Vegan and vegetarian diets are generally really healthy. However, it is really common for vegans and vegetarians to be deficient in nutrients that are primarily found in animal products. Furthermore, poor quality of modern soil and modern agricultural techniques make the nutrient content of fruits and vegetables lower than those we evolved to eat. There are several nutrients that are commonly deficient in people who have plant-based diets, these include: Vitamin B12, Creatine, L-Carnitine, Iodine, Omega 3’s, Protein
Deficiencies in these nutrients can affect multiple factors, such as energy levels, metabolism and our ability to concentrate. Thus, it is important to ensure that we incorporate these nutrients into our diet in order to maintain optimum health. But how do vegans and vegetarians get these nutrients? Well, here is how…
What is it? Creatine is an amino acid that is a vital energy source for brain cells, muscles and the central nervous system. Creatine is not essential in the diet, as it can be produced by the liver. However, research shows that vegans and vegetarians often have lower amounts of creatine than omnivores.
Why do I need it? A lack of dietary creatine will not cause any negative consequences but there are a lot of positive effects of having creatine in your diet: – Research indicates that vegetarians and vegans supplementing creatine experience an increase in cognitive functioning, primarily memory formation and attention span. Physically, creatine has also been shown to improve muscle growth and power output. Studies have indicated that vegans and vegetarians benefit more from creatine supplementation than omnivores.
How can I get creatine from food? Creatine is primarily found in meat… so that’s a bit tricky. As creatine is not found in any plant foods, vegetarians and vegans can only get it from supplements.
How to supplement creatine? To supplement creatine, take 5g with a meal, once a day. The lowest effective dose for creatine is 2 g a day. Some people choose to load creatine initially; taking five times more creatine than the standard dose, before dropping to down to 5g a day after five days. This can help to experience benefits faster, but it is not essential. The best way to supplement creatine is through creatine monohydrate. People with sensitive digestive systems should consider supplementing micronized creatine monohydrate, which can be gentler on the stomach. Research indicates that creatine may be more potent when supplemented alongside L carnitine and beta-alanine.
What is it? L-Carnitine is an amino acid found exclusively in meat products.
Why do I need it? It is important for fat metabolism, sports performance, and cognition. Research shows that L-Carnitine supplementation can reduce the symptoms associated with muscular and cognitive fatigue for vegetarians, vegans, people undergoing chemotherapy, and the elderly. L-carnitine, when supplemented by elderly people, may also play a role in fat loss.
How can I get L-Carnitine from food? L-Carnitine is found exclusively in meat products. Up to 75% of carnitine stores in omnivores can be attributed to their diet.
How to supplement L-carnitine? To supplement L-carnitine for cognitive benefits, take 250 mg of acetyl Lcarnitine (ALCAR), once a day. Slowly increase your dose to 500 mg, taken once a day. To supplement L-carnitine for physical benefits, take 2,000 mg of L-carnitine or L-carnitine L-tartrate (LCLT), once a day. L-Carnitine should be supplemented alongside carbohydrates to improve the rate at which L-carnitine is absorbed by the muscles.
What is it? It is a water-soluble vitamin also known as the energy vitamin. Studies suggest that one in four adults are deficient in Vitamin B12. Also, the older you get, the more likely you are to have Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Why do I need it? Vitamin B12 is important for a number of vital functions, including energy production, cognitive functioning, blood formation, DNA synthesis, and reproductive health. Vitamin B12 deficiency reduces cognitive ability and causes weakness and fatigue, as well as megaloblastic anemia. Health risks associated with Vitamin B12 deficiency include neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, and an increased risk of heart disease.
How can I get it from food? Vitamin B12 is found in animal products. Common sources include meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. Nutritional yeast, non-dairy milks and mock meats are sometimes fortified with B-12, but not always. It is a myth that vitamin B-12 is available from sea vegetables, tempeh or fermented foods. Some suggest that Nori seaweed, tempeh or fermented foods are a suitable source of Vitamin B12, however there is currently insufficient evidence for these claims.
How to supplement it?
Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy may not need to supplement vitamin B12. If you are vegan, then you probably need to take a Vitamin B12 supplement. To supplement vitamin B12, take 25 – 100 mcg a day. Higher doses, even as high as 1,000 – 10,000 mcg, are not toxic because the body will not absorb more than it needs. Vitamin B12 can be supplemented through the vitamin B12 forms cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin, or S-adenosylcobalamin. People with diabetic nephropathy or kidney problems related to diabetes should talk to their doctor before supplementing vitamin B12.
What is it? Iodine is a dietary mineral. A 2011 meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that vegans may be at a greater risk of iodine deficiency.
Why do I need it? Iodine is important for cognitive development and a properly functioning thyroid and metabolism. Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism and can have the following symptoms: low energy level, tingling/numbness in the extremities, weight gain, depression and increased cholesterol levels. Iodine is especially important for pregnant women as a deficiency can severely impact the ability to have a healthy pregnancy and the health of the child. Women that plan to have children in the near future should keep an eye on their iodine intake, since iodine is important for early childhood development. Iodine can also counteract goitrogens, which are plant-based compoundsfound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale that can reduce thyroid hormone production.
