As a vegan it is possible to be deficient in a number of nutrients. Simply put, several vitamins and minerals are found in abundance in animal products while very little may be found in plant based products. To be honest there’s not many that should be a problem for us vegans, but if you hate vegetables and/or eat a poor diet, you may run into a problem.
If your health is in good standing, and you actually give a crap about what you consume, your body can 100% thrive off of a vegan diet. There are going to be people concerned about your B12 levels, your protein intake, and much more. Just understand that there are 1000 to 2000 plant species that humans can consume, so even if you’re low in a vitamin or mineral you can find something to replenish your needs.
A couple of weeks ago a company named HealthLabs reached out to me about their new vegan testing services.
Available vegan tests through HealthLabs:
- A vegan maintenance panel: Which tests for possible deficiencies a vegan diet could result in.
- Should you be vegan panels: There is a basic, standard, and comprehensive test which will test if you have allergies to a number of animal products, and even various proteins and amino acids found in animal protein.
They also have a TON of other tests available.
I got the vegan maintenance panel because I’m vegan (duh!).
The process is quite simple…you choose which test you want, you choose a location near you (there are a number of labs available such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics), you print out your test, and walk into a lab during their business hours!
The vegan test requires a 9-12 hour fast. I fasted for about 12-13 hours before my blood was drawn but I made sure to drink plenty of water so my blood flow would be quick.
I didn’t need an appointment at Quest Diagnostics, so I just walked in and waited for my turn. About 6 small vials of blood were drawn from my left arm and I was on my way!
A few days later, results will appear on your Health Labs account and you can determine if your diet is sufficient or if you need to make any changes.
If you’re interested in getting any testing done, you can call them and mention you heard about their services through my blog (Living like Leila) and you’ll receive 25% off!
I have been vegan for over 2 years as of the time of these results. I consider my nutrition to be quite healthy on a consistent/daily basis. However, I could probably increase my leafy greens consumption! I also suffer from pretty intense fatigue, but it has been a problem for me for years, even before going vegan. As far as I know, I am not anemic and I do not have any issues with my thyroid.
I was quite eager to get my test results, because I want to see if I’ve been able to maintain healthy levels throughout my vegan diet, but also to see if there is anything I need to improve!
Below you will find a basic breakdown of each portion of the test and an interpretation of my results.
Homocysteine is an amino acid that in excess increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and bone fractures.
However, homocysteine levels can be reduced effectively by consuming adequate levels of folate, and Vitamin B12 and B6.
Vitamin B12 plays a role in protein synthesis and energy production from fats and proteins. Low levels of B12 can most commonly contribute to anemia. Adequate levels of B12 have been found to promote heart, brain, and bone health, and may even help boost your mood!
B12 is found mostly in animal products: seafood, poultry, eggs, yogurt, and milk, which is why vegans and even vegetarians may become deficient. The good news is vegans can consume the recommended allowance by consuming fortified cereals, soy milk, and of course supplements.
Folic acid, also known as folate, is particularly important for pregnant women. A deficiency in folate can cause birth defects. Folate also lowers homocysteine levels in the blood. Adequate levels also have been shown to lower risk if high blood pressure, cancer, and hearing loss.
Top sources of folic acid are lentils, spinach, fortified cereals, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, spinach, asparagus, oranges, broccoli, beets, and black, navy, and pinto beans. Vegans have lots of options here!
About 99% of our calcium is stored in our bones and teeth, which is why it’s so essential. Calcium is actually a mineral that even non-vegan adults do not get enough of.
Unfortunately, society has embedded “Got milk?” into many people’s head that they think milk is essential to health. In my opinion milk is now of the worst things we can consume. We. Are. Not. Baby. Cows. No. You are not lactose intolerant…humans are not supposed to drink milk past infancy!!!
Anyway, calcium can actually be lost through perspiration so it’s really important to eat calcium rich foods after working out. Consuming excess sugar, meat, fat, and alcohol can lead to blocked absorption of calcium and lower bone-mineral density.
Plant based sources of calcium include kale, navy beans, and collard greens. Also, flax seeds/flax seed oil help increase calcium absorption!
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
A CBC test measures white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.
White blood cells fight infections in your body, so too many means you may have inflammation/infection present and too little means you may be at risk to getting an infection.
Red blood cells carry oxygen around your body and filter carbon dioxide If your count is too low, you may have anemia.
