Wichtige Nährstoffepotentiell kritische Nährstoffe bei veganer Ernährung
Critical nutrients exist in every dietary pattern
In all diets, there is a possibility that the actual intake of some nutrients is below the intake recommendations. This is usually due to poor nutrient availability or low consumption of certain food groups. Nutrients that are potentially poorly covered in the diet are referred to as “critical nutrients.”
More and more people are choosing to live a vegan lifestyle. A purely plant-based diet has many benefits, but some nutrients are discussed as potentially critical.
The need for all critical nutrients can be easily met vegan
Animal products are not the original source of the nutrients they contain. Every vitamin is produced in origin by microorganisms, and every mineral comes originally from the soil and is absorbed by plants. Vitamins and minerals enter animal organisms only in the course of the food chain. So we don’t have to kill animals to absorb a particular nutrient. Rather, we can obtain all nutrients from their original sources and eat a plant-based diet. According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), the following nutrients are considered critical in a vegan diet.
Potentially critical nutrients
Some types of algae and some plant foods fermented under the right conditions contain some amounts of vitamin B12. However, these sources have not yet been sufficiently researched. So, since plant foods are not currently a safe source of B12, we can easily supplement the vitamin as a dietary supplement. There are also B12-enriched plant drinks or toothpaste. So we don’t have to consume animal products and kill animals to supply our bodies with B12.
Our body can produce vitamin D itself through self-synthesis in the skin. To do this, sunlight – i.e. UV rays – must shine on the naked skin. Since many people nowadays do not spend enough time outdoors and the sun is too weak in the fall and winter months in our latitudes, a vitamin D deficiency often occurs – regardless of the diet. Although some mushrooms can produce quite large amounts of vitamin D when exposed to sufficient sunlight, vitamin D-rich foods are rare in both plant-based and mixed-food diets. So it may be wise to take a vitamin D supplement, especially in winter.
Iodine deficiencies occur with equal frequency in people of different diets. Iodine is therefore not only a critical nutrient in the vegan diet. This is because the iodine content of plants depends primarily on the iodine content of the soil, and the soils in Switzerland are extremely low in iodine. Although some types of algae such as nori, wakame and sea lettuce are good sources of iodine, the simplest option for meeting iodine requirements is to use an iodized table salt.
Omega-3 fatty acid
The omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) cannot be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it from food. Flaxseeds, chia seeds and the oils derived from them are the best sources of ALA. But canola oil, walnuts and hemp seeds also contain the omega-3 fatty acid. From ALA, our bodies can produce two other important omega-3 fatty acids under the right conditions – eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Unfortunately, the necessary conditions are not always present because, for example, not enough ALA is consumed. Therefore, it makes sense to supplement DHA and EPA.
To meet the human body’s need for DHA and EPA, it is often recommended to consume fish or to take fish oil capsules. However, it is not necessary to kill animals to supply the essential fatty acids, because DHA and EPA originally come from microalgae. So we do not have to consume fish that have previously ingested algae, but can take the algae directly to us and let the fish live. For this purpose, so-called microalgae oils are suitable, which can be easily supplemented in the form of drops.
Legumes such as soy, lentils and chickpeas, whole grains, nuts such as walnuts and hazelnuts, and seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and flax seeds contain a lot of zinc. Zinc intake can be optimized by eating foods with citric acid (oranges, kiwis, strawberries, tomatoes or peppers), malic acid (cherries, blackberries or blueberries) or lactic acid (for example in fresh sauerkraut) at the same time as the zinc sources.
The selenium content of plants depends on the selenium content of the soil. In Switzerland, the soils are on average very poor in selenium. Nevertheless, there are good plant sources of selenium: porcini mushrooms and especially Brazil nuts. With just one or two Brazil nuts a day, you can cover your selenium requirements.
Good sources of iron are legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, soybeans (and products made from them such as tofu), nuts and oilseeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, pistachios and hazelnuts, whole grains such as rye, oatmeal, amaranth, quinoa and millet, and various vegetables such as kale, arugula and beet. Dried fruits such as apricots and prunes are also rich in iron. To help the body absorb iron from food, foods rich in iron should be accompanied by foods rich in vitamin C ( bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, kale or broccoli) or beta-carotene (for example, carrot, kale, spinach or honeydew melon).
The need for riboflavin, i.e. vitamin B2, can be met very well with plant foods. Mushrooms such as mushrooms or oyster mushrooms, nuts and seeds such as almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews or hazelnuts, vegetables such as broccoli, kale or spinach and whole grains are good sources of vitamin B2.
There are many plant sources of calcium, such as sesame seeds, almonds, chia seeds, kale, or tofu. Algae such as Lithothamnium are also very rich in calcium. The easiest way to meet calcium needs is with calcium-rich mineral water or calcium-enriched plant drinks.
The protein requirement can easily be met purely from plants. Above all, whole grains and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and soybeans, as well as products made from them such as tofu, seitan and tempeh, contribute to the protein supply. Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, peanuts, flax seeds and other nuts and seeds are particularly high in protein – they are an excellent supplement.
Proteins are made up of individual building blocks called amino acids. Our bodies cannot produce eight of them themselves, so they must be ingested with food. In contrast to animal proteins, many vegetable proteins do not contain all eight essential amino acids in sufficient quantities and are therefore often rated as inferior in terms of their value. It does not matter which amino acids a food or meal contains – what is important is the amino acid spectrum of an entire day. By combining different vegetable protein sources, it is easy to achieve a high biological value. Quite simply, if you regularly combine whole grains and legumes and eat a handful of nuts now and then, you are well supplied.
Nutrient supply in vegan diet
With a vegan diet, you should consume a variety of protein sources and keep an eye on the nutrients iron, calcium, zinc, iodine, vitamins B12, B2, D and omega-3 fatty acids. However, vegans also often implement many dietary recommendations better. Thus the supply recommendations for the main nutrients carbohydrates, protein and fats are reached with a vegan nutrition rather. In addition, compared to the general population, vegans are often just as well, if not better, supplied with vitamin C, vitamin E, folic acid, ß-carotene, magnesium, secondary plant compounds and fiber.
Studies show: Vegan diet is healthy
With a plant-based diet, all critical nutrients can be covered. In addition, it contains many health-promoting substances in greater quantities than the mixed diet. According to a study published in 2020 by the DGE, children who eat a vegan diet eat more fruits and vegetables. They consume four to ten times the amount of healthy nuts, three to seven times the amount of legumes, significantly more healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids and about twice as much fiber compared to mixed-food eaters. A whole-food vegan diet also contains less unhealthy saturated fat and is free of cholesterol.
If you want to eat healthy, you should do a little research on your diet – regardless of the type of diet. People who live vegan usually deal more intensively with their diet and their nutrient requirements than people with a mixed diet, often implement dietary recommendations better and are usually very well supplied with all important nutrients.