7 Nutrients That Could Fall Short on Your Plant-Based Diet and Where to Get Them

Updated: Sep 23

There's been a rise in campaigns like Meatless Monday and Veganuary, as well as growth of plant-based companies like Beyond Meat, which are now available in supermarkets across the country and around the world. These meatless initiatives and animal-free brands are aimed to improve the health of individuals (and the planet!) with ongoing research showing that plant-based foods can help with things like managing weight and reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. One review from Nature explains that there is robust evidence for short to moderate-term beneficial effects of plant-based diets, versus conventional diets, on weight, metabolism and inflammation in healthy participants, those with obesity and those with type-2 diabetes. It also shows that plant-based diets can diversify the gut microbiome toward favorable types of bacteria that lead to positive health outcomes. In another review, they state that epidemiological studies show the consumption of fruits and vegetables can prevent cognitive decline, while low intake has been associated with increased cognitive decline. However, unless it's planned properly, like any way of eating (not just plant-based), some key nutrients may fall short on a plant-based diet. How do you know if you're getting enough? First, there are a few general things you can do to ensure you're getting enough nutrition from plants:

  • Consume enough calories. When calorie consumption is insufficient, so are all of the vitamins and minerals that accompany calories.

  • Eat a wide variety of whole plant-based foods. While Oreos and potato chips might be vegan, they won't give your body the nutrients it needs. They may be O.K. on occasion, but it's important to consume a wide variety of whole plant-based foods daily as every single plant brings its own set of nutrients.

  • Create meals that are half veggies, one-quarter whole grains, and one-quarter plant-based protein. Veggies include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, cabbage, leafy greens, tomatoes, onions, and many many more! Grains include brown or black rice, quinoa, amaranth, farro, oats, and more (starchy veggies like sweet potato or purple potatoes could also be inserted here). Plant-based proteins include beans, lentils, edamame, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds. Shoot for up to 10 fruits and veggies a day and well-balanced meals.

More specifically, there are some nutrients that can occasionally fall short unless you carefully plan your plant-based diet. These seven essential nutrients, as well as their food sources, are listed below so you can be on your way to becoming a well-nourished plant-based foodie!

1. Vitamin B12

When it comes to plant-based diets, B12 may be an issue if you're unaware of where to obtain it and how much you need. Vitamin B12 deficiency does not immediately manifest symptoms and long-term vitamin B12 deficiency can damage the nervous system. It's important to consume sufficient amounts of the right plant foods such as unwashed organic produce (since B12 may come from the soil), mushrooms grown in vitamin B12-rich soil, fortified plant-based milk, or nutritional yeast on a daily basis. Consider taking a B12 supplement if you feel you're not getting the recommended amount of B12. The recommendation is 2.4 mcg a day, but you’ll see supplements with 250 to 2000 mcg doses because the absorption is very low. Consider having your B12 levels checked by your healthcare provider since it's an easy test and important to know if you're unsure if you're getting enough.