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What Vitamins Are Lacking In A Vegan Diet?

There are many good reasons to go meat-free and live a vegan lifestyle, such as reducing the risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

When going meat-free, you must ensure you get enough of all the essential vitamins, minerals and other key nutrients. Otherwise, over time, your vegan diet may give you even bigger health problems. 

Some of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients typically lacking in a vegan diet are: 

  • Vitamin B12 
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin A/Retinol 
  • Zinc 
  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Iodine 
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

The good news is that there are plenty of foods and supplements you can take to make sure your body is getting the nutrition it needs and is fighting fit. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at each vitamin and mineral and explain: 

  • It’s importance for good health
  • Why vegans are lacking in it 
  • The amount our bodies need
  • Deficiency symptoms 
  • How to get the vitamin/nutrient on a vegan diet  

3 Vitamins Vegan Diets are Lacking In 

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for our body and part of the B complex, helping us keep our blood and nerve cells healthy. 

We don’t naturally produce vitamin B12, so it must be consumed through our diet. But getting enough B12 as a vegan can be difficult because it’s mainly found in animal sources. 

Recommended daily allowance

The NHS recommends adults get around 1.5 micrograms of Vitamin B12 per day. 

Symptoms of being vitamin B12 deficient
  • Headaches
  • Feeling faint
  • Pale skin
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Breathlessness
How to get Vitamin B12 on a vegan diet

Vegans can get the recommended dose of Vitamin B12 from marmite and other yeast spreads, fortified plant-based milks such as soya and almond, fortified cereals and nutritional yeast. 

We also have a fantastic collection of products to give you an extra boost of Vitamin B12, you can choose from Vitamin B12 drinks, tablets and oral spray

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is important for healthy bones, teeth and muscles.

We get most of our natural Vitamin D from sunlight, but in the winter months, we have to find alternatives from food which is a challenge in itself as it is impossible to get enough through diet alone. This can be especially difficult for vegans because the largest amounts come from oily fish, red meat, liver and eggs. 

Recommended daily allowance

The NHS recommends that adults consume 10 micrograms of Vitamin D per day.

Symptoms of being vitamin D deficient 
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Bone pain
  • Depression
  • Hair loss 
How to get Vitamin D on a vegan diet

You can get some vegan-friendly Vitamin D from fortified plant-based milks such as rice, oat, soya and almond, mushrooms, fortified cereals and fortified orange juice, but only very low levels.

In the UK, it’s a good idea for all of us to take a vitamin D supplement year-round, even if you get Vitamin D from your vegan diet. 

Vitamin A/Retinol

We need a regular intake of Vitamin A in our diet for all sorts of bodily functions. This vitamin keeps our skin healthy, boosts our immune system and prevents illnesses and infections. 

Vitamin A is found in animal sources, such as cheese, eggs, oily fish and liver, which are obviously not an option if you’re vegan. 

Recommended daily allowance

Men aged 19 to 64 need around 700 µg daily, and women need around 600µg. 

Symptoms of being vitamin A/Retinol deficient 
  • Dry skin/dry eyes
  • Night blindness
  • Infertility and trouble conceiving
  • Delayed growth
  • Throat and chest infections
  • Acne and breakouts
  • Poor wound healing
How to get Vitamin A/Retinol on a vegan diet

Vegans can get their Vitamin A by including sources of beta carotene in their diet, as the body can convert this into retinol. Beta-carotene can be found in fruit and vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, papaya and apricots. 

Nutrients you may be missing if you’re a vegan

Zinc 

Getting enough Zinc is highly important for preventing illnesses and maintaining a healthy immune system. Animal sources, such as meats and seafood, have the highest amount of Zinc, but for vegans, it can be tricky to get enough if you’re not sure what to look for. 

Recommended daily allowance

Men should get around 9.5mg of zinc daily and 7mg for women.

Symptoms of being zinc deficient 
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of taste and smell
  • Hair loss
  • Infections
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling irritable
How to get Zinc on a vegan diet

Vegans can get their daily intake through legumes (lentils, beans and chickpeas), cashew nuts, sesame seeds, oats and tofu. 

