Navigating a Plant-Based Lifestyle: Essential Nutrients for Vegans and Vegetarians

Written by Nabila Bhimji

A Registered Holistic Nutritionist, a certified Food Psychology Coach, Mind-Body/Coach, Food Relationship Coach, and Life Coach from Coquitlam, BC. - Canada

November 5, 2023

Navigating a Plant-Based Lifestyle: Essential Nutrients for Vegans and Vegetarians

There seems to be a strong movement towards embracing a plant-based eating lifestyle, whether it is due to health reasons, animal rights, or environmental concerns. More and more individuals have been reaching out to me to learn about how to successfully make the transition. Their top concern is if they are getting enough key nutrients. This is a significant concern when you are changing your diet in any way, but vegetarians and vegans do have their unique challenges.

Iron Deficiency in Plant-Based Diets

Iron is a top concern for most plant-based eaters. Some common signs of deficiency include:

  • Feeling tired and weak
  • Decreased work and school performance
  • Slow cognitive and social development during childhood
  • Difficulty maintaining body temperature
  • Decreased immune function, which increases susceptibility to infection
  • Glossitis (an inflamed tongue)
  • Dizziness
  • Cravings for ice
  • Pale skin

There are some great vegan sources of iron that can easily be incorporated into your diet. These include kidney beans, white beans, lentils, spinach (steam first to optimize absorption), blackstrap molasses, chickpeas, quinoa, pumpkin and squash seeds, lima beans, navy beans, and fortified cereals.

Supplementation may be required if iron levels are too low. If you are concerned about your iron levels, talk to your doctor about a blood test to check your levels. Alternatively, talking to a nutritionist who specializes in vegan and vegetarian nutrition will be a huge benefit.

The Importance of B12

Making sure that you get enough B12 is also something to keep an eye on. This nutrient is actually bacteria produced in the gut and is not necessarily affected by the amount of meat one consumes. Although we produce this nutrient naturally in our gut, much of it is used up in our intestines to help with digestion and the immune system. Your best bet for your daily B12 requirements is nutritional yeast. This is a non-active yeast with a nutty cheesy flavor that is cultured to contain B12. Two teaspoons will give your daily requirement. Use it as a topping in soups and sauces.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency include:

  • Weakness, tiredness, or light-headedness
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Pale skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Easy bruising or bleeding, including bleeding gums
  • Stomach upset and weight loss
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Mood changes
  • Headaches
  • Feeling faint
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vision problems
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Loss of sense of touch
  • Red sore tongue

Calcium Sources for Vegans

Calcium is also a concern for vegans because it is still believed that dairy is the best source for this nutrient. Rest assured that there are many plant-based sources available to ensure you are covered. The truth is, not much of the calcium from dairy is absorbed into our bones anyway. In fact, dairy can deplete calcium stores. The milk produced by cows is not compatible with humans, and the potassium to calcium ratios are so different from that of humans that it makes a bad source. Plant-based sources include broccoli, butternut squash, kale, kidney beans, tofu, soy milk, sweet potatoes, Brazil nuts, and sesame seeds.

Signs of calcium deficiencies:

  • Memory loss
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations

Ready to unlock the full potential of your plant-based lifestyle? Whether you have questions, need guidance, or want to stay updated on the latest tips and insights, we’re here for you.

Book a Complimentary 20-Minute Consultation: Gain personalized advice from our experts to ensure your plant-based journey is a resounding success. Go to to contact us.


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