There is no question Americans eat too few vegetables and too much poor-quality protein and carbohydrates. In their quest for health, people who adopt a vegan diet consume a good variety of vegetables, but research shows many of those who restrict themselves to a plant-based diet suffer from sub-clinical protein malnutrition. Eliminating all animal-based foods also puts you at risk of other nutritional deficiencies.
Here are some of the nutrients vegans must have to stay healthy.
Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, occurs in its natural form only in animal sources of food, such as meat, fish, dairy products, and eggs.
B12 is sometimes called the energy vitamin. You body must have this nutrient for energy production, blood formation, the synthesis of DNA, and reproductive health.
The amino acid creatine is found in animal proteins. You need it for muscle energy, correct functioning of your central nervous system, and brain health.
Along with animal-based omega-3 fats and Coenzyme Q10, creatine is needed for proper mitochondrial function. A deficiency may be implicated in multiple sclerosis (MS) and other nerve degenerative diseases.
As a dipeptide consisting of two amino acids, beta-alanine and histidine, carnosine is a powerful antioxidant found in your muscles and brain. The chronic deficiency of carnosine among vegans is one reason they often have difficulty building muscle.
Although the primary source of vitamin D3 for most people is sunlight, experts estimate the average adult who lives in the central United States consumes about 1,500 to 2,000 International Units of vitamin D from meats, fatty fish, and egg yolks.
Vitamin D2 is available from plant-based foods, but the type found in meats is more potent and more effective in raising the blood level of the vitamin.
Animal-Based Omega-3 DHA:
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fat available from fish. It is critical to normal brain function and cardiovascular health, and for fetal development.
Flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts all provide the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, from which the body can produce DHA. The process is inefficient, however, and vegans and vegetarians usually have low levels of the nutrients.
Although a form of iron is found in plant-based foods, but heme-iron is found only in meat, particularly red meat. Heme-iron is better absorbed by your body, and it also assists in the absorption of non-heme iron from plants.
Iron binds to the hemoglobin molecule and serves as to carry oxygen to your tissues. Oxygenation is necessary to keep cells alive.
If you need iron supplementation, the safest form is carbonyl iron. Keep iron supplements out of the reach of children.
Taurine is not itself an amino acid, but a byproduct of the sulphurous amino acids cysteine and methionine, which are found only in animal foods. It plays a vital role in brain and heart health, muscle function and antioxidant defenses.
Sulfur is available almost exclusively from fish and high-quality beef and poultry. Sulfur plays an important role in the structure and biological activity of enzymes and proteins. A deficiency can negatively affect bones, joints, connective tissues, and metabolic processes.
If you choose to follow a vegan diet, do not ignore your body’s need for these nutrients. We also know that calcium and iodine deficiencies are sometimes present in vegans. It is likely there are other nutrients in animal foods of which we are not yet knowledgeable.