By removing all animal products, people on a vegan diet are exposed to certain deficiencies. Indeed, these foods provide nutrients essential for the functioning of the body which are less present in an entirely vegetable diet. Here are the 5 nutrients and food supplements to replace uneaten foods when on a vegan diet and avoid deficiencies.
Vitamin B12, an essential food supplement for vegan
La vitamin B12 or cobalamin, participates in many biochemical reactions including formation of red blood cells (in synergy with vitamin B6, vitamin B9 and iron), cell renewal and the DNA formation. Vitamin B12 is one of the rare vitamins that can be stored in the body (hepatic reserves) thus allowing the body to have some reserves for several years. The needs recommended by ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) in updating its benchmarks is to 4µg per day for adults. Vitamin B12 has the particularity of being contained only in animal products, but in no product of the plant kingdom. Thus, vegans are highly exposed to vitamin B12 deficiency. This is why in updating its nutritional benchmarks for 2017, ANSES recommends that anyone following a vegan diet supplement B12 by consuming a vegan food supplement or fortified products.
Vitamin D when you're vegan
La vitamin D, is involved in many physiological processes. She promotes intestinal absorption of calcium, participates in the regulation of immune system and muscle contraction. Vitamin D occupies a special place among vitamins because its contribution is ensured at the same time by food and by endogenous synthesis of the organism after exposure to Ultra-Violet rays (UV). The daily needs estimated by ANSES are 15µg per day for adults. The main dietary sources of vitamin D are animal, including cod liver oil, fatty fish, eggs and cheeses. Vitamin D supplementation in vegans would thus be relevant, especially when exposure to the sun during the year does not cover all of the needs.
Iodine in case of vegan or vegetarian diet
THEiodine is a trace element that is involved in the functioning of the thyroid, particularly in the synthesis of thyroid hormones such as triiodothyronine (T3) and tetra-iodothyronine (T4) which play a fundamental role in the processes cell growth and maturation as well as in the thermogenesis (regulation of body temperature). If it is lacking, the metabolism can be disrupted and have unfortunate consequences for the balance and well-being of the organism. The foods richest in iodine are fish, shellfish and milk. The iodized salt commercially available as well as the seaweeds are also valuable sources of iodine. Plants do not contain an interesting amount of iodine to cover the estimated needs of 150µg per day according to ANSES. In addition, sea salts, and salty seasonings such as soy sauce are generally not fortified with iodine. The same is true for salt used for food processing (prepared meals, preserves, etc.). Therefore, vegans who do not consume iodine salts or seaweed salts may be at risk for iodine deficiency.
Selenium is a trace element present in traces in the body, but nevertheless essential. His best known role is his antioxidant action that helps fight against free radicals. It has an action on skin protection, as well as on the quality of vision. It also contributes to the good maintenance of immune system. The main foods that are sources of selenium are: cheeses, fatty fish (salmon, herring, etc.), liver, poultry. Plant sources are good sources of selenium, but only when they come from regions with rich soils, which is not always the case. Thus, taking a vegan food supplement containing selenium can be useful in regions of Europe where the soils are poor in selenium such as France.
Omega 3: supplementing with EPA and DHA when you're vegan?
- omega 3 are anti-inflammatory fatty acids limiting platelet aggregation and intervene in the structures and function of the brain. We distinguish among omega 3, short chain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) acids EPA-registered household disinfectants (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) long chain. Vegan food, by not consuming seafood, is free from DHA acid. The body is able to convert ALA to DHA acid. However, according to some studies, the yield of this conversion is low and thus exposes vegans to deficiencies of omega 3 in the form of DHA. The main source of omega 3 in the form of plant DHA available today is a microalgae named: Schizochytrium, available as a vegan food supplement.
With a balanced diet and suitable vegan food supplements, it is quite possible to avoid deficiencies in vegans. In addition to vitamin B12 for which it is essential to supplement yourself, it can be useful to provide your diet with a vegan food supplement containing vitamin D, iodine, selenium as well as omega 3 in the form of EPA or of DHA.
National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (France).
Larpin, C., Wozniak, H., Genton, L., & Serratrice, J. (2019). Vegetarian and vegan diets: what are the consequences for health? Swiss medical review, 15 (667), 1849–1853.
Vegetarian Association of France: https://www.vegetarisme.fr/association/lavf-vegetarienne-ou-vegetalienne/