like cereals, plant-based milk, and mushrooms.
Iodine is essential for the healthy function of the thyroid gland. It is present in small quantities in plant-based food, but this also depends on the soil in which it is grown. Those who consume edible seaweed can meet their dietary iodine requirement. That said, most people get this nutrient from iodized salt which is used in vegan meal preparation.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids consist of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); DHA and EPA are long-chain fatty acids. They have several health benefits, and they are listed below:
- Lowers the risk of heart disease.
- Reduces the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
- They aid neurodevelopment in infants and children.
Plant-based food contains ALA, but many of them do not contain DHA and EPA. Keep in mind that the body can produce DHA and EPA from ALA. However, according to 2017 research, our body has a limited capacity for this conversion. Vegans can get ALA from canola oil, flaxseeds, and soy products, while EPA and DHA can be obtained from algae oil supplements.
Iron is an essential nutrient that is required to produce healthy red blood cells and helps them carry oxygen. It is an important component of the hemoglobin (Hb) protein of red blood cells. It is found in two forms in food: heme form in animal-based food, and non-heme form in plant-based food. The non-heme form of iron is not easily absorbed by the body.
Listed below are iron-rich food that you must include in your vegan meal:
- Whole grains
- Dark, leafy vegetables
- Dried fruits
- Iron-fortified vegan food and cereals
Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin C ensures that your body properly absorbs iron from plant-based food. For this, you can use lemon juice for dressing salads made with leafy greens. Furthermore, too much iron may cause hemochromatosis. It is recommended that vegans get their blood iron levels checked.
Calcium is an important nutrient required for bone and teeth formation, heart health, and muscle function. Its absorption from plant-based food is limited by the presence of antinutrients called oxalates, but its absorption can be increased by consuming vitamin D.
Listed below are sources of food rich in calcium:
- Legumes like chickpeas
- Dark, leafy greens like watercress, mustard greens, and bok choy
- Iron-fortified plant-based milk
On a final note, when you are following vegan diet plans, ensure that you are eating a balanced diet so that you do not suffer deficiency diseases.