Many are already familiar with the vegan lifestyle but first we would like to list op some basics before we go into dept into the nutrients. A vegan diet is free of animal products. This means no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, honey,…. It may seem like a lot of restrictions but at the same time it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. Vegetables, fruits, pulses, grains, spices and nuts are a good base and can be combined endlessly. In addition, supermarkets today also have an extensive range of vegan products.
More and more people are opting for a vegan lifestyle or to eat vegan a few days a week. This has several health benefits such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity. Of course, there is also the positive effect on the environment.
So a vegan lifestyle has many benefits but there are also some points to take into account.
Variation is key
As with a diet with animal products, for vegan meals it is important to vary the ingredients, with fruits and vegetables being a good base, so that the body gets different and a broad spectrum of nutrients.
Important nutrients to keep an eye on
Fruits, vegetables, nuts and cereals offer a wide variety of nutrients but animal products remain an important source for some building blocks.
B vitamins including vitamin B12 are water-soluble vitamins. The main source of vitamin B12 are animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy. In addition, the body is also capable of producing vitamin B12. Here, however, there is a major problem because at the place where it is produced, namely the colon, it isn’t possible to absorb vitamin B12 so it is simply excreted. Absorbance actually takes place in the small intestine.
Because plants are not a source of this vitamin, intake in a vegan diet must come from dietary supplements or fortified foods. Note, however, that the latter are often not sufficient enough and often still need to be combined with supplements. The risk of too much vitamin B12 through combination is very limited because B12 is water-soluble and so excess is simply excreted by the body again. The active forms of vitamin B12 are methylcobalamin and adenosylcobalamin. So these are the forms that can be used immediately by the body without first requiring a conversion that is not always efficient. When picking the right supplement, it is therefore important to pay attention to which form is present.
Calcium intake is often associated with dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Fortunately, there are also several vegetables or plant products rich in calcium, think green leafy vegetables, soy products, nuts and seeds. In addition, plant-based milk is also often fortified with calcium. It is a mineral to keep an eye on, though, as a long-term deficiency can lead to weakening of bones and eventually osteoporosis or, in children, inadequate bone formation.
Vitamin D is essential for everyone to keep an eye on because the body produces it under the influence of UV radiation. So in the autumn and winter months when we don’t get outside much, deficiencies quickly arise. Especially in these months, the body needs vitamin D because, among other things, it is an important element for the proper functioning of the immune system. In addition, it is also good for bones, teeth and muscles.
In the past, dietary supplements often contained vitamin D3 of animal origin but today there is already a rich supply of vitamin D derived from plant sources such as algae. When taking a dietary supplement, it is also important to choose the D3 form also known as cholecalciferol and not D2 or ergocalciferol because it is less efficient for the body.
Iron is a mineral of which women are often deficient due to menstruation. A deficiency is usually accompanied by fatigue, looking pale or hair loss. Animal products are a good source of iron because they contain heme iron, which is better absorbed than non-heme iron. The latter is also found in plant products. As a result, nuts, grains and legumes can also be a source of iron in this way. A tip is also to combine your iron intake with vitamin C as this vitamin promotes iron absorption. To make sure you are getting enough nutrients, it is recommended to have an annual blood test at your local GP. This follow-up can ensure that possible deficiencies are detected in time and can be met by dietary supplements.