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Nutritional Concerns – Vegans and Vegetarians

vegvegannutritionJacquie Eubanks RN BSN

By now, many may know that a plant-based diet is considered one the best ways to protect health and guard against cellular aging and chronic disease. In the U.S., meat consumption is on the rise, even as the American Institute for Cancer Research, the World Cancer Research Fund International and the World Health Organization all recommend reduced and limited red and processed meat consumption. While vegans avoid all animal products, there are some vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diets that are largely based on plant foods, but allow for modest amounts of dairy and eggs and even an occasional bit of seafood or grass fed meat.

Some might argue that humans are omnivores who function best on a diet that includes both plant and animal foods. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics notes that an appropriately planned and balanced vegetarian diet can provide the nutrients to meet the body’s daily nutritional needs. To ensure a healthy plant-based diet, one must be educated in nutritional requirements, as an unbalanced diet may lack a number of important and essential nutrients.  To truly be healthy, a vegan or vegetarian diet requires more than processed meatless meals, pumpkin muffins, French fries, pasta, and empty calorie refined foods. Ideally, 8-12 daily servings of a wide variety of colorful plant foods is necessary to provide sufficient amounts of protein and micronutrients.

Getting sufficient critical nutrients can be a challenge in a vegan diet, so knowledge and meal planning are essential. To guard against nutritional deficiencies, a balanced plant-based diet must include sources of all micronutrients. Particular attention should be paid to vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and all the essential amino acids.

Good reasons to load your plate with greens and veggies:

  • According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, a plant-based diet is one the best ways to naturally lower blood pressure. The Harvard School of Public Health concurs and suggests that a diet loaded with fruits and vegetables can help control hypertension, lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Almost 400 million Americans now have type 2 diabetes and that number is expected to rise to 600 million by 2035. Type 2 diabetes is largely preventable with a healthy whole food diet and exercise. Research suggests a plant-based diet is one of the best forms of diabetes prevention.
  • Harvard researchers have found that those who average eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily lower their risk of having a stroke or heart attack by 30%.
  • Vegetarians tend to consume fewer calories, helping to support normal weight. Opting for more fiber-filled vegetables, fruits and whole grains in lieu of meat, leads to a lower overall caloric intake and helps to keep you feeling satisfied on fewer calories. Weight loss occurs naturally when less sugar and more whole foods are consumed.

The USDA guidelines suggest that everyone integrate more meatless meals, that revolve around vegetables, whole grains and fruits, into their weekly meal plans. In adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s essential to know how to increase not only your intake and but also the absorption of certain nutrients in order to avoid both short term and long term deficiencies. When one is considering going vegan or vegetarian, it may help to meet with a healthcare practitioner, dietician or nutritionist to learn about meal planning, especially when one has a medical condition or is looking to lose a significant amount of weight. With adequate planning, a plant-based diet can exceed the healthfulness of non-vegetarian diets, especially the standard American diet. Be sure to do your nutritional homework and plan a healthful approach before jumping headlong into a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Vitamin B12 – B12 is particularly important for DNA, RNA and red blood cell production, as well as healthy nerve cell maintenance. B12 aids the release of energy into the cells, supporting movement and cognitive function, and supports cardiovascular health by removing inflammation-causing homocysteine from the blood. Found largely in animal products, B12 deficiency is common in vegans and vegetarians and can cause symptoms such as fatigue, nervousness, tingling in the extremities, and eventual nerve damage, if the deficiency is not addressed. In order to ensure sufficient amounts of B12 and minimize the potential risk of heart disease, vegans should eat fortified foods several times each day or consider a daily B12 supplement.

Iron – Iron is important for immunity, energy production, DNA synthesis and the transfer of oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the U.S., especially among premenopausal women and teenage girls. Iron is prevalent in a wide variety of plant and animal foods including meats, legumes, beans and grains. Although the most easily absorbed form of iron, known as heme iron, is primarily found in red meat, plant foods do contain significant amounts of iron, but in a less absorbable non-heme form. In addition, plant antioxidant compounds, such as polyphenols and phytates, can bind to minerals and inhibit the absorption of plant iron and zinc. Sufficient levels of Vitamin C can enhance the absorption of plant iron and overcome the inhibitors in plant foods. Although studies show that vegetarians have lower iron stores than non-vegetarians, by paying attention to a healthy, varied vegetarian diet, herbivores can keep their blood levels of iron within the normal range.

