Veganism is becoming an increasingly popular lifestyle choice for various reasons. By definition, eating a plant-based diet is only part of it; vegans are opposed to the exploitation of animals in all forms. This means shunning animal derived fabrics like leather and wool, and being strongly against animal testing for the production of toiletries, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Strict vegans won’t even touch honey, or ingredients like royal jelly, found in some skin moisturisers and bathing products.
Basically, vegans are people with big hearts who care about all living creatures; they don’t believe in killing them for the sake of lunch… or lipstick. They’re of the mindset that Mother Nature provides all the necessity (and luxury) we require in the form of plants.
If you’re currently vegan (or thinking of following that path), then this post is for you. Whilst I love this ethical mentality (I really do), it’s important to be aware of certain nutritional deficiencies that you can be prone to as a vegan. Since they tend to be higher in fruit and veggies, it’s easy to assume that plant-based diets are automatically healthier, but this isn’t always the case. The list below will include the most common deficiencies, and how to address them.
Last week, I discussed the best and worst protein sources for vegetarians, in which I included many plant-based proteins. You can read this, here. As mentioned, the issue with some plant proteins is that many of them are ‘incomplete’ – meaning they lack certain, essential amino acids, or they don’t contain sufficient levels of them. This can be overcome by combining the foods below. As a rule of thumb, follow this guide:
Incomplete Protein Sources
- Legumes (including lentils, beans and peas)
- Grains, such as oats and brown rice
- Nuts and seeds
Incomplete proteins are not inferior – they just need to be combined to make them complete. It’s absolutely vital that you get an adequate intake of protein – especially if you’re training regularly.
Complete Protein Sources
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds/protein powder
- Spirulina powder/capsules
Getting a good mix of both groups is the best way to ensure you’re getting a full spectrum of amino acids, without making things more complicated than they need to be.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The best source of this essential fatty acid is fish, since it contains high levels of DPA and EHA – which are shown to be the most influential when it comes to health. We need these to help maintain normal brain function, good blood circulation, and to lubricate joints and tendons. They’re also thought to have an anti-inflammatory effect.
Yes, there are plant sources of omega-3s, which include linseeds/flax seeds and hemp. However, these contain a type called ALA, which the body converts to DPA and EHA – but only in small amounts. However, there is a likely solution; think about what fish eat in the first place. The reason for their omega-3 content is the blue-green algae they eat – like spirulina. This is also rich in protein, so you’re able to kill two birds with one stone. Ooh, sorry… I mean… crack two walnuts with one hammer (or similar).
Since most food sources of vitamin D are found in foods like oily fish (sorry… those poor fish again!), eggs and dairy, deficiency is a risk as a vegan. We need vitamin D to support bone health (mainly). Mushrooms can provide a useful source; the other option is sunlight! Our bodies synthesise vitamin D when our skin comes into contact with UV rays. Being in the sun for just 20 minutes is said to be enough exposure to meet you daily requirements for vitaimin D, though this will vary according to your skin type and of course, the weather! For this reason, a supplement might be necessary.
Vitamin B12 has key roles in brain and nerve function, and the formation of red blood cells. With low levels, you can expect to feel pretty poop. As it stands, there are no reliable plant sources of vitamin B12, so a supplement is the way forward.
A good quality multi can help you ensure you’re getting a good supply of other vitamins and minerals, too.
I hope the above assists you in staying healthy and full o’ beans (literally)!