The 6 Most Common Nutrient Deficiencies of Plant-Based and Vegan Diets

I don’t promote or condemn any particular dietary theory. My job and passion is to support others in making their diet, whatever they choose, to be as healthy as possible. To help them nourish their bodies to live a happier, healthier life with more energy and less stress. So you will not find any lifestyle bashing in the words I write or say. With that being said, most of the time when someone chooses a restrictive diet they inevitably end up with common nutrient deficiencies that need to be made up with supplements or strategic planning.

The decision to eat a plant-based, vegan or vegetarian diet can be based on such things as environmental, religious, ethical or health concerns. About 2% of the population follows a plant-based diet while 1% follow a vegan lifestyle. Plant-based and vegan lifestyles are gaining a lot momentum these days and unfortunately there is A LOT of bad (and even dangerous) advice out there that is based on anecdotal evidence and bad science. This goes with every popular dietary theory whether it’s Veganism, Paleo, Macrobiotic, etc.

Below are the 6 most common nutrient deficiencies to watch out for if you or someone you care about follows a strictly plant-based or vegan diet:

Vitamin B12

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B12 is only found in reliable levels in animal foods. This makes supplementation with this vitamin absolutely essential for those who avoid animal products. You can get vitamin B12 from fortified products like grains and non-dairy milks. Also in nutritional yeasts.

Omega-3

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Some plant-based omega-3 rich fats (which are high in ALA) are flax, hemp, seaweed, walnuts, salba, etc. ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) is converted inefficiently to DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) in the body, therefore it’s ideal for strict plant-based eaters to add a DHA/EPA supplement to their diet. Algae oil is a good option.

 Vitamin D

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Vitamin D is found in very few foods. ONLY foods fortified with vitamin D will provide any vitamin D if you’re eating a strictly plant-based diet. Also, be aware that there are different forms of vitamin D: D2 is animal free and D3 is animal derived. Sunlight is the best source of vitamin D. If you’re not getting enough sunlight, especially during winter months, supplementation is imperative.

Calcium

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Calcium is found in green leafy vegetables, fortified non-dairy beverages, calcium set tofu, nuts and legumes. If consumption of high calcium foods is sporadic, a supplement can be beneficial.

Iodine

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Many plant-based diets rely heavily upon soy foods for protein. It’s very important to know that eating a lot of soy-based foods can compromise thyroid function when iodine intake is lacking. Kelp and other sea veggies, green leafy vegetables, asparagus and sea-based salts are all good sources of iodine. If you’re not eating these foods, supplementation could be critical.

Zinc

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Zinc helps with many important functions like protein synthesis, immunity and blood formation. Zinc absorption from plant foods are lower than animal foods. Strict plant-based diets may need up to 50% higher than that of someone who eats animal products. Coffee, tea and calcium supplements between meals can maximize the zinc absorption from food sources.

Plant foods rich in zinc include quinoa, almonds, chickpeas, lentils, hemp seeds, cacao nibs, goji berries, aduki beans, pumpkin seeds and peanuts.

My general advice, no matter how you choose to eat, is to be cautious of cutting out entire food groups and to imagine your food as your life force, because it is. We have a habit of treating food like a one night stand; not caring where our food came from, and not wanting to think about it after we are done with it. As a society, if we learned more about where and how our food was produced, we would be healthier, happier, live longer AND our environment would be much better off. Treat your food choices like you would a loved one, with care and respect.

Be well.

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Christopher Hostetler is an Integrative Health & Nutrition Coach, proud father, musician, writer and Muay Thai enthusiast residing in Los Angeles. He has made self evolution through nutrition, lifestyle, and mental and physical wellness his life’s work.

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