Do Vegans Get All Essential Nutrients?

Laura Poole

Posted on November 07 2017

Do Vegans Get All Essential Nutrients?
Do vegans get all essential nutrients from eating only plants?  Read on for some quick points on common vegan nutrition misconceptions.


“So how do you get your protein?”

I am always surprised by this question.  I get my protein from plants of course!  That is where I get all of my nutrients!   Other than the protein question, I am often asked about iron, calcium, Vitamin B12 and omega 3’s.  This page will show you some of the things vegans eat for those nutrients, as well as touching on some nutritional myths.

 

 

Protein  

Good vegan sources of protein:

-Seeds (hemp, chia, sunflower, flax)
-Nuts (almond, walnut, cashew, pistachio)
-Beans (lentils, navy bean, kidney bean, white bean, soy bean)
-Grains (wild rice, oat, quinoa, barley)
-Vegetables (potato, kale, broccoli, leafy greens, mushrooms)
-Fruit (avocado, peaches, apricots, raisins)

Protein Myth

Contrary to popular belief, protein is really never an issue for vegans.  In fact, not only is it a non-issue for vegans, research has proven that many people eating a standard western diet are consuming too much protein.  Too much protein can cause all sorts of debilitating health problems such as kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, and gout.  There have also been studies done linking animal protein (specifically casein) to tumour development, compared to plant based proteins which decrease tumor development.

I would also like to point out that some of the strongest animals on the planet eat a diet mainly (if not completely) consisting of plants.  Think elephants, horses, gorillas!

Iron

Vegan sources high in iron:

-Oatmeal
-Lentils
-Leafy greens – spinach/kale/Swiss chard
-Coconut
-Sea vegetables
-Soybeans/tofu
-Chickpeas
-Iron fortified cereals and energy bars
-Spirulina
-Quinoa
-Blackstrap molasses
-Tomato paste
-Dark chocolate

Iron Myth

Have you ever heard that iron found in a vegan/vegetarian diet doesn’t measure up to iron found in meat?  This is not the case.  It is true that vegan iron sources are non-heme iron and can be harder for the body to absorb due to phytates that are found in these vegan foods.  But it is also true that vitamin C counteracts phytates’ from interfering with this process.  So by eating something with vitamin C along with foods containing iron, absorption is enhanced.  Meat sources of iron are both non-heme and heme.  The heme iron in meat comes from the blood in the animals tissues.  To me it seems ironic that a person will say they get their iron from the meat of a cow, when cows are herbivores by nature. 

Although iron deficiency is a serious medical issue, it should be noted that dark green leafy vegetables and beans have more iron per calorie than meat.  It is also important to realize that vegans and vegetarians do not have higher incidences of iron deficiency than meat eaters!  Iron deficiency is most often caused by long term blood loss.  The inability to absorb iron is another cause.

Calcium

Vegan sources of calcium:

-Kale/leafy greens
-Almonds, Brazil nuts
-Soy beans/tofu
-White beans
-Blackstrap molasses
-Broccoli
-Fortified nut milks (almond milk)

Calcium Myth

Many people believe that in order to avoid bone disease such as osteoporosis they must consume milk and dairy.  This is not the case at all.  In fact, there is a lot of research done to prove the exact opposite is true!   Yes, that drinking milk and consuming dairy is causing osteoporosis and bone disease!  How can that be one might ask.  Unlike eating plant based foods, eating dairy (and meat) makes the body acidic.  Our body releases calcium (which is basic) from the bones to compensate and neutralize the bodies pH.  Over time if enough calcium is released from bones, it can make them more prone to osteoporosis as well as breaks and fractures.  It is really quite shocking to think that the countries where milk and dairy consumption are the lowest there is dramatically less bone disease.  Contrary to countries where milk and dairy consumption are the highest, bone disease is the highest as well.

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is made by microorganisms that are found in healthy, rich soil as well as by microorganisms that are present in the intestines of humans and other animals.  Because the B12 made in our intestine is not sufficiently absorbed we should consume B12 in food.  The requirement for this nutrient is low, but it is essential for cell division and blood formation.  Research has shown that plants grown in healthy, rich soil will absorb this vitamin.  But there is one problem – the majority of produce grown today are grown in non-organic, nutrient depleted soil, and are therefore lacking in B12.  Although we do store approximately a 3 year supply of vitamin B12 in our bodies, if you are eating a vegan diet it is a good idea to supplement with a B12 vitamin.  Even though I do try to buy organic produce where I can, I personally have been taking a vegan supplement of B12 a few times a week just to be on the safe side.  On top of that, several of the products that I buy (such as almond milk) are fortified with B12 along with other nutrients.

Vegan sources of Vitamin B12

-Fortified almond/soy milks, veggie ‘meat’ products, breakfast cereals
-Vegan B12 supplements (methylcobalamin is better for absorption compared to cyanocobalamin)

Omega 3’s

Vegan sources of Omega 3’s

-Flax seeds
-Chia seeds
-Hemp seeds
-Walnuts

 

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