Critical nutrients in the vegan diet

There are critical nutrients in every diet. Nevertheless, vegans are somewhat more likely to be affected by nutrient deficiencies, as some nutrients are only found in foods of animal origin. Here we explain which critical nutrients are in the vegan diet and why.

We also list numerous foods that can protect you from a deficiency.

As you can read in this article , there are a variety of reasons why someone develops a nutrient deficiency. Diet is just one reason; therefore, both omnivores and vegans can be affected.

Potential risk nutrients in vegans

Because it makes a difference in the type of risk nutrients in vegans depending on the risk group, age, gender, sporting behavior, etc., who is predestined for which nutrient deficiencies, we clarify in advance what we mean by “vegans” in the following.

Our prototypical vegan eats only plant-based foods, does not eat any animal products such as eggs or honey, and occasionally (2 to a maximum of 4 times a week) does moderate-intensity exercise.

In principle, all nutrients (with the exception of vitamin B12) can also be adequately covered with a vegan diet. In fact, there are some studies that show that vegans are better supplied with some nutrients (e.g. magnesium, vitamin C & E, vitamin B9 (= folic acid) etc.) than people with other diets. However, the requirements can only be met if the diet is varied and varied . Anyone who only eats pasta with pesto, bread with vegan cheese or ready meals such as fries or burgers is immediately at risk of being undersupplied. However, this applies to any diet.

According to the DGE, vegans tend to have nutrient deficiencies in the following areas:

  • Macronutrients: proteins, omega-3 fatty acids

  • Vitamins: Vitamin B12, Vitamin B2, Vitamin D

  • Minerals: Calcium

  • Trace elements: iodine, zinc, selenium, iron

In this way, potentially critical nutrients can be covered with a vegan diet


The daily protein requirement is extremely easy to cover with a vegan diet. Firstly, all essential amino acids are present in plant foods and secondly, they occur in different compositions and high concentrations in many foods.

Good plant-based protein sources are:

over 30g protein /100g

30-25g protein /100g

25-20g protein /100g

20-15g protein /100g

15-10g protein /100g

Soy strips (50g!)






sunflower seeds




hemp seeds








pine nuts

pumpkin seeds

kidney beans





Chia seeds

cashew nuts

In summary: legumes such as beans, lentils, peas and products made from them (tofu, tempeh, seitan, flour, ...), nuts, seeds and kernels.

The level of daily protein requirement depends on the daily sports workload. Basically, about 1 g of protein is recommended per day and kilo of body weight; in physically active people up to 1.5 g/kg body weight. The Löwenanteil supports you in covering your daily requirements, because one glass of each dish contains at least 30 g of protein and also provides you with sufficient fiber and nutrients.

For more information on protein-rich, plant-based foods, you can read this article . In it, we introduced soy, seitan, and pea protein and why you should include them in your diet.

3 high-protein vegan meat substitutes you should know about - the Löwenanteil

3 high-protein vegan meat substitutes you should know about

Omega-3 fatty acids

The body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids itself, which is why they have to be ingested through food.

The intake of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is not a problem for vegans, as long as food like

  • flax and chia seeds

  • walnuts

  • hemp seeds

and their oils are consumed daily. The sufficient coverage of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is problematic. These can be synthesized by the body from AL acid, but only in limited amounts and/or if sufficient ALA is present. DHA and EPA are contained in microalgae or microalgae oils and can - if necessary - be supplemented in the form of drops.

Vitamin B12

The most widespread information is that vegans must supplement vitamin B12. There is a lot of truth to this as vitamin B12 is hardly found in plant foods (small traces are only in seaweed).

Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin as it is responsible for cell division, the formation of red blood cells, the formation of nerve cells in the spinal cord and the detoxification of homcysteine ​​(= toxic breakdown product when proteins are broken down).

A deficiency can go unnoticed for a long time because the body can store vitamin B12 for years. Nevertheless, the vitamin should be supplemented at the beginning of a vegan diet, because it is hardly found in plant foods, but is involved in vital body processes.

The daily requirement for people in Germany, Austria and Switzerland is 4 µg.

Vitamin B2

Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) is one of the potential risk nutrients, although the daily requirement of 1.1 mg (women) or 1.4 mg (men) can easily be covered with a plant-based diet.

Foods rich in vitamin B2 are (in descending order): yeast, dried mushrooms, almonds, soybeans, yeast flakes*, mushrooms, tempeh, peas, lentils, whole wheat and rye flour, prunes, pumpkin seeds , cashews, avocado, broccoli, hazelnuts .