Zinc – There are many rich plant sources of zinc, including chickpeas, mushrooms and cashews. However, similar to iron, the body does not easily absorb zinc from plant-based sources. Evidence suggests that because of absorption issues, vegans and strict vegetarians may require a zinc intake up to 50% higher than meat eaters. Once again, these foods should be paired with vitamin C-rich foods to increase the absorbability this important nutrient.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, are found largely in fatty fish. ALA is an omega 3 fatty acid that is found in plant products. Getting sufficient omega-3 essential fatty acids may be the ultimate challenge for vegans. Ground flax seeds and hemp seeds are two of the richest plant sources of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. As vegetarian diets are typically low in omega-3 and high in omega-6 fatty acids, the use of corn and blended vegetable oils, high in omega-6, should be minimized. Low levels of omega-3’s are associated with cardiovascular disease, depression, and other negative health consequences.

Complete Proteins – Protein is key to reduced cravings, muscle building, and healthy weight maintenance. All protein sources from meat to tofu contain different amounts of amino acids. Animal-based food sources contain all essential amino acids but plant-based protein may contain only a few. Eating a variety of plant proteins along with whole grains can ensure the proper intake of all essential amino acids. Deficiencies in essential nutrients can negatively affect the way the body can use protein.

Professional Supplement Center carries many high quality supplements specifically formulated to meet the nutritional needs of vegans and vegetarians:

B12 5000 LiquidB12 5000 Liquid by Pure Encapsulations – This convenient, pleasant tasting bioavailable form of vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin provides support for energy production and immune system health, as well as nerve and neurological function. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.


Vegan B-12 2500 mcgVegan Vitamin B12 2500 mcg by Deva Nutrition – These sublingual, fast dissolving lozenges provide bioavailable vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin. Each easy-to-take tablet provides 2500 mcg of B12 to ensure adequate intake. Gluten and dairy free, vegan formulation.


Vegan Omega-3 DHA...Vegan Omega-3 DHA-EPA 300 mg by Deva Nutrition – This high potency source of omega-3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA is derived from a completely vegetarian source of microalgae grown in a controlled environment under cGMP guidelines to ensure the highest quality. Gluten free, 100% vegan formulation.


Wild Alaskan Salmon...Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil by Natural FactorsSAVE 20% Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon oil has a naturally occurring nearly 1:1 ratio of EPA to DHA. Wild Salmon Oil is regularly tested for chemical residue and heavy metals to ensure a safe and pure source of fish oil. Wheat, dairy and yeast free formulation.


Vegan Chelated Iron...Vegan Chelated Iron 29 mg with added B12 by Deva Nutrition – This amino acid chelated supplement provides absorbable iron along with B12 without adversely affecting the gastrointestinal system. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegan formulation.


Zinc Picolinate 25 mg by Country LifeZinc Picolinate 25 mg by Country Life – This supplement provides highly absorbable and bioavailable zinc in support of immune, prostate and overall health. Wheat, soy and dairy free, vegan formulation.


Plant-Based Diets Facts and Myths: 6 things You Need To Know Before You Become a Vegetarian. http://www.medicaldaily.com/plant-based-diets-facts-and-myths-6-things-you-need-know-you-become-vegetarian-397574
Five Nutrients Vegetarian Diets Lack. http://www.vegetarianvoice.com/vegetarian-nutrition/7/five-nutrients-vegetarian-diets-lack/
Vegetarians & Lack of Nutrients. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/vegetarians-lack-nutrients-3924.html
7 Reasons to Choose a Plant-Based Diet. http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/slideshows/reasons-to-choose-a-plant-based-diet
Should You Eat The Same Thing Every Day? Why Food Variety Is Important. http://www.medicaldaily.com/should-you-eat-same-thing-every-day-why-food-variety-important-397547
Can A Vegan Diet Give You All You Need? German Nutritionists say ‘Nein’. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/09/12/492433069/can-a-vegan-diet-give-you-all-you-need-german-nutritionists-say-nein
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin). http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b12-cobalamin
Iron. http://veganhealth.org/articles/iron


B12 – The Little Vitamin That Could

b12JacquieIconBy Jacquie Eubanks

Vitamin B12 is a complex and powerful little vitamin that may not come up on our radar screens very often. Some may think of B12 as the “energy” vitamin, but all B vitamins help to convert carbohydrates into glucose, the fuel that supplies energy to all bodily cells. B vitamins are necessary for the health of our skin, eyes, hair and liver and each has distinct roles to play in bodily functions. Specifically, vitamin B12 helps to maintain healthy nerve cells and assists in the production of DNA and RNA, our genetic material. B12 helps produce red blood cells, aids iron in producing oxygen-carrying hemoglobin and keeps homocysteine levels, a factor in cardiovascular disease, in check.

A healthy functioning body uses B12 efficiently, largely in the course of the recycling of B12 through the liver. Even though B12 is a water soluble vitamin, the liver is capable of storing minute amounts for several years. Yet, according to the National Institutes of Health, B12 deficiency is widespread. Initially, low levels of vitamin B12 may cause a range of symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, nervousness, digestive distress and numbness or tingling in the fingers and toes. Unlike other nutrient deficiencies that can be reversed with repletion, B12 is so vital to brain and nervous system health that a deficiency can cause permanent damage.

