• Charlotte Woods ANutr

Veganuary? Important Nutrients to Consider for a Plant-Based Diet - Part 1

Hey! Long time no see! After traveling to India to train to be a yoga teacher, the nutrition blog has been pushed to the back of my priorities list! Now more than ever I am excited to share with you new articles, guides and recipes to help with your health needs.

This post is for those of you who are considering adopting a plant-based diet or have already done so but are worried about getting the right nutrition. I can assure you that it is very easy to stay healthy on a plant-based diet, but the way you eat and subsequently the nutrition advice given can look very different compared to a standard diet. The types and quantities of food on your plate may change according to what you are used to. Many people question those who eat a plant based diet, ‘But where do you get your protein?’. This question is so common that is is a running joke within plant-based communities. You will be pleased to know that it is actually very easy to eat the recommended amount of protein which is 0.75 x kilogram of bodyweight per day [1].

Here I have focused on some important nutrients to consider where intake is more likely to be low in a plant based diet than a standard western diet. Many of these nutrients would have traditionally been absorbed into the plant from a rich topsoil or our ancestors would have consumed them from left over soil on the outside of the food. However, due to heavy use of chemicals, fierce washing of our food to remove bacteria and variation of mineral content in soil, we are often eating foods much lower in these vitamins and minerals as we would expect [2].

Vitamin B12

What is it?

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient to the body. It is involved in developing red blood cells, nerve, heart, immune system and brain function [2][3]. Around 2-5 milligrams is stored in the liver. In humans, B12 can be synthesised by bacteria in the gut, but this happens too low down for much absorption into the body to occur [4]. Some B12 is secreted in bile and recycled back into the body. This means that B12 deficiency takes a long time to develop, after around 3 to 5 years of depletion. For those who follow a plant-based diet, it is important to ensure adequate intakes to prevent deficiency.

Where can you find it?

It is found minimally in plant foods although it is found in soil [2]. Animals consume B12 from the soil by consuming the bacteria that creates B12 and releases it into their gut for absorption [2]. Humans would have traditionally eaten some dirt on vegetables from the earth or from foraging, however in modern day we heavily cleanse our food from dirt and bacteria, thus relying on animals to do this process for us. B12 can be consumed in varying quantities depending on its abundance in soil where vegetables are grown. This may be more likely in organically grown produce or soil where metals are less abundant [5].

Sources of vitamin B12 in a plant based diet include seaweed, tempeh, fortified plant milks, cheeses and cereals, tofu and some plant based meat substitutes. Additionally, B12 can be found in nutritional yeast commonly used to add a ‘cheesy’ flavour to plant based meals as well as Marmite [6].

How much do you need daily?

1.5 micrograms per day for adults aged 19-50 [1].

Signs of deficiency:

Muscle weakness, fatigue, pins and needles, sore/red tongue, mouth ulcers, disturbed vision, impaired brain function such as depression, confusion and memory problems [3][7].

Do you need to supplement it?

Due to lack of research on naturally occurring plant based dietary sources of B12, it is best to recommend that an individual following a plant based diet ensures they have either a good intake of B12 through fortified sources or nutritional yeast, or they can choose to supplement it which can be in many forms including a daily mouth spray or a three-monthly injection [2][8].


What is it?

Iodine is an essential mineral used by the thyroid gland to form thyroid hormones which play a strong role in the regulation of metabolism in the body. Humans rely on dietary sources of iodine to keep levels in the body adequate [9][10].

Where can you find it?

Plant sources of iodine include cereals and grains, however levels of iodine within these foods can vary greatly depending on the amount of iodine in the soil where the plants are grown [9].

How much do you need daily?

140 micrograms per day for adults aged 19-50 [1].

Signs of deficiency:

Signs of iodine deficiency include impaired cognitive function which can be expressed as depression and anxiety. More severe signs are the enlargement if the thyroid gland or a ‘goiter’. Ultimately iodine deficiency can cause hypothyroidism which affects growth and development [11][12].