*Yeast flakes, for example, are generally recommended in a vegan diet, as they are a valuable source of all B vitamins.

Vitamin D

As we have already explained in the articles in our fit-through-the-winter series , the majority of the population – especially now in winter – suffers from a vitamin D deficiency. For vegans, it is even more difficult to cover the daily recommended 20 µg (an estimate by the DGE, ÖGE and SGE), since they can only cover the requirement with sufficient sun exposure or with mushrooms - provided they have been exposed to UV radiation.

Vitamin D is important for the regulation of the calcium and phosphate metabolism as well as the hormone balance and supports bone mineralization and the defense against infections. In the event of a medically proven deficiency, it should definitely be supplemented, since an undersupply reduces muscle strength in the short term and increases susceptibility to infections, and leads to osteoporosis in the long term. Be sure to discuss vitamin D supplementation with a doctor because oversupply can be fatal.


Covering the daily calcium requirement should hardly pose a problem for vegans. Although it is popularly said that calcium is only found in milk and cheese, calcium is actually present in a large number of plant foods and in sufficient quantities.


Calcium content in mg/100g food





Chia seeds


Tahini/sesame butter


soy protein


soy flour






White beans (dried)




Kale , dried figs


Lupins (dried)


Arugula, Brazil Nuts, Amaranth




spinach, parsley


cocoa powder


Calcium is essential for bone and tooth health and keeps them stable. Furthermore, the mineral plays an essential role in the transmission of stimuli from nerves and within (muscle) cells, and is an important factor in blood clotting. Adults should ideally not take 1000 mg all at once.

The amount of calcium absorbed via the intestine can be increased by taking it in combination with vitamin D. It is also advisable to use calcium-enriched milk alternatives or to drink calcium-rich mineral water (>150 mg calcium/litre).


Iodine is a global deficiency element because the iodine content in food depends on the iodine content in the soil . Germany's soils in particular are relatively low in iodine, which is why iodization of table salt was introduced in the 1980s.

Therefore, iodine does not have to be supplemented if iodized table salt is used. The most essential element for the regulation of the thyroid gland can also be ingested via algae (e.g. nori, wakame) or mushrooms.


The zinc supply is somewhat problematic with a plant-based diet in that plant-based foods generally contain less zinc and many nutrients such as fat, calcium and phosphate, synthetic supplements - especially iron and folic acid - and the phytic acid contained in plant-based foods severely limit the bioavailability .

Zinc has many tasks in the body, including supporting the immune system and being responsible for wound healing, cell division and other metabolic processes. The daily requirement is at least 7 mg for women and at least 11 mg for men, but increases with high phytate consumption up to 10 mg (women) and 16 mg (men).

Zinc-rich foods are:

  • Wholegrain and pseudocereals : rolled oats and wholemeal flour (4 mg/100 g), crispbread (3 mg/100 g), corn (2.5 mg/100 g), buckwheat (2.5 mg/100 g)

  • Legumes : lentils (3.8 mg/100 g), soybeans (4 mg/100 g), kidney beans (2.6 mg/100 g)

  • Seeds & nuts : poppy and pumpkin seeds (7 mg/100 g), sunflower seeds (5 mg/100 g), linseed and Brazil nuts (4 mg/100 g), peanuts (3 mg/100 g), walnuts (2.7 mg/100 g), cashew nuts (2 mg/100 g)

The absorption rate of zinc can be optimized through suitable food combinations. If possible, zinc-rich foods should be consumed in sprouted form or after prolonged soaking . This allows phytate to be degraded at the same time. In addition, the bioavailability can be increased by combining zinc with acids (e.g. citric/malic/lactic acid), fermented foods and proteins .

If this seems too complicated to you and you still want to ensure that you have an adequate supply of zinc, you can use our dishes to support you. Our dishes cover the daily needs as follows:


Coverage of the daily zinc requirement in percent, women

Coverage of the daily zinc requirement in percent, men

Lentils à la Provence



Chili vegan



African Bowl



mountain lentil stew



Chick pea curry




Covering the daily selenium requirement (60 µg for men, 50 µq for women (estimated values ​​from the nutritional societies in DA-CH) seems to be many times more difficult for vegans than for omnivores, but in practice it is just as easy. That The problem with selenium is that European farmland contains hardly any selenium (compared to, for example, American soil. Due to the low selenium concentration in the soil, it is therefore permitted in Europe to enrich animal feed with selenium. This means that the average European can easily exceed the daily requirement animal products; vegans do not have this option.

