In this article, we’ll highlight 4 essential trace elements that can help support your vegan lifestyle. Whether you’re a seasoned vegan or just starting out, these supplements can help ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
Table of Contents
What are trace elements?
Trace elements – iron, zinc, fluoride, selenium, copper, chromium, iodine, manganese, and molybdenum – are minerals present in the human body in small amounts. Some are nutritionally essential, others may be essential, and the remainder are considered to be nonessential. They function primarily as catalysts in enzyme systems.
All trace elements are toxic if consumed at high doses for long enough periods. The difference between toxic intakes and optimal intakes to meet physiological needs for essential trace elements is great for some elements but is much smaller for others.
Adult vegetarian and vegan diets often have a lower zinc and selenium content but a higher copper and manganese content compared with omnivorous diets. Moreover, the bioavailability of zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium is lower in plant-based diets due to the high contents of so-called phytic acid and/or dietary fiber.
So let’s see the 4 trace elements that vegans should pay attention to:
Zinc is essential for metabolism, immune system function, and cell repair. Zinc deficiency can cause developmental issues, hair loss, diarrhea, and slow wound healing.
- Adults: 8–11 mg per day
- Pregnant women: 11–12 mg
- Lactating mothers: 12–13 mg
There are few plant foods with significant zinc content. Notable plant sources of zinc are tofu, whole grains, wheat sprouts, and nuts, however, most of these plant foods have such a high phytate concentration that they limit the absorption of zinc and their regular consumption also leads to other mineral deficiencies.
Although not all vegans have low zinc levels in their blood, a recent analysis of 26 researches revealed that vegetarians and particularly vegans consume less zinc and have somewhat lower zinc levels in their blood than omnivores. Therefore, vegans should think about taking a daily organic zinc supplement, such as zinc gluconate or picolinate.
Iodine ingestion is essential for maintaining a healthy thyroid, which regulates your metabolism, but the iodine demand of many other organs is also considerable. A lack of iodine during pregnancy or early infancy might cause an irreversible intellectual impairment. Those who consume inadequate iodine may develop hypothyroidism. Symptoms, including low energy, dry skin, tingling in the hands and feet, forgetfulness, sadness, and weight gain, can also result from this.
The RDA for iodine are:
- Adults:150 mcg
- Pregnant women: 220 mcg
- Breastfeeding women: 290 mcg
The iodine content of plant foods is determined by the soil in which they were grown. Food grown near the ocean, for example, contains more iodine. Iodized salt, seafood, seaweed, and dairy products are the only foods with consistently high iodine levels because they absorb iodine from cleaning solutions used on cows and farm equipment.
Studies show that vegans have up to 50% lower blood iodine levels than vegetarians, putting them at risk of iodine deficiency. Vegans who do not want to eat iodized salt or seaweed regularly should consider taking an iodine supplement to avoid iodine deficiency.
Also, keep in mind that not all kinds of natural salt contain iodine, and relying solely on the serving of iodine from salt can raise the chance of getting high blood pressure and other cardiovascular diseases.
Selenium is one of the most essential minerals that the human body needs to stay healthy and function properly since it plays an important role in immunology support, DNA synthesis, and protection from cell damage, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Selenium deficiency can cause many severe conditions, such as fatigue, weak immunity, weak muscle, infertility, and mental fog.
- Adult: 55 mcg
- Pregnant women: 60 mcg
- Lactating women: 70 mcg
Some forms of selenium can be overdosed, therefore the maximum recommended daily intake is usually 100 mcg.
Selenium is mainly found in meat-based products like beef, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Vegans can substitute these sources with Brazilian nuts, whole-wheat bread, cereals, and grains, but of these, the bioavailability of selenium is significantly lower.
Since selenium occurs in a very small number of plant-based foods and with a small amount, people with a vegan diet should consider taking selenium supplements to prevent deficiency.
Iron is a nutrient present in all body cells. As a component of hemoglobin and myoglobin, it functions as a carrier of oxygen in the blood and muscles. Iron is also required for the formation of new DNA and red blood cells, as well as for metabolism.
Iron exists in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron can only be obtained from animal products, whereas non-heme iron can be obtained from plants.
Because of iron losses during menstruation, women in their reproductive years require higher iron intake than men.
- Adult men & postmenopausal women: 8 mg
- Adult women: 18 mg
- Pregnant women: 27 mg
Anemia and symptoms such as fatigue and reduced immune function can result from a lack of iron. However, extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma, and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it’s best not to supplement unless it’s truly necessary. Iron supplements that are taken unnecessarily may damage cells or prevent the absorption of other minerals, as well as feed pathogenic gut flora, which is undesirable.
Vegans who consume insufficient amounts of iron should try to increase their intake of iron-rich foods like spinach, cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Foods with added iron, such as some plant milk, enriched bread, and cereals, may be beneficial – from this point of view.
In conclusion, incorporating these 4 trace elements into your vegan diet can help ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs to thrive. Don’t forget to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen and stay tuned for the second part of Vegan Vitality, where we share more on essential micronutrients vegans may lack from their plant-based diet.
Check out our second article: Vegan Vitality Part II – 6 Essential Supplements to Improve your Quality of Life to discover 6 essential supplements that can bridge any nutritional gaps, ensuring you thrive on a vegan diet.
If you found this article helpful, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter for more informative content on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.