While going vegan or even vegetarian can certainly be a healthy lifestyle choice and is to some degree a must for any alkaline diet, there are however a few things to watch out for, in particular suffering from vegan vitamin deficiency or nutrient deficiencies.
While we all know that fruits, vegetables and nuts are full of nutrients, animal products can provide some nutrients that plant based foods just cannot provide.
Risk of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 is one of the hardest vitamins to get in a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is absolutely crucial, and is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis. As a guideline, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg.
To make matters worse, B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, this means that it needs to be replenished consistently and the consequences of not getting enough are not pleasant and include things like pernicious anemia.
The problem is that Vitamin B12 exists strictly in animal products. It can be found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products. According to the USDA Nutrient List, beef is the highest source of vitamin B12 per serving, which is a problem if you don’t eat meat!
If you’re willing to eat eggs (I recommend sticking to organic free range only), then you can get some of your B12 intake from these.
Alternatively most breakfast cereals and soy milks are fortified with B12, so just check the ingredients on the box to confirm whether you’re getting enough.
Likewise, if you are willing to have fish (which I think is actually very healthy in moderation), the danger of not getting sufficient Vitamin B12 will again be diminished.
Clearly if you are eating purely a plant based diet, you will have to resort to a supplement in order to avoid the dreaded vegan vitamin deficiency.
Risk of Iron Deficiency
Iron is an essential nutrient that helps carry oxygen in the blood. Depending on your sex and age, the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine recommends that you consume between 8 and 18 mg of iron every day.
A great summary of iron and vegetarian sources of iron can be found here:
It’s important to eat a balanced diet to avoid a vegan vitamin deficiency, so when going alkaline, don’t just focus on whether a food is alkaline. Things like brown rice is a delicious accompaniment with certain foods, and while it’s mildly acid forming it is packed full of nutrients. For example one cup steamed brown rice has 1 milligrams of iron in it. If you really want an iron boost, go for things like beans, for example 1 cup cooked soybeans has 8.8 milligrams in it.
So don’t worry too much about eating mildly acidic forming foods, as long as they are packed full of nutrients and combined with alkaline forming foods (80% alkaline and 20% acid is a good rule).
If you have any worries about not ingesting enough iron, supplements are available and of course consult your doctor if you suspect you’re falling victim to a vegan vitamin deficiency.
Risk of Zinc Deficiency
Zinc helps regulate the body’s metabolism among other vital functions. I have included it here as there are a lot of questions about zinc and vegan / vegetarians and is therefore a concern when it comes to vegan vitamin deficiencies. The RDA of zinc is between 8 and 11 mg every day depending on age and sex.
Zinc is found in a wide range of plant foods, so it is less of a problem than say getting sufficient Vitamin B12. Vegetables like beans, asparagus and spinach are filled with zinc. I like to incorporate things like kidney beans or black beans in some of my recipes as these are both a rich sources of zinc, but other kind of beans will also be a good source of zinc.
Conclusion to Vegan Vitamin Deficiency
There is clearly a danger of suffering from nutrient deficiencies when going vegan. It’s important to analyze your diet and determine whether you are getting sufficient vitamins and minerals and whether you are lacking any important nutrients. If you suspect you’re suffering from a vegan vitamin deficiency, you must take action sooner rather than later.
I always recommend to use some common sense and ensure you have a varied diet. Try adding new and different ingredients to your favorite dishes (following my recipes are great for that) or even start snacking on foods you wouldn’t normally have.