Despite the low daily requirement, selenium should not be neglected in the diet because it is a component of various enzymes and proteins. Among other things, it regulates the thyroid hormone balance, is involved in the defense against free radicals and is necessary for male fertility.

As already teased, covering the daily needs of vegans without supplements is not a big challenge. A few pieces of coconut or a few Brazil nuts and the need is covered. Other foods with a high selenium content are:

  • Coconut (810 µg/100 g)

  • Porcini mushrooms (184 µg/100 g)

  • Brazil nut (103 µg/100 g)

  • Oat bran (45 µg/100 g)

  • Millet (16 µg/100 g)

  • Sesame (35 µg/100 g)

  • Linseed (28 µg/100 g)

  • Soybeans (19 µg/100 g)

  • White beans, cocoa, peas (14 µg/100 g)

  • Rice, lentils, oatmeal, chia seeds (10 µg/100 g)

  • Chickpeas (9 µg/100 g)


The mineral iron is the most frequently diagnosed deficiency nutrient worldwide. Women are particularly affected because they excrete more of the nutrient due to menstruation. Accordingly, the daily iron requirement for women with 15 mg is higher than for men, for whom 10 mg is recommended. During pregnancy, a woman's iron requirement doubles to 30 mg.

Iron is plentiful in plant foods. Which includes:

  • Legumes , e.g.:

    • Lentils: 8mg/100g

    • Beans: 6.5 mg/100 g

    • Tofu: 5mg/100g

  • Nuts and kernels , e.g.:

    • Pumpkin seeds: 13 mg/100 g

    • Sesame: 10mg/100g

    • Flaxseed: 12mg/100g

    • Almonds: 4 mg/100 g

  • Whole grain cereals , e.g.:

    • Wheat bran: 16 mg/100 g

    • Rolled oats: 5 mg/100 g

    • Amaranth, Quinoa: 9 mg/100 g

    • Millet: 7 mg/100 g

  • Vegetables , e.g.:

    • Spinach: 4mg/100g

    • Chanterelles: 7 mg/100 g

  • Dried fruits , e.g.:

    • Apricots: 4.5 mg/100 g

    • Figs, bananas: 3 mg/100 g

  • Spices :

    • Cinnamon: 30 mg/100 g

    • Cardamom: 100mg/100g

    • Turmeric: 40 mg/100 g

Some foods containing iron are included in our dishes. Women can cover over 70% of their daily iron requirement with a glass of African Bowl and mountain lentil stew , or with a glass of lentils à la Provence 81%. Men with the just mentioned even the whole!

However, plant iron is somewhat inferior to animal iron in terms of bioavailability. Iron in plant foods is in the form of non-heme iron (Fe3+). Only 1-15% of the iron content in food can be absorbed by the body. In contrast, the bioavailability of animal iron (heme iron, Fe2+) is 15-40%. In practice, this means that a lot less iron is absorbed from vegetable iron sources than is originally contained . The Institute of Medicine therefore recommends that vegetarians(!) consume 1.8 times more iron than omnivores.

However, the absorption rate of iron can be increased by combining iron-rich foods with foods rich in fructose and vitamin C. The simultaneous consumption of iron with tea, coffee or phytin-containing foods (legumes and grains) should be avoided, as these reduce bioavailability.

No reason to worry!

If you are now worried and skeptical about vegan nutrition, we can assure you: With a balanced, varied diet and taking vitamin B12 drops, you can also protect yourself vegan from a nutrient deficiency.

The nutrients listed are only potential risk nutrients ; They are worth looking out for, but don't let them drive you crazy. The fact is that everyone can develop a deficiency and there are vegans/vegetarians who have a better nutrient status than omnivores and vegans/vegetarians who are less well supplied.

Take the following tips to heart to be on the safe side:

  • Eat a balanced diet based on the “eat the rainbow” principle

  • Find out about nutrition in general and potentially critical nutrients in your diet and/or sport

  • Have your blood count checked regularly

  • Favor fortified foods and beverages, e.g. mineral water, fortified plant-based drinks, tofu, etc.

  • Eat little (highly) processed and high-fat foods. Focus on lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts/seeds/pips and whole grains

  • Only heat fruit and vegetables for as long as necessary to avoid inactivating the nutrients they contain

  • Watch your sweat loss

  • Go into the sun every day, also and especially in winter

This article was written by our author Lisa. Her greatest passions are nutrition/health, cooking and sport.