Veganism is certainly a buzzword at the moment, and for good reason. The science behind the benefits of a plant-based diet is undeniable. But some people are still worried about deficiencies. Read on to discover how to avoid deficiency and thrive on a vegan diet.
Dietary deficiencies are a warranted fear since they can jeopardise the brain and body, causing poor health. When we’re talking about a vegan diet, the concern seems to increase due to general misinformation and a lack of understanding about plant food. This, unfortunately, reinforces the notion that we must consume animals to achieve perfect health.
“The most ethical diet just so happens to be the most environmentally sound diet and just so happens to be the healthiest.” - Dr. Michael Greger
The reality: we can thrive from eating a plant-based diet IF we understand and implement a few simple things:
• What we need to thrive
• How to get everything we need just from consuming plants (3 steps).
What Humans Need to Thrive
Let’s simplify this. Food contains macronutrients and micronutrients, both of which are essential for optimal health.
Facts to Keep in Mind:
1. All food contains a percentage of each macronutrient - yes, even a banana has protein!
2. Not every food contains micronutrients (this is where deficiencies can occur).
3. Everything you obtain from animal products, you can get from a healthier and more eco-friendly source, i.e. plants or supplements.
4. Bonus: plants don’t contain disease promoting components found in animal products, such as saturated fat, animal hormones, antibiotics, steroids, cholesterol or pus - definitely things we don’t want to be consuming!
How to Get Everything You Need From Consuming Plants
1. Eat Enough Food
Plant products have a lower calorie density than animal products; therefore, we must eat a higher quantity of food to sustain ourselves. Eating more food? Sounds fantastic to me!
If we’re eating enough* and a wide variety (see point number two below), it’s pretty much impossible to be deficient in carbs, fat and protein; these deficiencies are extremely rare in the western world. Yes, the old “but where do you get your protein, though?” really is a non-issue!
Eating a larger quantity of food also makes it very easy to hit micronutrient goals, simply because we can obtain more of everything.
*According to the World Health Organisation, eating enough is:
- 2000 calories minimum for an adult female
- 2300 calories minimum for adult male
2. Eat a Wide Variety of Food
The key here is the word FOOD! Eat real food made from naturally and organically grown plants – avoid highly proceed and refined products, even vegan ones, they will not help you to hit your nutrient and health goals. Keep these as an occasional treat, if at all.
Think of VARIETY as a weekly goal, rather than a daily chore. Including different plant foods in your diet throughout the week is an effortless and achievable way to reach micronutrient goals.
Wholegrain oats, brown rice, quinoa, potatoes, beans, pulses and legumes are great meal staples that you can eat in abundance, along with fruits, vegetables, leafy greens, nuts and seeds.
Below are some vitamins and minerals that vegans are often quizzed about, with the corresponding plant foods that contain these nutrients.
Iron: Brown rice, dried apricots, leafy greens, tofu, kidney beans and lentils.
Zinc: Cacao, leafy greens, tempeh, oats, seeds and beans.
Calcium: Plant dairy alternatives (e.g. fortified soy/almond/coconut milk and yoghurt), tofu, tahini, leafy greens, broccoli and sesame seeds.
Omega-3: Flax, hemp, chia, walnuts, seaweed, algae and supplements.
Selenium: Brazil nuts, chia seeds and flax seeds. Just three Brazil nuts give you your full RDA of selenium.
Vitamin E: Almonds, almond milk, broccoli, spinach and kiwi fruit.
Vitamin B12 is essential for the brain and nervous system to function correctly; deficiencies are serious and must be avoided.
How do we go about obtaining vitamin B12? In 2020, the most ethical way to consume B12 is via supplementation. Here’s some context:
Microorganisms, primarily bacteria that occur in soil and water, manufacture B12. Many years ago, we used to ingest B12 naturally from eating unwashed vegetables such as mushrooms and potatoes; these days, however, vegetables must be cleaned to meet food safety standards. Additionally, the bioavailability of B12 is far lower than it used to be, so even if we could obtain it from vegetables, it’s not a very reliable source.
Why do animal products contain vitamin B12 then? They only provide B12 when the animal eats grass and ingests soil that contains B12. Not very many commercially or factory-farmed animals are grass-fed though, in fact, most are not, and so to compensate for this farmers routinely add B12 to the animal feed or opt for quick-fix B12 injections.
Taking a B12 supplement yourself where you are in control of the quality and origin is much better than getting it second hand via consuming fortified meat or dairy products. I would rather choose my B12 supplement myself, thank you very much.
Also, animal agriculture is taxing on the planet, requiring an incredible portion of the world’s resources to be sustained, not to mention the suffering and loss of freedom and life for the animal – not cool. Eating animals for B12 is also more expensive than supplementing.
Verdict? Vitamin B12 supplements are a win-win for all!
Head to your local health food shop or online resource and pick up one of the following:
• Vitamin B12 tablets, which you take 3-4 times a week
• Vitamin B12 spray, which you take daily
• Vitamin B12 injections (along with insulin needles), which you take once or twice a month
Vitamin D3 has a similar story to B12. We have been conditioned to think that we need to consume dairy (mainly cows milk) to get enough vitamin D because the only other source is via sunlight. Indeed, getting adequate sun exposure can give you enough vitamin D.
But, if you live in a temperate climate, like the UK, for example, for most of the year the sun will not be strong enough to stimulate your body to manufacture its own vitamin D.
Topping up on vitamin D by consuming cows milk is not necessary though, because the same way that meat is fortified with B12, milk is fortified with vitamin D. Therefore there is no benefit to getting your vitamin D from milk. As mentioned earlier, it is much better to choose your own supplement rather than let the dairy industry choose it for you. Plus milk comes with antibiotics, hormones, steroids, pus and animal cruelty. Supplements do not.
Conclusion on How to Avoid Deficiency on a Vegan Diet
If you’re following these tips, you should have no problems with deficiencies when following a vegan diet. You’ll probably find you feel healthier and have more energy than when you ate animals – that’s the beauty of plant power!