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7 Nutrients You Can’t Get From Plant-Based Foods
Humans evolved eating both plant foods and animal foods.
By completely eliminating either, we risk becoming deficient in key nutrients.
This article lists 7 nutrients that you can not get from commonly consumed plant foods.
Vegetarians and vegans may need to supplement with some of them in order to maintain optimal health.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient found in virtually no plant foods.
Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble nutrient involved in the development of red blood cells, maintenance of nerves and normal brain function.
Without supplements or enriched foods, vegetarians are at a high risk of vitamin B12 deficiency (1).
The signs, symptoms and risks associated with deficiency include:
- Weakness, fatigue (8).
- Impaired brain function (9).
- A variety of neurological disorders (10).
- Psychiatric disorders (11).
- Neurological disorders in babies of breast-feeding mothers (12).
- Megaloblastic anemia (13).
- Possible links with Alzheimer's disease (14).
- Possible links with heart disease (15).
Vegans must get vitamin B12 by taking supplements or eating enriched food or certain types of seaweed.
In addition, a few plant foods naturally contain small amounts of bioactive vitamin B12. These include:
Nori seaweed is considered the most suitable source of biologically available vitamin B12 for vegans (23).
Another plant food often claimed to contain vitamin B12 is spirulina. However, spirulina contains so-called pseudovitamin B12, which is not biologically available. For this reason, it is not suitable as a source of vitamin B12 (26).
Bottom Line: Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods and certain types of seaweed. Vegans can get vitamin B12 by taking supplements, eating enriched foods or eating nori seaweed.
Creatine is a molecule found in animal foods.
Most of it is stored in muscles, but significant amounts are also concentrated in the brain.
It functions as an easily accessible energy reserve for muscle cells, giving them greater strength and endurance (27).
For this reason, it is one of the world's most popular supplements for muscle building.
Studies have shown that creatine supplementation can increase both muscle mass and strength (28).
Creatine is not essential in the diet, since it can be produced by the liver. However, vegetarians have lower amounts of creatine in their muscles (29).
Placing people on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for 26 days causes a significant decrease in muscle creatine (30).
Because creatine is not found in any plant foods, vegetarians and vegans can only get it from supplements.
In vegetarians, creatine supplementation may have significant benefits. These include:
Many of these effects are stronger in vegetarians than meat eaters. For example, vegetarians taking creatine supplements may experience significant improvements in brain function while meat eaters see no difference (31).
Bottom Line: Creatine is a bioactive compound that is lacking in vegetarian diets. It plays an important role in brain and muscle function.
Carnosine is only found in animal foods. However, it is non-essential since it can be formed in the body from the amino acids histidine and beta-alanine.
Dietary sources of beta-alanine, such as meat or fish, may also contribute significantly to muscle levels of carnosine.
Vegan beta-alanine supplements are available online.
Bottom Line: Carnosine is a nutrient only found in animal foods. It is important for muscle function. Beta-alanine supplements are effective at increasing the levels of carnosine in muscles.
4. Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3)
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that has many important functions.
Deficiency in vitamin D is linked to increased risk of various adverse conditions. These include:
- Osteoporosis, with increased risk of fractures in the elderly (46).
- Cancer (47).
- Heart disease (48, 49).
- Multiple sclerosis (50).
- Depression (51).
- Impaired brain function (52).
- Muscle wasting and reduced strength, especially in elderly people (53, 54, 55, 56).
Osteoporosis (weak bones) and rickets (bone malformation) are the best known effects of vitamin D deficiency. Whether vitamin D deficiency contributes to the other conditions, or is just associated with them, is less clear.
Also called the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D doesn't have to come from the diet. It can be produced by our own skin when it is exposed to sunlight. However, when sunlight exposure is limited, we have to get it from food (or supplements).
There are two types of vitamin D in the diet, ergocalciferol (D2) found in plants and cholecalciferol (D3) found in animal foods.
Of the two types of vitamin D, cholecalciferol (from animals) is much more potent than ergocalciferol. In other words, it increases blood levels of bioactive vitamin D much more efficiently (57, 58, 59).
The best sources of cholecalciferol are fatty fish and egg yolks. Other sources include supplements, cod liver oil, or enriched foods such as milk or cereals (60).
Bottom Line: Cholecalciferol (D3) is a type of vitamin D found in animal foods, especially fatty fish. It is much more effective than the plant form of vitamin D, ergocalciferol (D2).
5. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid.
It is important for normal brain development and function (61).
In addition, inadequate DHA intake in pregnant women may adversely affect brain development in the child (64).
It is mainly found in fatty fish and fish oil, but also in some types of microalgae.
Bottom Line: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid found in fatty fish and fish oil. It is also found in microalgae, which are a suitable dietary source for vegetarians.
Heme-iron is a type of iron only found in meat, especially red meat.
It is much better absorbed than non-heme iron found in plant foods (76).
Not only is heme-iron well absorbed, it also improves the absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods. This phenomenon is not entirely understood and is called the “meat factor."
Unlike non-heme iron, heme-iron is not affected by anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, often found in plant foods.
Bottom Line: Meat, especially red meat, contains a type of iron called heme-iron, which is much better absorbed than non-heme iron from plant foods.
Taurine is a sulfur compound found in various body tissues, including the brain, heart and kidneys (78).
The function of taurine in the body is not entirely clear.
Taurine is only found in animal foods such as fish, seafood, meat, poultry and dairy products (88).
It is not essential in the diet since small amounts are produced by the body. However, dietary taurine may play a major role in the maintenance of taurine levels in the body.
Bottom Line: Taurine is a sulfur compound that has many important functions in the body. It is only found in animal foods.
Take Home Message
Vegetarian and vegan diets may be very healthy for some people.
However, there are a few important nutrients that are impossible to get from commonly consumed plant foods.
If you plan to completely eliminate animal foods, then be extra prudent about your diet and make sure you are getting everything your body needs.
This article was reposted from our media associate Authority Nutrition.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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