A Vegan is someone who has chosen not to eat any food product that is derived from animals. This includes dairy products, eggs and all types of meat. Many Vegans also avoid any product that have been processed using animal products.
Vegan diets typically consist of grains, vegetables, lentils, beans, and all types of fruits. Many popular food choices like ice-cream, hot dogs, cheese and mayonnaise are also available in variants especially made for Vegans.
While the idea of avoiding animal food appeals to many, it is true that a Vegan diet that is not carefully designed lacks many essential minerals and vitamins that are necessary for keeping the body healthy.
Though many Vegans refuse to believe that their diet lacks some essential nutrients, ignoring this only jeopardizes their and their family’s health. It is much better to accept the fact and include supplements in your diet that will help you prevent deficiency of such nutrients. Here are some nutrients that Vegan diets lack:
1) Vitamin B12 Supplements (all Vegans)
Vitamin B12, also known as Cobalamin, is the largest and most complicated (structurally) vitamin amongst all the 8 vitamins and can be synthesized only by bacteria and archaea. Vitamin B12 is very important for the normal functioning of the nerve cells and the brain and is involved in the metabolism of every cell in the body.
Plants, animals, or even Fungii are not capable of producing B12 themselves. Only Bacteria and Archaea have the necessary enzymes to synthesize it. It is produced inside animals due to bacterial symbiosis and is hence, available in meat and dairy products. This is the main reason why people on diets that include meat do not generally suffer from Vitamin B12 deficiency.
However, as Vegans avoid any kind of meat products, they do not get enough B12 vitamins in their diet. Although normal Vegan diet contains enough B12 to prevent anaemia and nervous system damage, it is not enough to minimize heart risks associated with B12 deficiency.
It is hence, necessary for Vegans to increase the intake of Vitamin B12 through the use of fortified foods or supplements. Vitamin B12 Supplements are available in most drug stores. Consult your dietician to get the best supplement for you.
2) Vitamin D Supplements (some vegans)
Although Vitamin D can be produced by the body itself when under sunlight, today’s lifestyle does not require people to go out in the sun. If you live in an area that lacks proper sunlight, you may suffer from Vitamin D sufficiency too. Vitamin D is very important for bone health.
It also improves the functioning of immune system, reduces mortality in cancer cases and reduces cardiovascular risks among other benefits. Make sure that you spend enough time outdoors without sunscreen or take Vitamin D supplements to meet your daily requirements.
3) Iodine Supplements (some vegans)
Iodine is very important for proper functioning of thyroid gland and production of thyroxin hormones which control the growth of the body. Two-thirds of the world population gets their daily intake of Iodine through the use of Iodized salt. Dairy products and seafood also provide iodine to omnivores.
However, as dairy products and sea meat are absent from the diet of Vegans, their diets may lack iodine. If you are not using iodized salt, you are at an increased risk of Iodine deficiency which can lead to hypothyroidism. In children, this deficiency can lead to mental retardation.
To meet your daily intake requirements of Iodine, you can start using Iodized salt. You can also start eating sea vegetables as they contain Iodine too. However, they may or may not be able to meet your Iodine requirements completely and hence, Iodized salts are your best bet.
4) Calcium Supplements (most vegans)
Though you will find many people claiming that Vegans have lower needs of Calcium, this notion has been challenged recently. Forty-five studies have been listed in The Dietician Guide to Vegetarian Diets(2004) that show that without including fortified food in their diets, many Vegans fall short of their daily Calcium requirements.
It is, hence, important for them to either add calcium supplements in their diets or include some fortified foods such as fortified orange juice and instant oatmeal with calcium.
Apart from the above mentioned supplements, young women experiencing heavy periods need to include Iron supplements too in order to avoid any deficiency.
Consult a dietician to know what your daily requirements of the above nutrients are and which supplements would help you the best.