The vegan diet is a popular plant-based diet that many people follow due to the multitude of health benefits associated with it. Nowadays, many follow it to reduce their environmental impact. Apart from these two reasons, it is followed by those practicing oriental religions like Buddhism and Jainism where one of the central tenets is ahimsa, i.e. nonviolence to living beings. Having said that, one of the major disadvantages of following a plant-based diet like veganism is that they are prone to deficiency diseases. The purpose of this article is to investigate nutrient deficiencies in a vegan diet.
Vegan Diet Rely On Carbs
Most of us are led to believe that healthy carbs are important for better health, and this is the reason most people switch to plant-based diets. Grains provide most of the carbohydrates required to meet the energy requirement of our body. Processed grains have high amounts of Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols (FODMAPs). These are short-chain sugars that are not fully digested by our gut but fermented by gut bacteria. This process releases hydrogen gas that distends the intestines and causes issues like IBS and SIBO.
Vegan Diet And Gluten Sensitivity
Another digestive issue that many people suffer is gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a storage protein found in cereal grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It gives a doughy consistency when you mix wheat flour with water. The symptoms of gluten intolerance are ulcers, abdominal bloating, and intestinal pain. This can lead to brain fog, anxiety, fatigue, and depression.
Vegan Diet Can Be High In Lectins And Phytates
Lectins are proteins found in grains, and their purpose is to protect them. They are antinutrients, and when this mild toxin is ingested in large quantities can damage the gut. This in turn compromises your body’s defence mechanism leading to inflammation. Apart from this, it causes hormonal resistance leading to weight loss resistance because lectins bind to the receptor sites of leptin and insulin.
Phytates are another group of antinutrients found in plant-based food used for making a vegan meal. They bind to the minerals found in food and make them difficult to be absorbed by the body. This is one of the major reasons for mineral deficiency in people who follow plant-based diets. Moreover, lectins and phytates are also found in high amounts in legumes as well.
Vegan Diet Causes Nutrient Deficiencies
The presence of antinutrients in grains and legumes causes nutrient deficiencies if they form a major portion of your plant-based diet. So, to offset this, you must include adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables in your vegan diet; they are rich in dietary fiber which is essential for maintaining gut health. However, plant-based foods lack many vitamins and minerals that are more abundantly found in animal-based food.
Studies have shown that a strict vegan diet causes dietary deficiencies of vitamin D, B vitamins, magnesium, and iodine; this causes thyroid, hormonal, and methylation impairments. Most of these nutrients are only obtained from animal-based food sources. For example, vitamin B12 is abundantly found in eggs, fish, and meat, but it is not found in most plant-based foods. Also, some of them are found in plant-based food, but their bioavailability is low. Finally, the absorption of some nutrients is blocked by antinutrients like phytates. Furthermore, studies have shown that vegans have a higher risk of developing nutrient deficiencies than vegetarians because they avoid consuming all types of animal food products and by-products, and this includes dietary supplements.
DHA And EPA
Most plant-based food does not have omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Their healthy ratio is essential for preventing inflammation which protects the body from cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases. Besides, they are also required for proper neurological functioning because 60% of the brain is composed of fat. So, the deficiency of these omega-3 fatty acids causes issues like depression, anxiety, and brain fog. Because of this, it is important to get these nutrients in your diet as your body cannot synthesize them. Having said that, another omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only one found in plant-based foods like nuts and seeds.
Vitamin A And D
Vitamin A and vitamin D are fat-soluble compounds, and they are absent in most plant-based food that you eat as part of your vegan diet. Vitamin D behaves more like a hormone than a nutrient. Vegans are prone to its deficiency which causes issues like fatigue, muscle weakness, cramps, or aches, depression, and bone pain. Vitamin A is required for proper immune system functioning, and its deficiency is linked to autoimmune diseases.
Vitamin B12 is the major deficiency most vegans are prone to as it is not present in most plant-based food. This vitamin is synthesized by bacteria, and it is found in most animal-based foods. Its deficiency causes issues like damage to the nervous system or anemia.
So, it is important to know about the deficiencies that vegans are highly susceptible to and avoid them by taking dietary supplements.