Going vegan: getting your nutrients and avoiding deficiencies

Posted by Steph Elswood on

When you tell people you’re going vegan, they’ll often be quick to ask: But where do you get your iron/calcium/B12? While animal products are often the most obvious place to get these nutrients and vitamins, you’d be surprised just how much you can get from plants! Here are a few you might be worried about.

Note that the information we’ve given here is general and you should chat to your doctor about adding any supplements to your diet.


What is it: Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen around the body. If your body doesn’t have enough hemoglobin, your tissues and muscles won’t get enough oxygen and be able to work effectively.

How much do I need? The NHS advises that women (aged 19 to 50 years) need about 14.8mg a day. Chickpeas will give you 5 mg of iron per cup, 1/4-cup serving of pumpkin seed kernels contains more than 2 mg of iron, and cooked lentils offer more than 6 mg of the mineral per cup. And one cup of cooked spinach delivers more than 6 mg!

What does deficiency feel like? Tiredness, headaches and dizziness, heart palpitations, dry skin and hair and restless legs.

How can I get enough in a vegan diet? Iron-rich foods include dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, dried fruit like raisins and apricots, peas, beans and other pulses as well as seeds and nuts. The good news is that eating vitamin C will help your body absorb iron better – and you’ll get that in fruits and vegetables!


What is it? A nutrient found in animal products that helps to develop red blood cells and maintaining nerves and normal brain function.

How much do I need? Adults (aged 19 to 64) need about 1.5 microgram a day of vitamin B12. For example, a 3/4 cup serving of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes contains 1.5 microgram of B-12. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast provides 4 micrograms of vitamin B-12

What does deficiency feel like? You might feel week, tired, have brain fog or be at risk of neurological or psychiatric disorders.

How can I get enough in a vegan diet? You can get B12 in fortified foods like soy, yeast, cereals, bread and meat substitutes. Nori seaweed and tempeh are good sources, but you may need to supplement with capsules, or most supermarkets now sell convenient daily mouth sprays!

Omega-3 fatty acids

What is it? This essential fatty acid is very important for maintaining heart health. Omnivores will get their share from fish and eggs. Not to be confused with Omega 6 which can be found in nuts and seeds.

How much do I need? There’s no clear guidance about how much is needed.

What does deficiency feel like? Dry skin and hair and soft or brittle nails, trouble concentrating and irritability, fatigue or poor sleep quality and joint discomfort.

How can I get enough in a vegan diet? You can find omega-3 in chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and hempseeds, as well as fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat milk and brown (wholemeal) and white bread.


What is it? Calcium helps you maintain strong bones. Omnivores usually get it from dairy products.

How much do I need? Adults need about 700mg of calcium a day. To put that in perspective, 100g of canned red kidney beans (drained and reheated) contains 2mg of iron, 25g of almonds gives you 60mg and 80g of boiled broccoli contains about 28mg.

What does deficiency feel like? Dietary calcium deficiency is very rare, and you’re unlikely to have symptoms. But long-term you may be more at risk for developing osteoporosis.

How can I get enough in a vegan diet? Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D as this helps your body absorb calcium! Also, bones get stronger when you use them so exercise will help. You can get calcium from fortified unsweetened soya, rice and oat milk, leafy green vegetables (but not spinach), dried fruit, pulses, sesame seeds and tahini.



What is it? Zinc helps with making new cells and enzymes, processing carbohydrate, fat and protein in food and wound healing. Omnivore sources of zinc include meat, shellfish and dairy.

How much do I need? The NHS recommends 7mg a day for women and 9.5mg for men. 30 grams of hemp seeds contains about 3gm and potatoes (regular and sweet varieties), contain approximately 1 mg per large potato.

What does deficiency feel like? When you’re zinc deficient, your body can’t produce healthy, new cells. This leads to symptoms like unexplained weight loss, open sores that won’t heal, lack of alertness and loss of appetite.

How can I get enough in a vegan diet? Your body doesn’t store zinc, so you need to eat enough every day to ensure you’re meeting your daily requirements. Hemp, flax, squash, pumpkin and sesame seeds as well as pine nuts, peanuts, cashews and almonds can boost your intake of zinc. Beans, chickpeas, lentils and tofu are also good sources of zinc.

Photo by Manfred Pecha on Unsplash

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