Often when talking about being vegan or vegetarian, the first question you get is “where do you get your protein?”. It’s a good question, but *truth bomb* there is no lack of protein in plant-based eating.
There are however 3 common nutrient deficiencies that people on a plant-based diet should be mindful of:
#1 (& perhaps the one I see most commonly) is B12. Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal proteins, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. You can find it fortified in breakfast cereals & nutritional years, but to get a therapeutic dose, I often recommend a supplement.
#2 Iron - especially for people that are very active or have regular menstrual cycles. There are 2 types of iron found in food: heme iron & non-heme iron.
Heme iron is found in animal products only, especially rare steaks, organ meats, oysters/clams/mussels. Non-heme iron is found in plants like spinach, dried fruits, lentils, broccoli, & nuts.
You can get a good amount of iron from plant-based foods, but unfortunately it doesn’t absorb as well. Non-heme iron is fickle and is easily inhibited by things like high amounts of fiber, oxalates, & calcium. What’s a veg to do? Eat lots of vitamin C when eating iron rich foods, and you guessed it…take a supplement.
#3 Omega 3s - this has almost the exact same story as iron. There are 2 types of omega 3s: kind from animals & kind from plants. The kind from animals is typically found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel. The kind in plants is found in flax seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and olive oil.
However! The plant-based source of omega 3s have to be converted in order to be absorbed. These plant sources of Omega 3s are rich in ALA, which has to be converted to EPA & DHA in the body. The success rate of that enzyme transaction is a measly 1-10%. That’s gonna take a lot of flax…
One supplement that comes in to save the day is algae. Algae is a plant-based source of active Omega 3s & is very bioavailable (AKA well absorbed).
Stay true to you, eat your veggies, stay nourished, and **remember** to always test first & talk to your doctor before trying new supplements!