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Deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans: How to ensure a balanced diet for a healthy lifestyle without shortages?

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Worldwide, more and more people are opting for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. If you choose to exclude meat or dairy from your diet, it is important to ensure that you receive all the necessary nutrients, as certain vitamins and minerals are lacking in a diet without meat, fish, and/or dairy products. In this blog, we delve into the most common vitamin deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans, the symptoms of a potential deficiency, and important tips to ensure that as a vegetarian or vegan, you get all the nutrients you need. Keep reading!

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Vegetarian and vegan: What's the difference?

A vegetarian diet is one that excludes meat, poultry, fish, or shellfish. Vegetarians primarily base their dietary pattern on plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Some vegetarians choose to include fish in their diet, while others opt to exclude it entirely. Approximately 3% of the population follows a vegetarian diet.

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Vegans make an even stricter choice by eliminating all animal products from their diet. This means that, in addition to meat, poultry, and fish, they also avoid dairy products, eggs, honey, and other animal by-products. Vegans completely rely on a plant-based diet, often motivated by ethical considerations related to animal rights and sustainability. Only 0.4% of the population follows a vegan diet.

Which vitamin and mineral deficiencies occur in vegetarians and vegans?

As humans, we are capable of obtaining all the necessary nutrients through a varied diet. Even with a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is possible to derive all essential nutrients from alternative food sources. However, extra attention is needed to ensure an adequate intake of certain nutrients that may be lacking more readily when following a diet without meat, fish, or dairy. Below is a list of vitamins and minerals found in meat, fish, or dairy, where vegetarians and vegans may be more prone to developing a deficiency:

  • Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): This vitamin is essential for a healthy nervous system and the production of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is primarily found in dairy (products), meat, fish, and eggs. Vegetarians can obtain vitamin B12 from dairy products and eggs. Therefore, vegans are more susceptible to a deficiency in this vitamin B12.
  • Iron: It is important for both vegetarians and vegans to pay attention to iron intake since iron is primarily found in animal products such as meat, fish, and poultry. Iron is also present in plant-based products. Plant-based iron, also known as non-heme iron, is less efficiently absorbed than heme iron from animal sources. It is crucial for vegans and vegetarians to consume sufficient iron-rich foods, such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens. Combining vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods can also help, as vitamin C facilitates the efficient absorption of iron.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish is a crucial source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health and brain function.
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  • Vitamin D:Sunlight is the primary source of vitamin D. However, we can also obtain a (small) portion of our vitamin D needs from food. Vitamin D is mainly found in fatty fish but is also present in eggs and meat.
  • Iodine:Iodine is a mineral necessary for thyroid hormone production. It naturally occurs in fish, dairy, eggs, and seaweed. However, these natural sources contain very little iodine. Therefore, iodine has been added to (iodized) salt and bread in the Netherlands for an extended period. If you are a vegetarian or vegan and do not consume bread or only eat organic or homemade bread, you may be at risk of iodine deficiency and a (small) risk of thyroid hormone deficiency.
  • Calcium:When you don’t consume dairy products, it is essential to pay attention to your calcium intake. Many alternative dairy products are fortified with calcium, which can be indicated on the packaging.



Additionally, it is important for vegans and vegetarians to pay attention to protein intake since meat is a significant source of proteins. Furthermore, as a vegan, it is crucial to monitor the intake of vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2 (riboflavin).

Are you a vegetarian or vegan and curious about whether your values are in check? Then, take the Easly Vegan & Vegetarian Blood Test for vitamins, simple and reliable.

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Symptoms of vitamin deficiency

A deficiency in a specific vitamin or mineral can cause various symptoms, depending on the particular deficiency. It is important to note that these symptoms are not specific to a vitamin deficiency and can also occur with other health issues. Consulting a doctor is essential when experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned here.

As you’ve read above, vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of lacking iron and/or vitamin B12. These are the most common deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans. These deficiencies, on their own, may not cause complaints. However, when these deficiencies persist for an extended period, anemia can develop. Iron and vitamin B12 are both responsible for producing red blood cells. Your liver stores a substantial amount of vitamin B12, ensuring you have enough for several months even if your dietary intake is insufficient. When the levels of vitamin B12 or iron become too low, they cannot be used in red blood cell production, leading to anemia. Anemia presents symptoms such as fatigue, palpitations, dizziness, and a pale complexion. To determine if anemia is present, blood tests are conducted. The presence or absence of anemia is determined based on the level of hemoglobin (Hb).

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The Easly Vegan & Vegetarian Vitamin Test measures, in addition to vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, iodine, and thyroid function, also the hemoglobin levels, providing information on whether anemia is present.

Preventing vitamin deficiency as a vegetarian or vegan

As a vegetarian or vegan, it is possible to follow a nutritious diet that includes all essential nutrients. Here are some key guidelines to prevent vitamin deficiencies:

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  • Ensure Sufficient Dietary Variety: Maintain a diverse diet by consuming a wide range of plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. This approach helps you acquire different vitamins and minerals.
  • Pay Attention to Vitamin B12 Intake: For vegans, it’s crucial to take a B12 supplement since this vitamin is primarily found in animal products. Vegetarians, who consume dairy products and eggs, can increase their B12 intake by including these foods in their diet.
  • Achieve Adequate Iron Intake: Include iron-rich foods such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens in your diet. Combining vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich foods can enhance absorption.
  • Monitor (Plant-Based) Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake: Incorporate foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and algae oil into your diet to ensure sufficient intake of (plant-based) omega-3 fatty acids.


As a vegetarian or vegan, it is possible to obtain all necessary nutrients by following a varied diet. By being aware of the vitamins and minerals that vegetarians and vegans may be deficient in and choosing the right foods or specific supplements, you can prevent vitamin deficiencies. Prolonged deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can lead to issues such as anemia. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of your dietary choices, regularly monitor your health, and, if necessary, check your blood levels for potential deficiencies if experiencing symptoms. Always seek professional advice if you have concerns to ensure optimal health maintenance.

Mr. Drs. Tamara Garsten

Approved by a doctor

Mr. Drs. Tamara Garsten

Physician and Legal Expert

Drs. Tamara Garsten boasts a dual qualification as both a physician and a lawyer, a distinctive blend that positions her to contribute to Easly's healthcare services and navigate the intricacies of health law.

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