Veganism, the alternative diet which completely eschews animal products, is on the rise, particularly with millennials. Proponents say a vegan diet is more environmentally sustainable, animal-conscious, reduces the risk of serious illnesses and contributes to weight loss.
However, research—like recent findings in Germany—suggests there may be more missing in a vegan diet than just hamburgers and scrambled eggs.
Whether it’s a fad or a lifestyle, an environmental decision or a personal one, does it really give your body all the nutrition it needs?
The simple answer is it depends on you.
What It’s Lacking
By removing all animal-based foods from your diet, you also eliminate a list of important vitamins and minerals your body needs for proper physiological function.
Important Note: Due to certain interactions that can occur, the bioavailability–or amount of a nutrient that is actually absorbed by your body during digestion–can be lower with plant-based sources. This means you may have to take more to get the same results and/or utilize additional supplements to increase absorption.
Here’s what vegans tend to be missing:
What: A building block of muscles, organs, skin and bones formed from amino acids. Essential amino acids, which your body can’t make itself, must come from your diet. Protein deficiency means muscle deterioration, fatigue, hair loss, infection and more.
Animal Source: Meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy.
Vegan Alternatives: Nuts, legumes, tofu, soy milk, peanut butter, grains and seeds. Vegans must consume a variety of proteins in order to get enough essential amino acids per day.
What: Key vitamin in the proper function of the brain and nerves, plus formation of red blood cells and DNA. B12 deficiency symptoms include fatigue, memory loss, neurological problems, anemia, Alzheimer’s, and increased risk of heart disease.
Animal Source: Found in fish, meat, poultry, and dairy.
Vegan Alternatives: Fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, and additional B12 oral supplements are available but with reduced bioavailability. Be wary of B12 analogs like nori (seaweed) and algae, which are not proven B12 replacements.