There are lots of health benefits from eating a plant based or vegan diet, but there is a risk that you may become low or deficient in some vitamins and minerals.
Our Nutrition Check is recommended for vegans as it covers the main nutrients that can be low in a vegan diet.
The main nutrients to watch:
Iron: iron is found in meat (heme iron) and plants (non-heme iron) but heme iron is easier for your body to absorb so meat eaters tend to have higher levels. Iron deficiency anaemia is common in menstruating women because of their monthly blood loss. Endurance athletes can also be low in iron. Although you should be able to get all the iron you need in a plant-based diet, if you fall into a group that is at risk of low iron, then you should make sure you are regularly tested. The Nutrition Check tests for ferritin which is a measure of your body's iron stores.
Vitamin D: vitamin D comes from the food we eat and by the action of sunlight on our skin. Sources of vitamin D include oily fish, egg yolks and mushrooms but it is difficult to get all the vitamin D we need from our food. Meat eaters and vegans are both at risk of low vitamin D because of the lack of sunshine in the UK. Regular vitamin D testing is recommended for both groups.
Vitamin B12: vitamin B12 is almost exclusively found in animal products (it comes from bacteria in soil and is made in their guts) so vegans can be at risk of low B12 if they do not supplement. Many plant milks and vegan foods are now fortified with vitamin B12 so the risk of low B12 is not as high as it once was. However, it is an important vitamin for vegans to monitor as low B12 can lead to anaemia and nerve damage.
Zinc: although zinc is found in plants (especially beans and legumes) as well as meat and fish, the zinc in plants is bound to phytates which makes it harder for our bodies to absorb. Zinc is important for immune function as well as wound repair and healing.
Eating a plant-based diet can have a positive impact on cholesterol levels and inflammation; the Nutrition Check also includes tests for both.