Lastly, platelets help your blood clot.
This test is important for vegans to determine if one is anemic. However, if you are eating a diet sufficient in all of these vitamins/minerals, then your blood counts should return normal.
D-25 Hydroxy (Vitamin D-3)
Vitamin D is another important vitamin for your bones and teeth because it helps your body absorb calcium and phosphorous. Vitamin D can be consumed in your diet but also when your skin is exposed to the sun, which makes it unique! Studies across the board demonstrate that 15 minutes of skin exposure everyday is the perfect dosage, however, you can also get it from fortified cereals and mushrooms.
In addition to preventing osteoporosis, vitamin D promotes joint, heart, and mental health, can prevent cancer, diabetes, and PMS symptoms, and boost immunity. Vitamin D is like the superfood of vitamins!
Ferritin is a protein that stores iron. When more blood cells are needed, your body will signal the cells to release ferritin. Low levels of ferritin in the blood would mean you don’t have enough iron being stored.
Low ferritin levels can result from excessive menstrual bleeding, internal bleeding, and if intestinal absorption is affected in anyway. Symptoms include fatigue, chronic headache, dizziness, irritability, leg pains, ringing in your ears, and shortness of breath.
High ferritin levels can result from hyperthyroidism, obesity, alcohol, iron poisoning, leukemia, type 2 diabetes, restless leg syndrome, frequent blood transfusions, and more. Symptoms of high levels include stomach pain, joint pain, chest pains, weakness, and fatigue.
So how to have adequate levels of ferritin? Of course you would have to be consuming and maintaining sufficient levels of iron and vitamin C to help absorb the iron. Proper levels can also be achieved by managing your weight, eating healthy in general to minimize inflammation in the body, and limiting alcohol intake.
Iron deficiency is one of the most widespread nutrition problems in the world. Iron is required by hemoglobin in red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body and is also essential to many enzymes.
Low iron levels can result in anemia, but can also cause low energy, difficulty maintaining body temperature, and a weakened immune system. Vegans and vegetarians tend to consume less iron because iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed than plant sources. Plant based sources include fortified cereals, soybeans, white beans, lentils, spinach, and soy milk. Vitamin C can help to enhance iron absorption.
Also, endurance exercise can increase your iron needs so active individuals will need more!
Zinc is another super mineral, it supports cell structure, healthy skin, eye health, immunity, heart health, reproduction, and neurological functions. Most people are actually sufficient in zinc, and it’s actually important not to get too much.
Zinc also comes from a wide variety of sources including peas, lima beans, potatoes, corn, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds, fortified cereals, white beans, lentils, and baked beans.
The results layout can be a bit confusing. Basically, anything in blue means I am out of range. So by my results you can see that I am low in vitamin B12 (binding capacity) as well as Zinc.
My zinc levels are literally 2 points away from the reference range, but still low so definitely something to work on. I definitely eat a large amount of zinc-rich foods, but after some further research it appears that foods high in fiber (and/or foods containing phytates) may interfere with zinc absorption. It looks like the solution to that is to soak beans, grains, and seeds for a few hours before consuming and to eat leavened bread rather than unleavened bread.
My vitamin B12 is quite low and honestly I wasn’t expecting that! I take my Ritual vitamins daily, which do contain 8 mg of B12, I also take an extra dose of B12 once a week. However, this test is looking at my BINDING capacity, meaning I probably am getting enough B12 but my body is having trouble binding and transporting it where needed. This shows that I am deficient in Transcobalamin, which is a carrier protein for B12. Further research didn’t really help me much, so it may be necessary for me to consume more fortified cereals and milk alternatives. Otherwise I may benefit from a higher dosage of B12 supplementation daily.
I also noticed my ferritin levels are quite low which I don’t want to become a problem later. Looks like I’ll be increasing my spinach consumption as well to keep that in check! If my ferritin gets depleted then my iron will also get depleted and I don’t want that.
I’m happy to see my Vitamin D falls into the reference range! I know it’s pretty low on the scale but I used to be severely deficient in vitamin D, even when prescribed a super high dosage. I attribute my steady levels to my Ritual multivitamins. Once I started taking those, my levels went up and STAYED up which I can say still stands true.
Overall, my results aren’t too shabby! Nothing is urgent or a really bad deficiency, but this is why regular testing is so important! If I didn’t know about my low levels of B12 or zinc I could have ended up developing a more serious problem.