Iron

Iron is important for making red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body. It also prevents you from getting iron deficiency anaemia, which can be caused by blood loss or pregnancy. 

Vegans are at more risk of developing iron deficiency anaemia if they’re not incorporating other iron-rich foods into their diet. 

Recommended daily allowance

Men over 18 need 8.7mg of iron daily, women aged 19-50 need 14.8mg and women over 50 need 8.7mg. 

Symptoms of being iron deficient 
  • Headaches, dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Poor appetite
  • Extreme fatigue 
  • Pale skin
  • Easy bruising
  • Brittle nails
How to get iron on a vegan diet

Good plant-based iron sources that are easy to incorporate into an everyday vegan diet include beans, chickpeas, tofu, soybeans, lentils, spinach, kale, nuts, seeds and quinoa. 

Calcium

Calcium is important for the health of your teeth and bones. It also helps the heart, brain, nerves, and muscles function correctly. 

Our bodies aren’t able to absorb plant-based calcium as well as animal sources, which is why vegans often become deficient. 

Recommended daily allowance

It’s recommended that adults get 700mg of calcium daily. 

Symptoms of being calcium deficient

While you may not notice any initial symptoms, long term, you may suffer from some of the following:  

  • Fragile bones
  • Loss of mobility
  • Low blood pressure
  • Spinal or hip pain
  • Compression fractures
  • Brittle nails and hair 
  • Intestinal cramping 
How to get calcium on a vegan diet

Calcium can be found in broccoli, green leafy veg, fortified plant-based milks such as soya and rice, and fortified juice. But since these sources of calcium will not be absorbed as efficiently as animal products, your doctor may recommend a supplement to increase your intake. 

Iodine

It’s important we get enough iodine in our diets because it helps make thyroid hormones, which play an important role in keeping cells healthy and maintaining our metabolic rate. Iodine is also involved in oestrogen production and is important for keeping sex hormones balanced. 

Recommended daily allowance

Adults need 140 micrograms of iodine daily, yet this can be difficult for vegans as most food sources contain very little amounts of iodine. 

Symptoms of being iodine deficient
  • Increased susceptibility to infections
  • Tiredness
  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Weight gain
  • Depression 
How to get iodine on a vegan diet

Vegans can get some of their daily iodine from seaweed, whole grains, green beans, kale, watercress, strawberries and organic potatoes. However, you might be unable to consistently achieve the recommended intake from these foods alone, and a food-grown iodine supplement may be helpful. 

It’s important to test this first, as too much iodine can be equally damaging to the thyroid. We recommend asking your GP if you are concerned. 

Omega-3 fatty acids 

Omega-3 fatty acids offer a range of health benefits, such as reducing inflammation, decreasing blood triglycerides and even reducing the risk of dementia. 

The most well-known sources come from fish oil and fatty fish, and these forms of omega-3 are not an option for vegans, putting them at risk of a deficiency in EPA and DHA, essential omega-3 fatty acids. 

Recommended daily allowance

We should aim to get 500mg of EPA and DHA combined each day, which is roughly the equivalent of a 140g portion of oily fish per week.

Symptoms of being omega-3 deficient 
  • Heart problems
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Poor circulation
  • Dry skin 
  • Poor memory
How to get omega-3 on a vegan diet

You can boost your intake of omega-3s by adding more chia seeds, hemp seeds, seaweed, walnuts, flaxseeds, soyabeans and algae to your diet. Green leafy vegetables and beans also contain small amounts of plant-based omega 3s known as ALA. If you can’t keep on top of your daily intake, there is a range of vegan omega-3 supplements on the market worth exploring. 

Summary

Going vegan could be one of the best decisions for long-term health. But you still need to ensure your body gets all the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients it needs. Otherwise, you may face some pretty severe symptoms in the long run. 

Before you make any changes to your diet, we recommend consulting with your healthcare provider to get properly assessed for any deficiencies. This way, you’ll know exactly what your body needs to maintain a healthy vegan diet. 

Ready for your next read? Check out our other post, where we look at the common deficiencies vegetarians face and how to prevent them.