When people find out I'm vegan, they usually ask where I get my protein from. But besides protein, there are actually other nutrients vegans can lack from their dietary choices. However, the idea that the only way to get enough essential nutrients is by eating animal foods is simply not true.

It's totally possible to be adequately nourished through a plant-based diet, but you have to stay vigilant. There was a learning curve for me when I went vegan, but after time and research I know which nutrients vegans are most likely to be deficient in. Plus, I know exactly which plant-based foods to find them in.


legume, cereal, vegetable
Caroline Mackey

To reiterate, the association with vegetarians and vegans not eating protein is not true. There are plenty of plant-based foods that pack in the protein. Chickpeas are a personal favorite of mine, especially roasted. Nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, legumes, and grains are other major sources of protein. 


broccoli, herb, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, kale, salad, vegetable
Caroline Mackey

Calcium is another nutrient vegans can lack because of their diets. Meeting an adequate calcium intake is traditionally associated with consuming dairy products, but there are so many plant-based foods that actually have more calcium than milk.

Some plant-based sources of calcium include kale, spinach, broccoli, tofu, fortified soy milk, soybeans, seaweed, and dried figs.

Vitamin B12

mustard, milk, salt, condiment
Caroline Mackey

Vitamin B12 is one nutrient that is only found in animal foods, and a deficiency that lasts long enough can lead to serious issues. Because it plays such a crucial role to healthy nervous system function and forming red blood cells, it's important that vegans and vegetarians make sure they get enough B12 in their diets. 

Some plant-based sources of B12 are nutritional yeast and fortified soy milk, but it is difficult to get enough of the body's requirement just from these foods alone. Vegans and vegetarians might consider including a B12 supplement to ensure they meet adequate intake.  


caviar, coffee, condiment, herb, cereal
Caroline Mackey

Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary in our diets because they help reduce inflammation and are anti-coagulants. The most well-known sources of omega-3 are salmon and other fatty fish. Vegans and vegetarians can easily get their omega-3s from chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and soybeans. 


milk chocolate, coffee, goody, milk, sweet, candy, chocolate
Caroline Mackey

Iron is essential to our bodies because it's a huge component of our blood, helping transport oxygen. If a diet lacks adequate iron for long enough, there can be risk of becoming anemic. The most common animal-based sources of iron come from red meats like pork and beef.

Common plant-based foods with significant amounts of iron include spinach, kale, spirulina, lentils, tofu, quinoa, beans, apricots, tempeh, oatmeal, and even dark chocolate.

Vitamin D

corn, oat, oatmeal, wheat, cereal
Caroline Mackey

Vitamin D is important because it helps the body to absorb calcium. The body usually gets adequate vitamin D from sunlight, but it can be especially hard to meet the body's requirements during the winter months.

The only plant-based source of vitamin D is mushrooms, but there are other plant-based foods fortified with vitamin D such as fortified soy and almond milk, tofu, and oats. 


cereal, sweet, nut
Caroline Mackey

Another nutrient vegans can tend to fall short with is zinc. The body needs zinc because it helps the immune system to function properly, growth, and healing of wounds. Zinc is found most abundantly in oysters, red meats, and poultry.

Vegans can find adequate zinc in plant-based foods such as cashews among other nuts, beans, legumes, and oats. 

It is possible to get adequate essential nutrients without eating animals or animal products. While it's also possible to just pop a few supplements everyday, it's healthier and more effective to eat nutrient-dense whole foods. Being sure to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, and fats everyday will make getting most of your essential nutrients easy.