Do you need to supplement it?

In modern day, iodine levels in soil may be reduced due to industrial agricultural practices and environmental pollutants. Those who follow a plant based diet therefore may be at an increased risk of being deficient in iodine, depending on where they live and source their produce [11][13]. It may be necessary in this case to supplement iodine, however it must be noted that iodine has the potential to be harmful if overdosed. The NHS recommends that if a person wishes to supplement iodine then they should take only 50 micrograms or less per day [9].


What is it?

Iron is used to form red blood cells which carry out the important task of spreading oxygen around the body [9].

Where can you find it?

Heme iron is found in meat whilst non-heme iron is found in beans, pulses, nuts, dried fruit such as apricots, prunes and figs, wholegrain, fortified breakfast cereals, soy bean flour and dark-green leafy vegetables such as such as watercress, broccoli and spring greens [14].

How much do you need daily?

For men over 19 and women over 50 (or women who have undergone the menopause), 8.7 milligrams of iron per day is recommend. For women aged 19-50 (or those who are still menstruating) 14.8 milligrams per day is recommended (due to the loss of iron during menstruation [1][9].

Signs of deficiency:

Fatigue, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and pale skin [14].

Do you need to supplement it?

Heme iron is thought to be more readily absorbed than non-heme, meaning that those who follow a plant-based diet may be at a higher risk of deficiency [3]. Studies have found that vegans and vegetarians should consume about 1.8 times the recommended intake to ensure the body is able to absorb enough iron [15]. A benefit of this is that data from the Nurses’ Health Study II indicated that women who consumed higher amounts of non-heme iron are at decreased risk of ovulatory infertility [16]. Providing you supply your diet with plenty of non-heme iron and support the correct mechanisms of absorption, a supplement is not necessarily necessary [3]. Great ways to improve iron absorption are by increasing the amount of vitamin C in your diet. Foods containing vitamin C are fruits such as guavas, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, papaya and vegetables such as bell peppers, broccoli, tomato, kale and snow peas [17]. Other ways to increase iron absorption include avoiding eating foods containing calcium and polyphenols in the same meal as that containing iron. Foods containing calcium are listed below. Foods containing high amounts of polyphenols are tea, coffee and wine. Polyphenols should not be avoided as they have their own health benefits, but their consumption should be separate to meals that include iron [18]. Taking too much supplemented iron has the potential to be harmful as high levels of iron in the blood can be toxic [9]. However, this is unlikely and would require a large amount.

Folate/Folic Acid

What is it?

Folate or folic acid (man-made) is a type of B vitamin. It is used to form blood cells and it is involved in the formation of the spine in the womb [9].

Where can you find it?

Dark leafy vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage and spinach, peas, chickpeas, fortified breakfast cereals [9].

How much do you need daily?

200 micrograms per day for adults aged 19-50 [1][9].

Signs of deficiency:

Extreme fatigue, pins and needles, sore and red tongue, mouth ulcers,

disturbed vision, depression, confusion and memory problems [7].

Do you need to supplement it?

Those women who can get pregnant or are trying for a baby are recommended to consume a 400 microgram supplement daily up until twelve weeks of pregnancy. This is considered a safe amount. For males or females that aren’t trying for a baby, a diet containing high folate foods should be sufficient. These foods must be eaten regularly as folate cannot be stored long term in the body [9].

Vitamin D

What is it?

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and is involved in brain health, bones, muscle, pancreas, thyroid and immune function, calcium and phosphate absorption [2][9]. It also reduces risk of Alzheimers, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancers, type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases colds and flu [2].

Where can you find it?

Vitamin D is unusual as it can be formed in the skin as a result of sunlight exposure. In addition, there are also dietary sources of vitamin D [3]. These are mushrooms and fortified plant foods such as milks, cheeses and meat substitutes.

How much do you need daily?

10 micrograms per day for adults aged 18-50 [1].

