More and more people are choosing a plant-based diet and cite one or more of three key motives for going vegan – animal welfare, environmental concerns and personal health. While there is evidence to show that a plant-based diet is great for our health, it's important to be aware that there can be unhealthy versions of vegan diets, just as there are unhealthy ones containing animal products.
Nutrient deficiencies can be found in all diets for a variety of reasons, and many plant-based eaters may not be getting specific nutrients from plant foods. Failure to include these nutrients in the diet can have health consequences.
There are certain nutrients that somebody following a plant-based diet needs to consider as a supplement alongside paying attention to the balance of foods that they consume.
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is an essential nutrient for human health, but it’s mainly found in animal products. It has been found that individuals following vegan diets are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency as it is commonly lacking in the diet .
B12 supports the normal function of nerve cells and is needed for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. Individuals deficient in this vitamin often complain about fatigue and lethargy .
The main food sources of vitamin B12 include meat, especially offal, fish, dairy products and eggs, but some cereals are fortified with it.
The official recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg, however vitamin B12 can be poorly absorbed and so an optimal daily intake of vitamin B12 would be 500mcg per day .
Getting enough vitamin D is important, no matter which diet a person follows. It is estimated that up to 50% of the general population are deficient in vitamin D , which:
- Helps the body absorb calcium
- Is critical for the healthy functioning of muscles, the heart, the brain and thyroid
- Plays a crucial role in the immune system
Few foods contain vitamin D; the best sources are salmon and eggs. But the body synthesises vitamin D from the skin’s exposure to the sun. With limited sunshine especially during the winter months, a daily supplement of 2000 IUs of vitamin D can help achieve optimum levels in the body .
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are essential to health. DHA is found concentrated in the brain and the retina in the eyes.
Omega-3 fatty acids support the regulation of inflammation in the body  and are important for:
- Healthy memory and cognition
- Emotional well-being
- Lowering triglycerides in the blood
- Healthy functioning of the heart
EPA and DHA are found mainly in oily fish and certain algae. The body can convert plant derived omega-3 fatty acids to DHA and EPA, though the efficiency of conversion varies from person to person, and it tends to be very low with the best source unfortunately being oily fish . There are some vegan Omega 3 supplements on the market which may be a useful addition to a plant-based diet, especially during pregnancy.
There is no official recommendation for how much EPA and DHA is needed daily, but most studies recommend a minimum of 500mg combined EPA and DHA per day for healthy adults.
Vitamin K2 differs from vitamin K1, which is found in dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K2 is hard to obtain through diet, but has an important positive impact on health. The main dietary sources of vitamin K2 include a fermented soy product called natto, and some fermented cheeses.
Studies have shown that vitamin K2 directs calcium in the body into the bone. This has a positive impact for cardiovascular health as less calcium is deposited in the arteries, maintaining vascular health .
Studies recommend that adults should supplement 100 mcg of vitamin K2 per day.
Zinc is an important mineral obtained from the diet to maintain health and perform important functions in the body. Zinc’s benefits include:
- Facilitating hormone production
- Body growth and repair
- Improving immunity
- Aiding digestion
Although plant foods such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are good sources of zinc, the body has difficulty absorbing it from these plant foods  compared to animal sources such as meat and fish.
Absorption of zinc typically decreases with age, therefore supplementing around 15mg per day is generally considered an optimal dose.
PICKING THE RIGHT MULTIVITAMIN
Not all diets are nutritionally complete, and although a plant-based diet can offer many health benefits, a completely vegan diet may run the risk of being deficient in certain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Not all multivitamin supplements are formulated in the same way using the same ingredients. Therefore, to ensure that a vegan diet is not lacking in the nutrients highlighted, it is best to choose one that has been formulated to include the suggested levels of nutrients in a form that is easy for the body to absorb. The Inessa Advanced Multivitamin contains optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals in a form that is bioavailable and convenient to take.
If you have any concerns about your health, it is always advisable to see your GP for advice.
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