Fact Checked By Dr B Lee M.D.
In recent years, the popularity of plant-based diets, including veganism, has been on the rise. People are increasingly recognizing the health benefits of consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes while minimizing or eliminating animal products.
However, it is important to acknowledge that a vegan diet may require special attention to certain nutrients to ensure optimal health.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the essential vitamins and minerals that vegans should pay particular attention to, and discuss the best ways to incorporate them into a plant-based lifestyle.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Supporting Heart Health on a Vegan Diet (This Is More Important Than You May Think)
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that play a crucial role in heart health, blood pressure regulation, and reducing inflammation in the body. 
While oily fish is a common source of omega-3 fatty acids, that’s not an option for vegans, but most surprisingly, most of the sources people think will work for vegans aren’t actually very helpful.
Flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, seaweed, walnuts, soybeans, and Brussels sprouts are actually not as good sources of important Omega 3 fatty acids for vegans as people think. Despite the common misconception as they’re mostly full of ALA, not DHA or EPA. 
And the reason for this being as problem, is that there is more than one kind of Omega 3 fatty acid. Unfortunately ALA isn't much use to humans. And seeing as plany based sources contain almost exclusively ALA, you can easily spot the problem.
Can't I Turn ALA into EPA and DHA?
Yes, but, the problem with ALA is how inefficient the body is when it turns ALA into the EPA and DHA which your body actually uses.  Only 1–10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 0.5–5% into DHA. Meaning that to get the 500mg of DHA and EPA you need per day you’d need grams and grams of ALA. 
For example a 30gram serving of walnuts contains 2700mg of ALA which could mean only 27mg of the omega oils you actually need. And that’s 200 calories. Meaning that if you ate enough walnuts to get enough omega oils for the day you’d be eating 4000 calories.  This is of course not a viable option. And unfortunately similar numbers are true for most plant based sources of Omega fatty acids.
Vegetarians may be able to get a bit more from eggs and milk, but they’re still going to struggle. Although there have been some examples of eggs providing a significant amount of DHA and EPA, although it is dependant on the diet of the hen. 
So, you’re actually going to want an algae omega 3 supplement, which is mostly EPA and DHA.
So functionally you’re going to need to supplement this for a vegan diet can help support brain, joint and heart health.
If they’re expecting to provide the recommended daily intake of 500 milligrams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) combined, along with 1.6 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) for adult men and 1.1 grams for adult women. 
The Importance of Vitamin B12 For Vegans
One of the most crucial nutrients that vegans need to be mindful of is vitamin B12. This vitamin plays a vital role in DNA and red blood cell production, as well as nerve function.  However, it is primarily found in animal-based foods, making it challenging for vegans to obtain adequate amounts from their diet alone.  Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to fatigue, loss of appetite, blurred vision, numbness and tingling of hands and feet, and other health issues.
To ensure sufficient intake of vitamin B12, vegans can rely on fortified foods and supplements. Many plant-based food manufacturers fortify their products with vitamin B12, including breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, nondairy milk, and tofu. However, it is advisable for vegans to consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement to meet their daily recommended intake of 2.4 micrograms per day.
The Role of Iron in a Vegan Diet
Iron is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen throughout the body and supporting various bodily functions. While iron is present in both animal and plant-based foods, it is generally harder for the body to absorb iron from plant-based sources, known as nonheme iron.  This can put vegans at a higher risk of iron deficiency anaemia. With there being notably higher rates of anaemia in vegetarians and vegans (11 and 17%) when compared to omnivores (5%). 
Common symptoms of iron deficiency include weakness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, light-headedness or dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath, and thin and brittle nails. 
To ensure sufficient iron intake, vegans can incorporate iron-rich plant-based foods into their diet, such as beans, tofu, fortified cereals, pumpkin seeds, dried fruit, spinach, broccoli, quinoa, nuts, and whole grain pasta.
Meeting Calcium Needs on a Vegan Diet
Calcium is a mineral essential for bone health, blood flow, hormone release, and maintaining strong muscles and teeth. While dairy products are a common source of calcium for many individuals, vegans need to find alternative ways to meet their calcium needs. Fortunately, there are various plant-based sources of calcium that can be included in a vegan diet although often vegans still benefit from a top up, even if they don’t have to supplement completely. 
Some examples of calcium-rich foods for vegans include chia seeds, soy milk, tofu, almonds, kale, broccoli, and arugula.
These options ensure that vegans can obtain their daily recommended intake of 1,000 milligrams for adults under 50 years old, or 1,200 milligrams for women over 50 years old and men over 70 years old. Calcium supplements may also be considered if dietary intake alone is insufficient. 
The Importance of Vitamin D for Vegans
Vitamin D is a unique nutrient that the body can produce with the help of sunlight. However, vitamin D deficiencies are prevalent, with a significant percentage of the population not getting enough. While some foods, such as fish and eggs, contain vitamin D, they are not suitable for vegan diets. As a result, vegans may struggle to meet the recommended intake of vitamin D unless they consume it through fortified foods or supplements. There is also the fact that vitamin D deficiency is high (between 20 - 50% depending on the study)  even among the meat eating population, so it’s increasingly likely that supplementing will be beneficial for vegans.
