If You've Gone Vegan, Keep an Eye Out For These 4 Nutrient Deficiencies.

If You've Gone Vegan, Keep an Eye Out For These 4 Nutrient Deficiencies.

There are many reasons people go vegan, from wanting to be healthier, to reducing their environmental footprint, to concerns about animal welfare.

No matter what the reason, many people find it difficult to meet the nutrient intake targets for specific vitamins and minerals while on a vegan diet. These include vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and iodine.

Here's how to make sure you're getting enough of these vitamins and minerals while following a vegan diet.

1. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is essential for making red blood cells, DNA (your genetic code), fatty acids located in myelin (which insulate nerves), and some neurotransmitters needed for brain function.

Vitamin B12 is stored in the liver, so a deficiency probably won't happen in adults in the short term.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency

Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include tiredness, lethargy, low exercise tolerance, light-headedness, rapid heart rate or palpitations, bruising and bleeding easily, weight loss, impotence, bowel or bladder changes, a sore tongue, and bleeding gums.

Other symptoms related to the nervous system include a loss of sensation in the hands or feet, problems related to movement, brain changes ranging from memory loss to mood changes or dementia, visual disturbances, and impaired bowel and bladder control.

Testing for B12 deficiency

Your doctor may request a blood test to check your vitamin B12 status and determine whether indicators are in the healthy range.

Vegan food sources of B12

Vitamin B12 is abundant in animal foods including meat, milk and dairy products.

For vegans, plant sources of vitamin B12 include some algae and plants exposed to bacterial action or contaminated by soil or insects. While traces of vitamin B12 analogues can be found in some mushrooms, nori or fermented soy beans, more reliable sources include vitamin B12-supplemented soy or nut "milks", or meat substitutes. Check the nutrition information panel on the label for the the B12 content.

Crystalline vitamin B12 added to these products can boost the B12's absorption rate to a level similar to that from animal products.

2. Calcium

Calcium is needed to develop and maintain the skeleton bones, and is stored in the teeth and bones. It is also essential for heart, muscle and nerve function.

Testing for calcium deficiency

Low calcium intakes are associated with osteoporosis or "brittle bones" and a higher risk of bone fractures.

A bone scan is used to measure bone density, with osteoporosis diagnosed when bone density is low.

Both low calcium intakes and low vitamin D levels increase the risk of osteoporosis. Check your bone health using the Know Your Bones online quiz.

Vegan food sources of calcium

Although the richest sources of calcium are milk and milk-based foods, vegans can get calcium from tofu or bean curd, some fortified soy or nut beverages, nuts, seeds, legumes, and breakfast cereals.

Calcium needs can be higher for vegans and vegetarians due to the relatively high oxalic acid content of foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beans, and the high phytic acid content of seeds, nuts, grains, some raw beans, and soy products.

These specific acids can lower the calcium absorption from these foods by 10-50 percent.

In a study of calcium intakes of 1,475 adults , vegans were below national recommendations and had lower calcium intakes compared with vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and omnivores.

3. Iodine

Iodine is needed to make thyroxine, a thyroid hormone used in normal growth, regulation of metabolic rate, and development of the central nervous system. Iodine is concentrated in the thyroid gland.

Symptoms of iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency can lead to the enlargement of the thyroid gland, a goitre, or hypothyroidism.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include lethargy, tiredness, muscular weakness, feeling cold, difficulty concentrating, poor memory, weight gain, depression, facial puffiness, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, and slower heartbeat.