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In recent years, more and more people are interested in leading a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. The vegan, or strict vegetarian, diet excludes all foods of animal origin . All healthy nutritional protocols must be based on a high consumption of whole vegetables and be calorically sufficient. They have to ensure a correct distribution of macronutrients and reaching the micronutrient recommendation. The plant-based diet is exactly the same as the omnivorous diet in that we must ensure that the intake of vitamins, minerals and amino acids is correct with a varied diet throughout the day.
The benefits of a plant-based diet are from the preservation and enhancement of health to the prevention of many pathologies.
We can list the following:
- Improvements in body composition.
- Increased sports performance.
- Benefits on the cardiovascular system.
- Improvement in the parameters of inflammation,
- Benefits in the improvement and prevention of diabetes.
- digestive improvements.
- Benefits for intestinal and immune health.
1. Bad experiences
Unfortunately, on many occasions we can hear from people who have followed a vegan diet and have had contraindications or adverse effects. Finally they have forced them to abandon this nutrition and end up again opting for the intake of calories from animals.
1.1 Situations where problems with the vegan or plant-based diet can be reported:
- There are people who take their nutrition incorrectly. These deficits are caused by not eating whole plant foods in the correct proportions. If an unbalanced and insufficient diet is carried out, regardless of the type of nutrition, it can end up causing serious pathologies.
- Sometimes it also happens that some people change their eating style because they already have a previous pathology that has hindered a normal transition and in which perhaps their prognosis was already serious. Damaged health is sometimes an incentive to start taking care of yourself, but the consequences of some bad habits can accompany us for even more years, even if we have started to do things well.
- Also, some people with digestive upset and/or bacterial overgrowth , when switching to a plant-based diet, experience more symptoms due to suddenly increasing carbohydrate and fiber intake. The more symptoms you have, the more fiber you need. There are adequate protocols for these people to recover their digestive balance, and it is not something that will harm you, they are simply temporary symptoms that can be conditioned with an adequate regimen focused on balancing the intestinal environment.
1.2 Different ways to make a vegan or plant-based diet:
- Going on a vegan diet can provide many benefits . It is an option that can be done easily and without risk, but it has to be executed correctly. If it is necessary at first, guided by a professional, it should be done with the same objective with which a diet that includes animal meat is considered so as not to have deficiencies in the body.
- A vegan diet motivated by ethical principles can also be based on ultra-processed foods , or with a very restricted variety. This would not be correct. The adverse effects and deficiencies would not be the fault of the vegan diet, but of poor execution. Just like an omnivorous diet, high in junk food or eating the same thing every day with little variety, it also presents many problems, as epidemiological data on standard diets show us.
- If you have an unbalanced diet, you have just made a change to a vegan diet and you are not very clear about the contributions of some nutrients. Or, if you've been following an anarchic plant-based diet for a while and need to balance your vitamin levels, I'll walk you through the most important nutrients to look out for and how to reach levels quickly.
2. How to avoid possible deficiencies in a vegan or plant-based diet:
2.1 Avoid a B12 deficiency
When you stop eating animals, if you are not well informed, you may not remember vitamin B12. Currently we obtain it from animals that have been previously supplemented and then eaten. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause mild to severe problems , such as: tiredness, weakness, megaloblastic anemia, neurological problems, depression, dementia or poor memory, among other types of damage that it can cause to the nervous system.
Babies can also be affected, leading to growth delays. The National Institutes of Health in the United States advises that people over the age of 50, even if they do not follow a type of plant-based diet, should take B12 supplements. They may not have enough hydrochloric acid in their stomach and this is responsible for the body absorbing vitamin B12 from food. That is why dietary supplements of this vitamin in older people can be beneficial for their health.
All people should take B12 . If you do not eat animals, it is mandatory to take it in all these contexts:
- If you have just started a vegan or plant-based diet
- If you have been taking it for a while and you have not supplemented, even if you have normal levels of B12 in your blood
- If you have low B12 levels
- If you eat few animal products
- People older than 50 years
- if you are vegetarian
- If you are flexitarian, etc.
The side effects of a B12 deficiency may not be reversed.
2.2 Avoid zinc deficiencies
Zinc deficiency affects approximately one third of the world's population. Mainly in developing countries, in rural areas and in the poorest communities, where it constitutes an important risk factor associated with the disease. In developed countries we do not have this deficiency, but it is true that, if a very poor diet is taken, deficits of this mineral could occur.
This mineral plays a fundamental role in the control of neurogenesis, brain function and cognitive development. We notice its lack when there are problems with taste, smell, healing, hair loss, brittle nails, among other symptoms.
Its sources are primarily animals, but we also find it in the plant kingdom, such as in some legumes or nuts. People who follow a hypocaloric diet in diets where these sources are excluded, in addition to animals, could benefit from a support supplement.
2.3 Avoid selenium deficiencies
Selenium is really a nutrient that goes unnoticed, but it can be compromised in a vegan diet since there are not so many nutritional sources. Its main source is Brazil nuts, but it is not a common or cheap food, nor is it usually included in weight loss diets. In addition, an excess of these nuts is also toxic, it is recommended to consume 3-4 units a week.
Lack of selenium can cause keshan disease (a heart disease) and infertility in men. It could also cause kashin-beck disease, a type of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, and loss of movement in the joints.
With a supplement this deficiency would be unlikely. So, if you don't have a safe source (whether omnivorous or vegan) and you're on a very hypocaloric diet, or don't follow a professionally guided regimen, you might consider taking it during your transition to a plant-based diet until you're done. incorporate a wide variety of plant foods into your diet in a balanced way.
2.4 Avoid vitamin D deficiencies
A deficit and an excess of this vitamin poses a serious risk to human health. In a vegan diet we do not have safe sources to obtain the total vitamin D. In an omnivorous diet, although there is some food that contains it, it is in small proportion. Therefore, if you have a plant-based diet and no exposure to the sun, it would be advisable through analysis and medical or professional advice, to establish a period of supplementation.
2.5 Avoid iron deficiencies
Anemia is a problem that is commonly attributed to this type of diet. Vegetarians and vegans show lower levels of iron in their blood, although this does not imply a higher incidence of anemia in this population group. In principle it would not be a risk, but if you have levels that are too low, and already diagnosed with anemia, a supplement to support your diet would be appropriate.
Some symptoms of anemia are: greater weakness or tiredness than usual, headaches, paleness of the face and lips, difficulty concentrating or even feeling in a bad mood or especially sad. The population most at risk of suffering from this problem are children, pregnant women, and women of childbearing age . Also classified as risk groups are those people who follow a vegetarian or vegan diet that is very hypocaloric or raw food, as well as professional athletes who train several hours a day. It is not intended to have levels in high ranges, but stable levels that do not compromise health.
Non-heme iron from plants has been shown to be much safer than heme iron for health and disease prevalence. If you belong to a risk group or have a very hypocaloric diet, supplementary support with an average percentage of this micronutrient could be appropriate.
Finally, I would like to make some recommendations when looking for a good supplement . When it comes to nutrition support, it would be advisable to look for those that do not provide 100% of the total of most micronutrients, since this will cause us an excess.
Its forms should be those that to date have been most studied for their bioavailability, such as: iron bisglycinate, cyanocobalamin, zinc bisglycinate, etc. In the case of B12, it could be recommended that you provide 100% if it is a daily supplement and you do not eat several fortified foods every day.
Now you know a little more about obtaining micronutrients and their possible risks. Do not be afraid to follow a vegan or plant-based diet , it is very simple if you eat correctly and keep in mind these nuances that I have explained to you.