Did you know there are now an estimated 600,000 vegans in the UK and over 500,000 people have pledged to go vegan with Veganuary this month – that seems incredible considering just five years ago it was still a niche interest; and over 13 years ago, when I switched from vegetarian to vegan, it was barely even talked about.
So whether vegan living is part of your day to day or you’re just trying it out, one thing is for sure and that’s nutrition is key. Getting the balance right is super important because once you’ve knocked meat, fish and dairy out of your diet, it could be quite easy to end up with a nutritional deficiency.
B12 for example, is only found in meat, fish and dairy so experts emphasise how important it is to supplement this for optimum energy as well as brain and neurological health. Keeping on top of what you eat, exploring new foods and ways to substitute animal ingredients and eating a wide variety of foods (to get a wide range of nutrients) is a big part of being vegan – and for me, it’s what makes it interesting and creative.
Here, Jenny Carson, BSc, MRES, Nutritionist and Technical Supervisor at Viridian Nutrition reveals the nutrients deficient or are at very low levels in the vegan diet and why they’re important. Hope this inspires you to take an active and curious interest in your vegan adventures!
For more tips and inspirations, follow me on Instagram @YanarFitness and share your vegan stories.
‘Eating a wide variety of food groups will help provide the essential nutrients in a vegan diet. For example, plants, plant seeds and sprouted seeds are incredible sources of vitamin and plant-specific nutrients that include vitamin C, E plus flavonoids and carotenoids which can be transformed into vitamin A. Meanwhile seaweeds, algae and green leafy vegetables can help provide sources of iodine, calcium and iron.’Jenny Carson
These are the key nutrients, according to Jenny, to keep an eye on:
A vitamin involved in hair and skin health. A review of evidence showed that 500mcg daily supported hair regrowth[i], hair maintenance and skin health.
2. Vitamins B6 and B12
Essential to support energy, detoxification, production of DNA and cells, besides hormone, neurotransmitter and energy production. Fatigue, poor cognition and lethargy can indicate a low B vitamin status. Those following a vegan diet should supplement with B12.
Forms an essential part of blood haemoglobin, the transporter that carries oxygen to the cells to produce energy. Research has shown that iron levels that are too low or too high inhibit immune function and predisposes the individual to infection.
4. Vitamin D
Deficiency can reduce the immune function and increase susceptibility to infection.[iii] Add at least 400iu to maintain vitamin D status.
Works in synergy with phospholipids and is known to be essential for brain function, in fact, a recent observational study showed that foetal brain development was positively associated with maternal choline intake.[ii]
6. Co-enzyme Q10
Naturally made by the liver from the amino acid tyrosine and is abundant in the heart muscle, however CoQ10 production declines with age.
Vital for thyroid activity, the process that drives metabolism. An underactive thyroid is associated with fatigue, constipation and feeling cold, besides low mood and lethargy.
8. Vitamin K
Positively associated with a reduction in arterial stiffness and vascular calcification through its synergistic effect with Vitamin D and Magnesium to direct calcium into bone and teeth.
Considered one of the most important amino acids involved in the preservation of muscle mass, especially in older people that lose mass through ageing.[iv] [v] It belongs to the class of amino acids called branched chain amino acids and are suggested to be the most easily absorbed and utilised.
Plays a role in the activation of genes and silence arginine in the presence of herpes simplex to disrupt the progression of cold sores. It also can be transformed into other amino acids based on need.
The starter nutrient for a process that supports detoxification, the production of DNA and new cells. Interestingly, it works in association with magnesium, vitamin B2, B12 and folic acid.
[i] Patel DP, Swink SM, Castelo-Soccio L. A Review of the Use of Biotin for Hair Loss. Skin Appendage Disord. 2017 Aug;3(3):166-169. doi: 10.1159/000462981. Epub 2017 Apr 27.
[ii] Marie A. Caudill, Barbara J. Strupp, Laura Muscalu, Julie E. H. Nevins, and Richard L. Canfield. Maternal choline supplementation during the third trimester of pregnancy improves infant information processing speed: a randomised, double blind, controlled feeding study. The FASEB Journal. 2018 32:4, 2172-2180
[iii] Bergman P, Lindh AU, Björkhem-Bergman L, Lindh JD. Vitamin D and Respiratory Tract Infections: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS One. 2013 Jun 19;8(6):e65835.
[iv] Komar, B., Schwingshackl, L. & Hoffmann, G. J Nutr Health Aging (2015) 19: 437.
[v] Martínez-Arnau FM, Fonfría-Vivas R, Cauli O. Beneficial Effects of Leucine Supplementation on Criteria for Sarcopenia: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 17;11(10). pii: E2504.