Vitamin D is essential for bone health, muscle function, immune system support, and overall well-being.  Vegans can increase their vitamin D intake by spending time in the sun, preferably during the summer months when the sun is at the correct wavelength for the body to produce vitamin D.
Additionally, incorporating foods like mushrooms, fortified cereal, and fortified drinks such as orange juice, soy milk, and rice milk can help vegans meet their vitamin D needs.
Zinc: An Essential Nutrient for Vegans
Zinc is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in growth, hormone production (particularly testosterone) immune response, wound healing, and blood clotting.  Unlike some other nutrients, the body cannot produce or store zinc, so it is important to obtain an adequate daily supply through diet or supplements.
While animal products like fish, poultry, and meat are common sources of zinc, vegans can still meet their zinc needs through plant-based foods.
Legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, mushrooms, kale, and asparagus are excellent vegan sources of zinc. By incorporating these foods into their diet, vegans can ensure they receive the recommended daily intake of 8 milligrams for adult women or 11 milligrams for adult men.  If necessary, a daily multivitamin supplement containing zinc and other essential nutrients can also be considered.
Amino Acids For Vegans
Amino acids are an essential micronutrient, and generally meats contain a “complete profile”, vegetarians normally can get most of what they need from eggs and dairy products, but, this can become an issue for some vegans.
Amino acids come from protein, and they’re essential for growth and repair of body tissue, your immune system, hormones, making enzymes and even providing energy. 
It’s not that vegans don’t get them, it’s just that different plant based proteins contain different amino acids, and you need a mix for them to function properly. 
Soy is the only vegan source of protein to contain a completely balanced amino acid profile, and you shouldn’t consume more than 40g of soya protein every day. As a minimum this level of intake would be expected to cause digestive distress. 
Considering that the ideal range is at least 1 gram of protein per Kg of body weight, this becomes more of an issue for men who would want to be intaking 70g or more on average. 
The easiest solution is to make sure that you get a mix of pea, soya, wheat, rice, nuts and other sources of vegan protein in which case most vegans shouldn’t have too much of a problem with this as long as they get their amino acids from a variety of sources.
However, it is worth considering lysine  (the most common amino deficiency for vegans) as it is not present in grains or legumes.
Methionine and cysteine are also common issues for vegans being slightly below recommended levels. 
As a result, if you’re not getting a good mix of amino acids from your diet, it could be worth considering an amino acid supplement. Usually this tends to come in a powdered drink form and is not overly expensive.
The Importance of Iodine for Vegans
Iodine is a mineral that the body uses to produce thyroid hormones, which are important for metabolism and cell repair.  While iodine is naturally found in some foods and added to certain table salts, deficiency is still common worldwide, with vegans being at a higher risk compared to meat-eaters. 
Seaweed, lima beans, prunes, and iodized table salt are excellent vegan sources of iodine. Vegans should aim to include these foods in their diet to ensure adequate iodine intake. Additionally, an increasing number of plant-based milk alternatives are now fortified with iodine, making them an ideal choice for vegans looking to boost their iodine levels.
The Role of Selenium in a Vegan Diet
Selenium is a mineral that supports various bodily functions, including thyroid function, immune response, and the health of hair and nails.  Research has shown that both vegetarians and vegans may have lower selenium intakes compared to individuals following omnivorous diets. 
Including brazil nuts, bread, cashews, sunflower seeds, brown rice, chickpeas, and mushrooms in a vegan diet can help ensure sufficient intake of selenium. These foods provide vegan-friendly sources of selenium and contribute to overall health and well-being.
Vitamin K: Essential for Clotting and More
Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and protecting against excessive bleeding.  There are two forms of vitamin K: vitamin K1, found in certain vegetables and plant oils, and vitamin K2, found in animal products and fermented foods. While vegan sources of vitamin K2 are limited, there are still plenty of plant-based options for obtaining vitamin K. Vitamin K1 can be converted into K2, but in that case you need a lot more in your diet as a lot is lost in the process. 
K2 also plays a role in bone production and hormone production. [28,29]
Leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are excellent vegan sources of vitamin K1. Fermented foods such as vegan sauerkraut, kimchi, and dairy-free kefir can also provide some vitamin K2. Including these foods in a vegan diet ensures sufficient intake of vitamin K for optimal health.
Conclusion: Achieving Optimal Health on a Vegan Diet
Sticking to a plant-based or vegan diet offers numerous health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. However, it is important for vegans to pay attention to their nutrient intake to ensure they obtain all the essential vitamins and minerals their bodies need. Taking supplements, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, can help bridge any nutritional gaps and support overall well-being.
By incorporating a variety of nutrient-rich plant foods into their diet, such as fortified foods, legumes, nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and whole grains, vegans can meet their nutritional needs and thrive on a plant-based lifestyle. Regular monitoring of nutrient levels and consulting with healthcare professionals can also help ensure optimal health on a vegan diet. With proper planning and attention to nutrient intake, vegans can enjoy the many benefits of a plant-based lifestyle while supporting their overall health and well-being.
About Fact Checker Dr B Lee
Dr B Lee Dr Lee is a member of Center TRT's research team, he has more than 200 scientific publications, and has been a member of the global obesity center. With more than 20 years experience in health, focusing on wholistic treatment, lifestyle and dietary changes to improve health outcomes on a regional and nationwide level. View Profile
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16 - https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
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24 - https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/
25 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7251157/
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