Due to the ever-increasing selection of plant-based foods, you hardly have to do without anything even with a vegan lifestyle. Nevertheless, the adequate supply of essential nutrients from animal products is often a problem. The general recommendation is to get these nutrients through vegan supplements – but for which nutrients does such supplementation make sense?
Here you will find a short version of what vegan nutrition does to your body, which nutrients you can easily absorb through food and where vegan supplements really make sense.
What effects does a vegan diet have on your body?
First of all: Although there are numerous variations regarding the limited consumption of animal foods, in this article we deal exclusively with vegan or classic vegetarian diets – i.e. the renunciation of all kinds of meat and animal products.
If you are already convinced of the vegan lifestyle, you are certainly familiar with the arguments for it:
- Ethical reasons for animal welfare
- Minimizing the risk of antibiotic resistance caused by the use of antibiotics in animal feed
- Prevention of diseases such as certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease
In addition, there is a demonstrably positive effect on the environment. Studies have repeatedly shown, for example, that the spread of vegan diets would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural land consumption and soil acidification.
A varied vegan diet also manages to ensure the supply of many essential nutrients. These include:
Cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes – everything that has a lot of fiber is an integral part of a vegan diet. No wonder, then, that the average intake of fiber in vegans is significantly higher than in conventional food.
In foods, magnesium is found in nuts, whole grains and a number of fruits and vegetables. Everything that also ends up on the plate of vegans. Only special circumstances such as pregnancy or competitive sports can make supplementation necessary – but you should clarify this in such a case.
The increased consumption of vegetables and fruits provides valuable antioxidants that can protect cells from the development of certain cancers. If you live vegan, you have the edge here as well.
- Fatty acids
Above all, the right mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids is crucial here. While too many saturated fatty acids are often absorbed by eating meat, vegan food usually achieves a good balance.
- Vitamin e
Vegetable oils in particular have a high vitamin E content. The need for the vitamin is therefore sufficiently covered in most vegan people.
A special note also deserves the intake of cholesterol. From heart attacks to gallstones, the substance is considered a trigger for numerous health problems. However, the harmful cholesterol only occurs in animal products, which means that vegans very often have significantly better cholesterol levels.
What nutrients are missing from a vegan diet?
Despite the numerous benefits of the vegan diet, it cannot cover the needs of all nutrients equally well. Particular emphasis should be placed here:
The adequate intake of iodine is often a problem even with a non-vegan diet and may require supplementation with dietary supplements. According to studies, the intake of iodine in vegan diets is particularly low. A lack of iodine can be recognized above all by an underactive thyroid gland. This is where vegan supplements make special sense. Alternatively, iodized table salt can also help you make up for a deficiency.
- Vitamin B12
If you eat vegan, vitamin B12 is an absolutely critical nutrient, as the vitamin in its usable form simply does not occur in sufficient quantities in plant foods. In virtually all cases, vegan people are therefore recommended to supplement vitamin B12 with dietary supplements or specially fortified vegan foods. Especially feelings of weakness or dizziness, but also pale skin, a slight fever or a feeling of cold can indicate a lack of vitamin B12.
Vegan supplements can also help you with these nutrients:
Although the iron intake of vegan food is on average higher, the adequate supply of iron can still be a problem. This is because the absorption of iron in plant food is very much dependent on the accompanying substances. Be sure to consciously reach for legumes, nuts, or vegetables such as fennel or zucchini to meet your iron needs. Vegan supplements are also an option.
from plant foods can be difficult. Although mushrooms, cabbage vegetables or legumes have a comparatively high amount of selenium, the nutrient content is strongly dependent on the growing area. Plants grown in Central Europe, for example, have a lower selenium content compared to plants from the USA.
Although studies show that vegan people consume less
on average than people who also eat animal products, the zinc levels of vegans in most cases corresponded to the recommendations of the German Nutrition Society. However, since zinc in plant foods has a lower bioavailability, you should definitely keep an eye on your zinc level with vegan food. Symptoms of a deficiency can include hair loss, brittle nails or anemia.
In general, it is important to seek medical advice if deficiency symptoms are suspected. A blood test can be used to determine which nutrients are missing. Once a deficiency has been diagnosed, it can usually be treated effectively by changing your diet or using vegan dietary supplements.
Dietary supplements: vegan or not?
In general, caution should also be exercised when choosing dietary supplements. On the one hand, the dosage of the nutrients contained is crucial, especially in a vegan diet and should therefore always be observed – on the other hand, offered capsules are not automatically vegan.
Therefore, when buying supplements, pay attention not only to the indicated dose, but also to herbal ingredients. The additives can also be a problem. These include, for example, animal lactose, animal fats or gelatin. In the case of capsules, for example, it may happen that the ingredients are vegan, but the capsule shell contains animal gelatin.
In summary, it can be said that nowadays it is easily possible to eat vegan and still provide the body with all the important nutrients it needs. Thanks to the ever-increasing selection of vegan products, renunciation also plays an increasingly minor role. No wonder, then, that a vegan lifestyle is recommended by many nutritionists as well as ecologists.