The Truth Is, We Are Way Too Worried About Nutrient Deficiencies
Everyone needs to relax about nutrient deficiencies.
Seriously, people ask me, “Reece, what can I do to lose weight?” When I tell them to cut back on the meat, fish, and dairy they look at me like I am a crazy person.
They tell me, “but I need meat, otherwise I will be nutrient deficient.” They are always worried about protein, calcium or some other vitamin they think they need a pill for.
What they do not worry about is what they are actually putting into their bodies.
They worry about protein, but they don’t worry about saturated fat and cholesterol. They worry about calcium, but they don’t worry about refined carbohydrates and sugars. These are the foods that are actually killing us.
Just look at the above image from the world health organization showing the top killers in high-income countries. Notice, nutrient deficiency is not on that list. In fact, all of those diseases can be caused by what we put in our mouths on daily basis, not what we don’t.
Heart disease, for example, is by the far the leading cause of death in high-income countries. This is caused by us clogging up our arteries over a lifespan of eating high saturated fat and high cholesterol foods. It won’t take you long when researching the causes of heart disease to figure that out.
The truth is, a diet rich in plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds) will provide you with an abundance of nutrients to keep you healthy. It’s no coincidence that your mum has been telling you to eat your broccoli your whole life.
But, are there any deficiencies we should be concerned about? Here are a few, which I have learned about since eating a strictly plant-based diet.
This one is the most important, which is why it is at the top of the list. B12 can be absorbed through animal products, however, it is not actually made in the animal. B12 is actually a bacteria which can be found in the soil but not absorbed by plants. Any animal munching on plants straight from the ground should be able to obtain B12 in their diet. Fortunately, we can easily find a cheap supplement for B12 in our local health food shops.
I have read many articles which claim vegans are exclusively vitamin D deficient. Which is strange, because the last time I checked, we receive vitamin D directly from the sun. For anyone lacking in sun exposure, they may want to talk to their doctor about taking regular vitamin D supplements. Again, this should be available in your local health food store. If you are vegan, make sure to check if the supplement is not derived from animal sources. It could have been derived from sheep's wool (not vegan) or lichen (vegan).
Omega-3 fatty acids
These can easily be obtained by a yeast or algae-derived supplement. These omega-3’s do not need to be obtained from fish oil supplements which contain all the pollutants that come with fish.
But do we need to supplement?
If you are trying to avoid eating fish then we need to obtain omega-3’s another way. Short chain omega-3 fatty acids can easily be obtained from certain nut and seeds, for example, flax seeds and walnuts. However, long chain omega-3’s are a little more complicated. Our body has the ability to convert short chain omega-3’s into long-chain however, some medical professionals argue that this is not enough and that we need to supplement. Until the evidence is clear it may be worth supplementing with a pollutant free, algae or yeast derived supplement.
If you are avoiding animal products, this can be easily obtained from seaweed or iodized salt. A lot of the salt we consume nowadays has been iodized. Iodine is important for a healthy thyroid. We must also be careful not to consume too much iodine as this can have detrimental effects on our thyroid — so maybe don’t go too crazy on the seaweed.
Consult your doctor
If you are worried about deficiencies then consult your doctor and get tested for anything which you may be low in. But most importantly, eat lots of nutrient and mineral dense plants!