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7 Nutritional deficiencies on a vegan diet

A plant-based diet has many benefits for animal welfare, health and the planet. However, our bodies have a demand for certain nutrients that are either not available in plant-based food or if they are, are in forms that are difficult to absorb into the blood stream.

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A vegan diet requires careful planning so here are some guidelines to ensure you remain healthy. I would also advise you to visit your doctor annually and have your nutrient levels tested.

1

Amino acids. Amino acids from protein are required for a variety of functions in the body; from the manufacture of hormones to the repair of muscle and connective tissue. For example, tyrosine is needed to manufacture thyroid hormones (essential for energy) and tryptophan is required for serotonin (to make you feel happy and motivated).

Quinoa is the best plant-based protein source containing all the essential amino acids. Nuts, chickpeas, lentils and beans contain a particular variety so to ensure that you achieve the full range, eat a varied diet. Vegan protein powders, such as pea protein are a useful addition.

2

B12. Vitamin B12 is essential for energy, a healthy immune system and the synthesis of red blood cells but the challenge for vegans is that it is only found in animal foods. B12 deficiency is medically recognised in vegans. A deficiency is linked to pernicious anaemia and possible nerve damage.

Look for plant-based milk and cereals and nutritional yeast which have been fortified. Consider taking a high-quality supplement along with a vitamin B Complex supplement to avoid deficiency in all B micronutrients.

3

Calcium. You need calcium for strong teeth and bones. It also plays a role in muscle function and nerve health. Vegans tend not to get enough calcium which puts them at risk of bone fracture.

Plant sources include broccoli, watercress, kale, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, sesame seeds and dried figs. Vitamin D, which we can make from sunshine on our skin, is required to improve the absorption of calcium so consider a vitamin D supplement in Autumn and Winter.

4

Iodine. A diet low in iodine results in an under-performing thyroid gland. Low levels of thyroxine, the hormone produced by the thyroid, is linked to fatigue, weight gain, depression and brain fog.

Sadly, fruit and vegetables will not provide enough iodine. Eat sea vegetables such as kelp and look at for fortified dairy alternatives. Consider buying iodized salt.

5

Iron. Iron is carried in the haemoglobin of red blood cells and is essential for the production of energy and. Vegans run a high risk of being anaemic because iron found in plant-based foods (non-haem iron) is less bioavailable than iron from animals.

Eat spinach, chickpeas, lentils, dried apricots, figs and raisins. Combine these with a vitamin C-rich food, such as tomatoes, red peppers, citrus, to enhance the absorption of iron through the gut wall.

6

Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for our eyes, heart, immunity and brain and you can only get them from your diet – we cannot manufacture them ourselves. Although you can obtain omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, vegans are often deficient because plant-based omega-3 fatty acids require conversion in the body to a form the body can use and this is an inefficient process.

Walnuts are an excellent source, as well as hemp seeds, linseeds, pumpkin seeds avocados and olive oil. Ensure you eat something on this list daily.

7

Zinc. The body has a high demand for zinc for many body functions including immunity but although it is available in plant-based foods, the phytates in these foods bind to it and prevent absorption.

Good sources of zinc include pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts and wholegrains. Soaking beans before cooking reduces phytic acid. To eat raw, try sprouting beans, peas and lentils; the sprouting process frees zinc and makes it more bioavailable.

Learn more about healthy eating in my best-selling book How to Prevent Burnoutand my latest book, ‘Life Force. The revolutionary 7-step plan for optimum energy’.

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