The vegan lifestyle has gained numerous followers over the last years for a plethora of reasons. Whether people turn to veganism out of ethical conviction, the ambition to stand up for the health of the planet, the desire to stop consuming, wearing, or using animal products, or they simply want to follow a healthier, more plant-based diet, many vegans are faced with one universal problem, according to dietitian Michelle Jaelin.
In her blog, Nutrition Artist, Jaelin explains that cutting off meat from your diet can often make you feel tired and fatigued. Read on to find out why and what you can do about it.
Be Mindful On Nutrient Deficiencies
According to Jaelin, eliminating meat products altogether makes you more vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies, just like it would be the case with any other significant food group.
The most common nutrient deficiencies among vegans, vegetarians, and plant-based eaters include vitamin B12, D, protein, calcium, iron, omega 3s, and zinc. However, out of all of these, iron deficiency has the most prevalence worldwide, says Jaelin, citing a study published in The Journal of Nutrition.
"One of the most common reasons for fatigue and low energy in vegan, vegetarian and more plant-based diets is because of either low or no consumption of heme iron," she points out.
Iron Deficiency: What You Need To Know
As Jaelin explains, how much iron you assimilate through food depends largely on dietary sources. Some foods, such as animal products (specifically lean meat and seafood), contain both non-heme iron and heme iron, which is the variant more easily absorbed by the body and the richest source of iron of the two. Meanwhile, plant sources of the mineral, such as dark leafy greens, nuts, legumes, tofu, only contain non-heme iron.
"Because of the lack of heme iron in plant sources of iron, for vegetarians and vegans the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 1.8x the amount for omnivores," notes Jaelin.
How To Maximize Iron Absorption
Given that only 5 to 12 percent of non-heme iron in plant sources is absorbed and used by the body (for meat sources, the percentage is 14 to 18), vegans and vegetarians alike often need to take steps to enhance their iron absorption and consequently raise their energy levels.
The best way to do that, says Jaelin, is to eat foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, green and red peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage, sweet and white potatoes, strawberries, blackcurrants, and tomatoes.
Easy & Delish Recipes With Good Iron & Vitamin C Balance
On her blog, the dietician offers easy recommendations to increase your intake of iron with each of the three important meals of the day.
Her breakfast suggestion is to skip coffee and tea in the morning since both beverages "have shown to decrease iron absorption," and go for an oatmeal power bowl mixed with orange juice and water.
"The vitamin C from the orange juice will help to increase the absorption of iron from the oats."
She also advises sprinkling in nuts and seeds as additional plant-based iron sources.
"Cashews, chia seed, pumpkin seeds and ground flax seeds are excellent options."
For lunch, Jaelin recommends a vegan salad with tofu, red pepper, spinach, and avocado, pointing you to the perfect recipe.
Her dinner suggestion is some delicious Orange Tarragon Ginger Shrimp With Rice Noodles if you’re trying to go more plant-based but still embrace seafood.