Dietary B12 is found only in animal products, such as meat, dairy, eggs and seafood and in fortified foods, such as cereal products and tofu. Many of us may not consider how much vitamin B12 we actually obtain through our diets, so supplementation of this highly important nutrient may be the best way to ensure ideal levels for optimal health support. The stages of B12 deficiency may present very slowly, so it can go unnoticed for a long period of time.

  • Stage 1 – Blood levels of B12 begin to decline, signaling the body does not have sufficient available B12
  • Stage 2 – Progression to low cellular concentrations of B12
  • Stage 3 – Increased blood levels of homocysteine, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, along with a decreased rate of DNA synthesis
  • Stage 4 – Macrocytic anemia, a condition associated with a red blood cell abnormality, resulting in both enlargement and insufficient numbers of cells and insufficient hemoglobin content of cells  

Those most at risk for B12 deficiency are the elderly, vegetarians, pregnant women, chronic alcohol abusers and those with renal or intestinal diseases. For example:

  • Those with pernicious anemia, an autoimmune disease that results in the failure to produce intrinsic factor, a substance required for B12 absorption that is normally secreted by the stomach. Left untreated, pernicious anemia may progress to megaloblastic anemia and irreversible neurological disorders, even when there is adequate dietary intake. Those who fail to produce intrinsic factor may require prescription injections of vitamin B12.
  • Senior citizens are at higher risk of deficiency, as at around age 50 many people begin to lose the ability to absorb dietary B12.
  • Vegans and strict vegetarians, whose diets don’t include any or insufficient amounts of animal products, are at high risk of deficiency and must be sure to supplement and include dietary foods fortified with B12.
  • Vitamin B12 is bound to the protein in our food, and is released by the activity of hydrochloric acid and gastric protease, two factors that must be present in the stomach for B12 to be absorbed and utilized. Those who have insufficient production of hydrochloric acid may have very limited absorption of B12 and may require very high oral doses of vitamin B12.
  • Those with Crohn’s or celiac disease, disorders that affect nutrient absorption, may not be able to absorb a sufficient amount of B12.
  • Certain medications, such as those for diabetes and long term use of stomach acid reducers, increase the chances of developing a B12 deficiency.

For normal function and optimal health, the body requires essential micronutrients, including at least 30 vitamins, minerals and other nutrient compounds. Working in harmony, synergistic nutrients support the bodily functions that not only keep us healthy but, more importantly, sustain life. A deficiency in one vitamin may affect the functioning of others, meaning that multiple deficiencies may be present simultaneously. Vitamin insufficiency is linked to the development of chronic diseases, including diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, dementia and night blindness to name just a few.

B12 deficiency is a serious health issue that should not be taken lightly. For those at high risk of deficiency, supplementation with vitamin B12 is considered a safe and effective way to support neurological health, energy production, red blood cell formation, nervous system function and DNA synthesis. A multivitamin and mineral formula that includes the full complement of B vitamins or a B-complex formula that contains the complete range of synergistic B vitamins may be the ideal solution to ensure adequate intake for those at a lower risk of deficiency.

Professional Supplement Center offers these and other fine products for vitamin B12 supplementation:

Vitamin B12Vitamin B12 by Designs for Health – Each natural berry flavored lozenge delivers 5,000 mcg of activated B12. Formulated to be dissolved in the mouth in order to deliver B12 through the mucous membranes and bypassing the intestines for those with absorption issues. Gluten free, Non-GMO vegetarian formula.


Vitamin B-12 2500 mcg (B12-60)Vitamin B12 2500 mcg by Douglas Laboratories – These sublingual tablets, designed to improve absorption and bioavailability, dissolve rapidly to deliver 2500 mcg of pure vitamin B12 for those who wish to increase their B12 intake. Convenient dosing with one daily tablet.


B12 5000 LiquidB12 5000 Liquid by Pure Encapsulations – This popular formula provides 5,000 mcg of vitamin B12 in a convenient and bioavailable liquid form. Naturally flavored with apple and black currant juice. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.


Vegan Vitamin B-12 SublingualVegan Vitamin B12 Sublingual – These pleasant tasting, quick dissolving sublingual tablets supply 1000 mcg of vitamin B12, plus vitamin B6 and folate. This highly bioavailable vegan formulation helps to ensure adequate intake of this essential and very important nutrient. Gluten, soy and dairy free.


Vitamin B12. http://www.britannica.com/science/nutritional-disease/Vitamin-B12
Causes and Early Diagnosis of Vitamin B12 Deficiency. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2696961/
Vitamin B12 Deficiency. http://www.lifescript.com/health/a-z/conditions_a-z/conditions/v/vitamin_b12_deficiency.aspx
Vitamin B12. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/vitamin-b12-cobalamin