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A nutritional deficiency occurs when essential nutrients are absent for growth and health and can affect bodily functions. In most cases, nutrient deficiencies can result from poor/reduced nutritional intake, chronic health conditions, acute health conditions, medications, altered nutrient metabolism, or a combination of these factors .
Adopting a vegan lifestyle has a plethora of health benefits, from reduced risk of heart diseases to type 2 diabetes, the number goes on. Choosing a vegan lifestyle is not difficult; of course, changing your diet and avoiding your regular foods can be time-consuming, but the benefits you reap are enormous .
A vegan diet is comprised of only plants such as vegetables, grains, nuts and fruits, and foods made from plants. Vegans do not eat foods that come from animals, including dairy products, eggs and honey. Amidst the numerous benefits, the vegan lifestyle and diet offer, one of the main challenges linked to this diet is the issue of nutritional deficiencies.
Nutritional Deficiencies On A Vegan Diet
Here are common nutrient deficiencies one could have from following a vegan diet.
Note: Not every single person following a vegan diet will have nutritional deficiencies.
1. Vitamin D Deficiency
Vitamin D is important in the absorption of calcium in the body and maintains bone density. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to decreased bone density and affect the thyroid gland's function, which is responsible for body metabolism . You can check the level of vitamin D with the help of a simple blood test.
2. Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 helps to build red blood cells in our body and the nervous system function. This deficiency may lead to fatigue, tingling in the feet or tips of the palm fingers and even depression. Vegetarians and vegans can talk to a doctor or nutritionist and get this vitamin from supplements .
3. Zinc Deficiency
This nutrient is found throughout the body and help the immune system and metabolism function properly . Zinc also helps boost wound healing and plays a central role in your sense of taste and smell. While zinc is found in beans, legumes, and whole grains, these foods also contain phytic acid, which can hinder the absorption of zinc .
4. Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA) Deficiency
Omega-3 is an unsaturated fatty acid that helps anti-inflammatory processes in the body. It has also been found that this acid helps reduce the risk of heart and blood vessels diseases and may help manage depression symptoms . A vegan diet lacks DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that plays an important in normal brain development and function, and a deficiency of this fatty acid can have negative effects on mental health and brain function, especially in children .
5. Iron Deficiency
Iron is a mineral component of red blood cells. If you lack iron, you may feel anaemia, fatigue and dizziness. Heme iron deficiency is specific to vegans; heme iron is a type of iron found only in red meat and there is heme iron and non-heme iron . You can find if you lack iron by undergoing a blood test. One can get iron from vegetarian food sources such as beans and other green vegetables and increase its absorption by combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C (citrus fruits).
6. Carnosine Deficiency
Carnosine is a type of protein (antioxidant) building block and is important for muscle function . Carnosine is only found in animal-based foods and is considered non-essential. It is shown to help reduce muscle fatigue and improve physical performance.
Other nutrient deficiencies that can arise from a vegan diet are as follows:
- Creatine deficiency (a molecule found in animal foods and help boost muscle mass and strength) .
- Taurine deficiency (a sulphur compound found in various body tissues, including the brain, heart, and kidneys) .
On A Final Note...
All the aforementioned nutrient deficiencies can be managed by doing the right research and talking to a nutritionist or your doctor. There are several vegan substitutes and supplements that can help balance your overall diet.