The Hardest Nutrients to Get on a Vegan Diet [Study Summary]

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Going vegan is a huge change when it comes to the nutrition you’ll be getting.

This is good in a lot of ways. It becomes much easier to get most nutrients.

But, there are a few vitamins and minerals that are harder to get enough of on a vegan diet.

You need to pay extra attention to these, at least until you’re sure that you’re getting enough of them.

The 6 Hardest Nutrients for Vegans to Get

vegan deficiencies

Many studies have looked at this exact topic.

I’ll refer you to this study on the Health Effects of Vegan Diets, and summarize the main takeaways here.

The author had no conflicts of interest, and it was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which is about as reputable as peer-reviewed journals come.

Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease. However, eliminating all animal products from the diet increases the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies.

So mostly good things, but deficiencies that we need to be aware of.

The biggest risks for deficiency were for:

How to Get More of These Vitamins in Your Diet

The first thing you should do is start tracking how much of these vitamins you’re getting by using a food tracker like Cronometer.

That will help identify if you need to put in extra effort to get any of them.

From there, you have 2 options: supplements, or eat more vegan foods that contain them.

I’ve put together lists of your options for each of these:

Vitamin B-12 is an exception, you won’t find it in vegan foods. If you’d like to know why, read about where vitamin B-12 comes from in nature. You’ll need to consume foods fortified with B-12, or buy a vegan B12 supplement. It’s super important to get enough B-12; a B12 deficiency can even lead to brain shrinkage.

Should You Buy a Vegan Multivitamin?

If you read that list above and feel like you’ll have a tough time getting more than one of those vitamins, a multivitamin is a much more convenient option.

I’ve put together a guide to the best vegan multivitamins.

Each of them have different amounts of each important vitamin, so pick one that reflects the potential deficiencies you’re worried about.

Something All Vegans Should Do

Whenever you make a radical diet change, you should get your blood work done.

It’s fast, not too painful, and can help avoid potential issues.

Ideally, do it as soon as possible after going vegan to get a baseline.

Then, do it as frequently as you’d like to monitor any good or bad changes. Your doctor will likely recommend a frequency to do so.

It’s important to do it on a regular basis, since you can have some built-up stores of vitamins like B-12 that last for years. Initial follow ups after going vegan might not pick up a deficiency right away.

Finally, you should track what you eat with a free tool like Cronometer, even just for a little bit.

You may find out that you have enough of all those hard to get vitamins above, but are low in another nutrient you’d never expect.

In that case, see my vegan nutrition guide to see if you can get it in your diet, or try to find a supplement from a good vegan vitamin brand. There are supplements for everything if needed, even vegan biotin supplements to prevent hair loss.

About the author

Dale Cudmore

Your friendly neighborhood vegan from Toronto. Chemical engineer turned semi-professional soccer player and freelance nutrition writer. I've been vegan for years and try to make life easier for others by sharing what I've learned.

1 comment

  • Just discovered your site – great resource, thank you! My husband and I have been vegan since 2003 (thank you John Robbins) and he doesn’t enjoy seaweed, except in veggie sushi, which we rarely have. We also have various gourmet salts in our house but no table salt, and cook almost exclusively from scratch (rarely order out). When we first went vegan, we read Vesanto Melina’s book and she did mention to ensure adequate iodine, but it was never top of mind. In 2018, my husband was diagnosed with an enlarged thyroid (hypo – high TSH, low T4) which had caused a host of health issues. His doctor wanted to put him on thyroid pills but we paid for iodine testing on a hunch (the provincial gov’t no longer tests for iodine because deficiency is so rare). Indeed his iodine was very low and once he started replacing it (Lugol’s solution from the pharmacy – make sure they dilute it for you if you don’t have a chemistry background), he started feeling better and his thyroid numbers came into line. Apparently, I was saved by the odd bit of seaweed I eat and the iodized salt I use in my workplace lunchroom, although I have started supplementing, too, as my TSH was going up but still in normal range. Just a reminder not to forget this element in your diet – your body’s stores will last you a while but when they run out, it is dire. Thanks again, nice to see someone writing about vegan diets from a science perspective!