Were you vegan? Keep an eye on these 4 nutrients


There are many reasons for people to become vegans, to want to be healthier, to reduce their environmental footprint, to concerns about animal welfare.

No matter what the reason, many people find it difficult to meet nutrient intake targets for specific vitamins and minerals while on a vegan diet. These include vitamin B12, iron, calcium and iodine.

Here's how to make sure you're getting enough of these vitamins and minerals while following a vegan diet.

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is essential for producing red blood cells, DNA (its genetic code), fatty acids located in the myelin (which isolate the nerves), and some neurotransmitters necessary for brain function.

Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, so a deficiency will probably not happen in adults in the short term.

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, lethargy, low tolerance to exercise, dizziness, fast heartbeat or palpitations, bruising and bleeding, weight loss, impotence, bowel or bladder changes, sore tongue and bleeding gums.

Other nervous system-related symptoms include loss of sensation in the hands or feet, movement-related problems, brain changes ranging from memory loss to mood or dementia changes, visual disturbances, and impaired bowel and bladder control.

Test for B12 deficiency

Your doctor may order a blood test to check your vitamin B12 status and determine if the indicators are in the healthy range.

B12 Vegan Food Sources

Vitamin B12 is abundant in foods of animal origin, including meat, milk and dairy products.

For vegans, plant sources of vitamin B12 include some algae and plants that are exposed to bacterial action or contaminated by soil or insects. While traces of vitamin B12 analogues can be found in some fermented mushrooms, nori or soybeans, more reliable sources include soy supplemented with vitamin B12 or nut "milks" or meat substitutes. Check the Nutrition Facts panel on the B12 content label.

The crystalline vitamin B12 added to these products may increase the absorption rate of B12 to a level similar to that of animal products.

2. Calcium

Calcium is needed to develop and maintain skeletal bones and is stored in the teeth and bones. It is also essential for cardiac, muscular and nervous function.

Test for calcium deficiency

Low intakes of calcium are associated with osteoporosis or "brittle bones" and an increased risk of bone fractures.

A bone scintigraphy is used to measure bone density, with osteoporosis diagnosed when bone density is low.

Both low calcium intake and low vitamin D levels increase the risk of osteoporosis. Check your bone health using the online quiz Meet your bones.

Sources of Vegan Calcium Food

Although the richest sources of calcium are milk and dairy foods, vegans can get calcium from tofu or curd, some fortified soy drinks or nuts, nuts, seeds, legumes, and breakfast cereals.

Calcium requirements may be higher for vegetarians and vegans because of the relatively high oxalic acid content of foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beans and high phytic acid content of seeds, nuts, grains, some raw beans and soy products. These specific acids can reduce the calcium absorption of these foods by 10-50%.

In a study on calcium intake of 1,475 adults, vegans were below national recommendations and had lower calcium intake compared to vegetarians, semivegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and omnivores.

3. Iodine

Iodine is needed to produce thyroxine, a thyroid hormone used in normal growth, regulation of metabolic rate and development of the central nervous system. Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid gland.

Symptoms of iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency can lead to enlarged thyroid gland, a goiter or hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include lethargy, tiredness, muscle weakness, feeling of cold, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, weight gain, depression, facial swelling, hair loss, dry skin, constipation and slow heartbeat.

In women, iodine deficiency can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and congenital anomalies including mental retardation and cretinism.

Iodine deficiency test

Your iodine status can be evaluated by a number of tests, including thyroid hormones in the blood, thyroid gland size or the presence of a goiter. Talk to your doctor about these tests.

Vegan sources of iodine

The iodine content of the food depends on the iodine content of the plants, which in turn depends on the iodine content in the soil. When the soil content is low, iodine may need to be supplemented.

The main sources of iodine are seafood, dairy products and eggs.

For vegans, iodized salt, commercial bread made with iodized salt, fortified soy or walnut milk (check product label) and seaweed are important.

Substances called goiters, which are found in brassica vegetables – including cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and corn – can interfere with the production of thyroid hormones.

4. Iron

Iron is needed to produce hemoglobin in red blood cells, which carry oxygen through the body.

Iron is also needed for the production of energy in your muscles and for concentration and a healthy immune system.

Symptoms and tests for iron deficiency and anemia

Not having enough iron leads to iron deficiency and is associated with reduced ability to work, impaired brain function, decreased immunity and delayed development of infants.

The first stage of iron deficiency is called low iron stock and your doctor may refer you for a blood test to check your iron status.

Sources of Vegan Iron Food

In Australia and New Zealand, the major contributors to iron intake are whole grains, meats, chicken and fish.

The amount of iron absorbed from food depends on a person's iron status (with those with iron deficiency absorbing more), as well as the iron content of the whole meal and whether the iron is heme (from animal foods) or not heme iron from plant sources such as grains and vegetables.

Although iron from vegetable sources is less able to enter the body, you can increase its absorption by adding lemon or lime juice (citric acid) or other vegetables and fruits rich in vitamin C, which convert non-heme iron into a form rather than absorbed .

Take care of food components that inhibit the absorption of heme and non-heme iron, including calcium, zinc and phytates in vegetables, rice and other grains, and polyphenols and plant proteins that may inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron.

Long-term vegans also need to keep an eye on vitamin D, omega-3, fat and protein levels.

A good strategy is to consult your doctor periodically to review your health and well-being, and an experienced nutritionist can check if you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Vegan diets are increasing malnutrition in rich countries

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Were you vegan? Keep an eye on these 4 nutrients (2019, May 1)
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