Although there are a multitude of reasons to become vegan or plant-based, there are a few things you may be missing when you lose the meat and dairy. Learning about supplements, and how to replace essential vitamins and minerals, became the next phase on my journey of change. (By the way…you will note that protein is not on my list. Saving that one for another day.)
First, I need to say… eating meat does not assure that you are receiving all the essential vitamins either. There may be deficiencies no matter what diet you follow if it is not well-rounded. I only started looking at this because there are several KNOWN deficiencies when one switches to a plant-based regimen that you must be aware of; and you should know how to make sure you are getting them.
Anyone can have a B-12 deficiency, but it seems especially so in those who are vegan, because animal products are much higher in B-12 overall. Unwashed organic produce, nutritional yeast (a cheese-flavored powder that I often use in soup or tofu scramble); nori, and some other products do contain B-12; however, there is likely a need for a supplement since most of us don’t eat tons of those types of things, and are more often than not depriving our bodies of the needed nutrient. I have taken a B-12 supplement since starting my vegan diet. Everyone needs B-12 for the nervous system, to prevent anemia, protein metabolism and a host of other things. The supplement is fairly inexpensive and you can get it just about anywhere.
Like B-12, Vitamin D is responsible for a number of functions including immune system, muscle recovery, mood, etc. There is also some evidence that a deficiency may indicate increased cancer-risk. I have taken a Vitamin D supplement since my treatment ended. Vitamin D is not found in many foods, unless they are “fortified” (ie., milk – problem for the vegan). You CAN get it from exposure to the sun – so soak up the rays for a bit each day – or from supplements.
Iodine is vital to thyroid function and a deficiency may cause hypothyroidism. Vegans are often deficient because foods high in iodine are typically those grown close to the ocean, or seafood products. I use sea salt in many of my recipes (which can lead to other issues, so use sparingly…) There are also many sea vegetables you can purchase at your local health food store. I use them in vegetable soups, tofu “eggs”, stir frys, etc. Meat eaters get iodine from seafood, or get this… products used to CLEAN cows and farm equipment!! I’ll pass on that, thank you very much!
You knew this one was coming…. Truth-be-told, I was iron-deficient before becoming vegan. So, eating meat does not necessarily help everyone in this regard. Some people just HAVE to take a supplement. We need iron for energy metabolism. If you are deficient, you may feel sluggish or tired all the time. Lucky for vegans, there are plenty of food alternatives to supplements to ensure we are getting enough iron: beans, nuts, seeds, almond milk, etc.
Again – something I was not getting a lot of prior to becoming vegan. Calcium is crucial to bone health and for recovery after exercise. The great thing about a plant-based diet, is that there are many options – kale, bok choy, broccoli… and they are all absorbed by the body much faster than dairy products. They are also better for you!
This is by no means an exhaustive list of what you may need and as always, you should consult with a physician before running out and purchasing tons of supplements. There may be others you need, and some you don’t. The point of this post is just to make you aware of what you MAY lose when you stop eating meat. As with any diet, it should be well-rounded and include plenty of dark green leafies, beans, grains, and fruit. I take a multivitamin, iron, Vitamin C (just to avoid the junk that goes around in the winter) and B-12. The B-12 is the only one that is new since becoming vegan. Just educate yourself, talk to your doctor and eat!