Signs of deficiency:

Vitamin D is associated with calcium absorption, therefore a deficiency in Vitamin D often goes hand in hand with calcium deficiency. This can be represented by bone pain, higher incidence of fractures and bone deformities. Often noticed over a long term period as opposed to a sudden onset of signs/symptoms [9].

Do you need to supplement it?

Poor sunshine exposure in modern times from clothing to indoor work, suncream use and more has reduced our bodies natural vitamin D formation [2]. It is estimated that 40% to 60% of the world’s adult population don’t get enough vitamin D [2]. For those following a plant based diet, consumption is likely to be minimal. A close monitoring of food consumption and safe exposure to sunlight in summer could be sufficient to ensure adequate levels of Vitamin D, or a supplement containing 10 micrograms of a plant-based D2 of synthetic D3 could be useful to prevent deficiency, particularly in winter when sunlight is minimal [2][9].

To be continued ...

Look out for the 2nd part to this post next week!

Love Always,

Lottie x


[1] British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) (2019) Nutrition Requirements. Available at: (Accessed: 3 Jan 2020).

[2] Food Revolution Network (2017) 5 Key Supplements for Vegans and Vegetarians to Thrive on A Plant-Based Diet. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Jan 2020).

[3] Arnason, A. (2019) 7 Nutrients That You Can’t Get from Plants. Available at: (Accessed: 3 Jan 2020).

[4] Gille, D and Schmid, A (2015) ‘Vitamin B12 in meat and dairy products’, Nutrition Reviews, 73 (2), pp. 106-115.

[5] Grace, N. (2006) ‘Effect of ingestion of soil on the iodine, copper, cobalt (vitamin B12) and selenium status of grazing sheep’, New Zealand Veterinary Journal, 54 (1), pp. 44-46.

[6] NHS (2018) The Vegan Diet. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Jan 2020).

[7] NHS (2019) Vitamin B12 or Folate Deficiency Anaemia. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Jan 2020).

[8] Lederer, A., Hannibal, L., Hettich, M., Behringer, S., Spiekeroetter, U., Steinborn Schmiech, M., Maul-Pavicic, A., Samstag, Y. And Huber, R. (2019) ‘Vitamin B12 Status Upon Short-Term Intervention with a Vegan Diet-A Randomized Controlled Trial in Healthy Participants’, Nutrients, 11 (11), pp. E2815.

[9] NHS (2017) Vitamins and Minerals. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Jan 2020).

[10] Delshad, H. and Azizi, F. (2019) ‘Iodine nutrition in pregnant and breastfeeding women: sufficiency, deficiency, and supplementation’, Hormones, e-pub ahead of print.

[11] Group, E. (2016) Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency. Available at: (Accessed: 3 Jan 2020).

[12] Tako, E. (2019) ‘Dietary Trace Minerals’, Nutrients, 11 (11), pp. E2823.

[13] Ershow, A., Skeaff, S., Merkel, J. and Pehrsson, P. (2018) ‘Development of Databases on Iodine in Foods and Dietary Supplements’, Nutrients, 10 (1), pp. E100.

[14] NHS (2018) Iron Deficiency Anaemia. Available at: (Accessed: 2 Jan 2020).

[15] Hunt, J. (2003) ‘Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78 (3), pp. 633S-639S.

[16] Chavarro, J., Rich-Edwards, J., Gaskins, A., Farland, L., Terry, K., Zhang, C. and Missmer, S. (2016) ‘Contributions of the Nurses' Health Studies to Reproductive Health Research’, American Journal of Public Health, 106 (9), pp. 1669-1676.

[17] Abbaspour, N., Hurrell, R. And Kelishadi, R. (2014) ‘Review on iron and its importance for human health’, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 19 (2), pp. 164-174.

[18] Zijp, I., Korver, O. and Tijburg, L. (2000) ‘Effect of tea and other dietary factors on iron absorption’, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 40 (5), pp. 371-398.



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