Essential Nutrients that you Can’t Get from Plants
Do you know that there are some nutrients that you can’t get from plants?
But then, plants do not provide all nutrients. Some essential nutrients are missing in plant-based foods. So, you must know these plants and the missing or inadequate nutrients so that you can supplement your diet with them to maintain your physical performance and health.
Here are seven important nutrients that are not readily found in vegan and vegetarian diets.
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a very vital nutrient that is mostly found in animal-based foods such as dairy products, eggs, meat, and fish (1).
Another name for vitamin B12 is cobalamin. It is water-soluble and plays a very important role in developing red blood cells and maintaining brain and nerve function.
According to results from research, vegetarians who do not supplement or eat enriched foods may be at high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency (2).
Lacto-ovo-vegetarians do not have to worry as they can get adequate amounts of cobalamin from eggs and dairy products. However, it isn’t as easy for vegans (3).
Vitamin B12 deficiency is associated with several symptoms including:
- Fatigue and weakness (8)
- Impaired cerebral function (9)
- Neurological disorders (10)
- Psychiatric problems (11)
- Neurological problems in breastfeeding babies (12)
- Megaloblastic anemia (13)
- High risk of Alzheimer’s disease (14)
- Risk of heart disease (15)
In order not to be deficient in vitamin B12, vegan dieters must supplement by eating fortified foods. These include soy products, yeast extracts, bread, breakfast cereal, and meat substitutes (3, 16).
Also, some plant foods contain bioactive vitamin B12 in trace amounts. These plants include:
Studies have shown that Nori seaweed is most suited for vegans, even though it doesn’t contain plentiful amounts on its own (23).
But then, we don’t think that these are sufficient dietary sources of vitamin B12 and do not meet daily requirements.
Spirulina is another plant food that appears to have some vitamin B12. But the fact is that it only offers pseudo vitamin B12. This makes it an unsuitable source of this vitamin (26).
If you want to improve your B12 intake, you can purchase vegan-friendly vitamin B12 supplements in your local grocery store or online.
The creatine molecule is found in animal-based foods.
Most of the creatine is stored in muscles. However, significant amounts are also found in the brain.
Creatine functions as an energy reserve for myocytes (cells of the muscles), boosting their endurance and strength (27).
This explains why it is so popular as a muscle-building supplement.
Studies have shown that creatine supplements are very effective at increasing muscle strength and muscle mass (28).
Here’s an important fact: your liver can produce creatine, so it is not essential in your diet. But, according to research, vegans tend to be deficient in creatine (29). Very low amounts are found in their muscles.
A particular study examined the effect of a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet on subjects for 26 days. From the results, it was seen that the diet caused a drastic decrease in their level of creatine in their muscles (30).
Because creatine occurs naturally in animal tissues, vegans and vegetarians cannot get it except supplements.
Creatine supplements benefit vegetarians in many ways, including:
Some of these benefits are stronger in vegetarians than in people who eat meat. For instance, vegetarians who supplement creatine may experience better brain function compared to meat-eaters who may not see little to no difference (31).
Perhaps this is due to the already high levels of creatine in the muscles of meat-eaters due to their diet.
Vegan-friendly creatine supplements can be bought locally or online.
Carnosine can be found only in animal foods, however, they are thought to be non-essential, as the human body can form it from beta-alanine and histidine – both amino acids.
Beta-alanine from dietary sources may boost the level of carnosine in the muscles, but the major dietary sources – fish, poultry, and meat, are non-vegetarian.
The good news is that there are many beta-alanine supplements available for purchase online.
4. Vitamin D3
It is also known as cholecalciferol. Vitamin D is a very important nutrient.
Its informal name is “sunshine vitamin.” Vitamin D may not necessarily be sourced from your diet.
Your skin is capable of producing vitamin D when exposed to light from the sun. However, if you do not really have much time to go out in the sun, or you live far away from the equator, then your best bet is getting it from supplements or food.
Dietary vitamin D exists in two forms – ergocalciferol and cholecalciferol (D2 and D3 found in plants and animals respectively).
Because vitamin D3 sources are not plant-based, vegans and vegetarians have a very high risk of deficiency, especially in the winter.
Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of the following conditions:
- Osteoporosis with a high risk of fractures in the elderly (46)
- Cancer (47)
- Heart disease (48, 49)
- Multiple sclerosis (50)
- Depression (51)
- Impaired cognitive function (52)
- Wasting away of the muscles and reduces strength, mostly in the elderly (53, 54, 55, 56).
Lichen-made vegan supplements are available online (61).
5. Docosahexaenoic acid
It is an omega-3 fatty acid that plays a very vital role in brain function and development (62).
Also, DHA deficiency in pregnant women may have adverse effects on fetal brain development (65).
Docosahexaenoic acid is available in fish oil, fish, and some type of microalgae.
You can buy these nutrients in specialty stores or online.
6. Heme iron
Heme iron is found mostly in red meat.
It is more easily absorbed, compared to non-heme iron which is mostly found in plant foods (77).
Heme iron boosts the absorption of non-heme iron. This is called the “meat factor.” However, we do not fully understand how it takes place.
Non-heme iron is not readily absorbed by the body. Besides, some antinutrients, also present in the same plant food may further limit its absorption. An example of an antinutrient is phytic acid.
Antinutrients do not affect the absorption of heme iron.
On the other hand, you can easily avoid iron deficiency on a vegan diet that is rich in non-heme iron.
Taurine is a compound that is found in the kidneys, heart, and brain (79). It is a sulfur-based compound.
Taurine is found only in animal foods, like seafood, meat, fish, poultry, and dairies (84).
Taurine isn’t an essential dietary nutrient, as it is produced by small amounts in the body. However, dietary taurine may also contribute to maintaining the levels of taurine in your body.
Taurine supplements can be purchased online and are suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
Fortified vegan and vegetarian diets are healthy.
However, some nutrients are not readily gotten from plant foods. If you want to do away with animal-based foods, ensure that you consider these nutrients, and supplement them to ensure that your body gets all that it needs.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.