Vegans abstain entirely from consuming animal products. That means: no meat, no fish or seafood, no eggs, no dairy products — nothing that is derived from an animal. (Yes, in some cases, that means no honey, too.)
Though vegan diets can be rich in a number of nutrients found in leafy greens and other vegetables, they’re often lacking in nutrients found predominantly in animal sources. Some of the most common nutrient insufficiencies associated with veganism include: vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, zinc, iron, protein, and iodine.
Vegans should pay particular attention to vitamin B12, because they can be deficient in the nutrient without realizing it. According to the Mayo Clinic, vegan diets tend to be high in folate, a nutrient that can mask symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency until the problem grows severe. Consider checking in with your doctor about your vitamin B12 levels. In addition to consuming plenty of vitamin B12-enriched cereals and products, you may want to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
Vitamin D insufficiencies are common not only among vegans, but also among those who don’t get adequate sun exposure and those who don’t eat enough fortified foods. For this reason, it may make sense for you to check in with your doctor to make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D — and to consider taking a supplement if you’re not.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Since most of the bioavailable sources of omega-3 fatty acids are animal-based, it may be worth talking to your doctor about taking supplements to ensure you’re getting enough essential fatty acids.
Calcium is primarily found in dairy products. But other NIH-recommended sources include: certain kinds of fish, tofu made with calcium sulfate, leafy green vegetables, and certain kinds of bread.
Though it’s possible for vegans to meet the NIH’s recommended daily intake from vegetables, bread, and tofu alone, doing so can be challenging. It may be worth speaking with your primary care provider to ensure you’re consuming enough calcium each day — and considering a calcium supplement if not.
Though zinc is primarily found in meats and seafoods, the NIH recommends a number of plant-based sources of the mineral, which are permitted in vegan diets. These include: fortified cereals, some legumes, some nuts, and some seeds. If your diet is rich enough in these foods, it’s possible that you’re getting enough zinc. Still, it may be worth talking to your doctor to ensure you are — and taking a supplement if you’re not.
Iron is found in a number of plant-based sources. In fact, plant-based sources abound on the NIH’s recommended sources of iron list. However, because iron is less bioavailable in plant-based sources than it is in animal-based sources, the recommended iron intake for vegetarians and vegans is almost double what’s recommended for non-vegetarians and non-vegans. And the Mayo Clinic specifically recommends pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C-rich foods (like strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage, and broccoli) to help your body better absorb the nutrient.
Consider talking to your doctor to ensure you’re getting adequate iron—and that you’re consuming enough vitamin C to help your body absorb that iron. If not, you might want to consider taking an iron or vitamin C supplement.
Iodine is primarily found in fish and seafood, meaning it may be in low supply in a vegan diet. Iodine insufficiency is also associated with an increased risk of goiter in vegans, particularly when paired with a diet high in vegan-friendly foods, like cruciferous vegetables and sweet potatoes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
That said, one-fourth teaspoon of iodized salt per day can provide adequate iodine, according to the Mayo Clinic. And if you’re concerned about making sure you’re consuming enough iodine, you can always talk to your primary care provider about taking a supplement.