How can I get it from food? The two biggest sources of iodine are sea vegetables, like seaweed and kelp, and iodized salt. Also, legumes, especially navy beans or any canned beans that contain kombu (which is added for flavor and to help with digestion). Other sources include potatoes with the skin, strawberries and soymilk. The iodine levels of plant foods can vary greatly; it depends on the quality and iodine content of the soil they are grown in. Very few foods contain iodine naturally. Dairy products contain iodine because iodine products are used to clean the equipment and cows’ teats and some iodine ends up in the milk and dairy products.
How to supplement it? To supplement iodine, take 75- 150 mcg (micrograms) with a meal or an empty stomach, once a day. Do not take more than 500 mcg of iodine. Many multivitamins contain iodine. Just don’t overdo it though, as too much can be just as bad as not enough! Both can cause goiter, which is characterized by neck swelling. So be careful how much you take!
Note: People on blood pressure medications that raise potassium levels should not supplement iodine. Ask your doctor if iodine is a concern if you are on blood pressure medication.
DHA/EPA (Omega 3’s)
What is it? Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega 3 fat found in marine animals such as fish and krill. Essential fatty acids mean both Omega-6 and Omega-3. These are both required nutrients, which make it essential to eat dietary fat. Omega 3’s comprise of three types of fatty acid: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).
It is important that the ratio between our Omega-6 to Omega-3 is small; some evidence says 6-to-1 is good. This is significantly smaller than the 15-to-1 ratio of the average diet and research has shown that some vegans have an even larger ratio than that.
Why do I need it? Omega-3 fatty acids are important for normal brain function and heart health, and pregnant women who are deficient in DHA also place their children at increased risk for developmental problems. Other health benefits relate to lower cholesterol levels and heart disease prevention.
How can I get it from food? DHA is commonly found in marine animals such as fish and krill. DHA and EPA are harder to find in plant foods. DHA can be made from the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is easy to obtain from walnuts, seeds (hemp, flax, chia), and leafy greens. However, although some people’s bodies are able to convert ALA into DHA and EPA in sufficient amounts, others cannot. For this reason, vegetarians and vegans are often lower in DHA than meat eaters. Most of the health benefits linked to omega-3 fats are linked to the animal-based EPA and DHA, not the plant-based ALA. However, plan-based omega 3 fats are still very good for your health. You want more Omega-3 than Omega-6 in order to balance the rest of the day’s (generally) higher intake of Omega-6.
How to supplement it? There are a lot of different theories related to how much we should supplement. There are people who believe in minimal dosages of 250mg for general health being obtained primarily from fish intake. The American heart foundation recommends 1g per day whereas some nutritionists say to take 1g per percent of body fat. This is to help with bringing down inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity. It’s been reported that pregnant women should take at least 200mg per day of DHA to help with the cognitive development of the foetus. In general then, you’d be looking to take between 1-4g per day depending on how much fish you eat and grass fed meat. Those looking for more body compositional changes may need to supplement between 4-10g per day.
What is it? Dietary protein contains a combination of important amino acids, nine of which are absolutely essential to our basic functions, because they can’t be created by our bodies. When we talk about dietary protein and getting enough, our concern is with these indispensable amino acids.
Why do I need it? These amino acids have specific roles in our bodies, from metabolism to muscle development. Protein deficiency is associated with poor motivation and energy, feeling tired a lot and sometimes hair falling out. Vegetarians and vegans should pay particular attention to their dietary protein intake because most non-animal protein sources have low bioavailability of protein. This means that less protein is absorbed by the body after consumption.
How can I get it from food? There are plenty of non-animal sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, grains, seeds and vegetables like spinach and broccoli. It is important to make sure that you vary your diet (not relying too heavily on a single protein source) in order to help ensure you are getting all the amino acids you need.
How to supplement it? If time constraints prevent you from eating a varied high protein diet, then protein supplements are a fast and easy way to get more. Protein powder is particularly useful for very active people, who train and play sport, who need more protein. Vegetarian and vegan protein powders include soy, hemp, pea, and rice protein. Stick with a minimally processed form, so that your protein powder is as close to a whole food as possible. No isolates – protein isolates and even complete plant proteins are likely to raise levels of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), the hormone commonly cited as a primary link between animal protein and common cancers when its levels are too high in adults.
The amount of protein you need per day depends on your activity level, weight, and fitness goals. Sedentary people should aim for 0.8g per kg of bodyweight, while athletes need 1.0-1.5g per kg. Athletic people that are trying to lose body fat while preserving lean muscle mass should aim for1.5 – 2.2g per kg.
In conclusion, vegetarian and vegan diets can be very healthy; a lot of people who consume plant-based diets are much healthier than the average person. However, certain nutrients are more difficult to obtain from a plant-based diet. Thus, it is important for everyone to be aware of this so as to make a conscious effort to incorporate these nutrients into our diets in order to obtain optimal health.