Increasing your risk of being deficient in certain vitamins and minerals is often used as an argument not to follow a plant-based diet, that is, one which is free from meat, eggs, fish and dairy.
“In the UK, it is estimated that well-planned completely plant-based, or vegan, diets need just one third of the fertile land, fresh water and energy of the typical British ‘meat-and-dairy’ based diet”
This is a quote from the British Dietetic Association (BDA) fact sheet on plant-based diets.
It takes some planning, of course, but including some of the below foods in your diet can soon become second nature.
I recently watched Trust Me, I’m a Doctor on BBC. In this, they explain that many of us – especially young women – are iodine deficient. In this episode, they explained that the top three sources of iodine are:
- Cow’s milk
- White fish
If you’re vegan, those first two are out of the question. So, how can you be sure you’re getting enough iodine in your diet? The programme also explained that the absorption of seaweed supplements, like Sea Kelp, is more unpredictable.
We need 150 micrograms of iodine as adults each day.
Too much iodine can cause thyroid problems, just as too little can.
Being vegan or vegetarian puts you at significant risk of iodine sufficiency, which can affect your thyroid hormone function and energy levels.
It got me thinking about whether this is why some people feel more tired when they start off with a vegan diet. Here, I have used resources from the BDA to explain how you can make sure you reduce your risk of certain deficiencies whilst following this pro-environment diet.
The below information is from the British Dietician Association fact sheet on dietary iodine:
Food Portion Average iodine/ portion (mcg) (actual iodine content will vary)
Milk and dairy products
Cow’s milk 200ml 50-100mcg**
Organic cow’s milk 200ml 30-60mcg**
Yoghurt 150g 50-100mcg**
Cheese 40g 15mcg
Haddock 120g 390mcg
Cod 120g 230 Plaice 130 30mcg
Salmon fillet 100g 14mcg
Canned tuna 100g 12mcg
Prawns 60g 6mcg
Scampi 170g 160mcg
Eggs 1 egg (50g) 25mcg
Meat/Poultry 100g 10mcg
Nuts 25g 5mcg
Bread 1 slice (36g) 5mcg
Fruit and vegetables 1 portion (80g) 3mcg
**higher in winter
Of course, the best way to ensure sufficient dietary iodine is to consume a healthy, balanced diet which includes milk, dairy and white fish. However, if you’re set on following a 100% vegan diet, it might be worth considering a supplement. The BDA recommend if you are going to take a supplement, make sure it is in the form of potassium iodide or potassium iodate and that you’re not consuming more than 150 micrograms per day.
If you’re concerned about choosing the right supplement, it might be worthing visiting your GP and asking their advice. This also might be a good chance to do a blood test to check your levels of things like iodine, iron and calcium in your blood, especially if you have recently changed your diet.
Other vitamins and minerals that those following a plant-based diet are at risk of being deficient in include:
Calcium – We need 700mg per day of Calcium. Many non-dairy milks are now fortified with calcium. Other sources include leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, tahini, tofu, almonds and red kidney beans. Keep these last two low-FODMAP by having in smaller quantities. Resistance training (weight sessions) is also good for strengthening bones in the long-term.
Omega 3 fatty acids – These are classically found in oily fish. In a vegan diet, consuming seeds, walnuts, soya beans and rapeseed oil can help maximise your intake. In fact, Lidl do a fantastically cheap packet of ground flaxseeds, chia seeds and hempseeds that you can add to your porridge or homemade granola bars, and all are rich in Omega-3!
Vitamin D – Vitamin D deficiency is a risk for all adults who live in grey Great Britain. I take a supplement every day from October – February. There is good evidence to say that everybody would likely benefit from Vitamin D supplementation in darker months.
Vitamin B12 – “The only reliable sources of vitamin B12 [in a plant-based diet] are fortified foods and supplements. Suitable B12-fortified foods include some breakfast cereals, yeast extracts, soya yoghurts and non-dairy milks.” This vitamin is difficult to get in a vegan diet, so have a low threshold for taking a supplement.
Iron – The iron in meat and eggs is absorbed much more easily than plant-based iron, so eat your dried fruits, wholegrains, nuts, green leafy vegetables, seeds and pulses alongside vitamin C to increase their absorption.
Zinc – Found in wholegrains, nuts, seeds, miso and tempeh (fermented soy).
Selenium – Eat 2 brazil nuts each day – Selenium dose, done!
I believe that you’re making a big difference to the environment and your health by reducing your intake of animal products, especially animal fats. So put in a little extra effort to make certain you’re not sacrificing anything in doing so.
I hope this has helped and I can’t recommend the BDA website enough!
Find the resources here: