Like with any diet, veganism comes with benefits and drawbacks. And though veganism can be a healthy, sustainable diet for some, it’s important to learn about any potential risks associated with this popular eating pattern before choosing to adhere to it.
Here are some of the potential drawbacks of following a vegan diet.
When following a vegan diet, you can develop certain micronutrient deficiencies if you’re not careful
Vegan diets tend to be rich in many nutrients, low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and also higher in dietary fiber. But there are many nutrients that those following a vegan diet oftentimes do not consume enough of.
If you’re not careful, following a vegan diet can cause you to develop some deficiencies in vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc.
These deficiencies can impact your body in a variety of ways, possibly causing you to have a weakened immune system, a higher risk of experiencing bone fractures, high blood pressure, rashes, or fatigue.
When following a vegan diet, you’ll want to keep a close eye on your iron levels
Iron plays a crucial role in transporting oxygen throughout your body but it can be difficult to get enough of it when following a vegan diet.
There are two types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is found only in animal sources.
Since those following a vegan diet do not consume heme iron, they must rely on non-heme iron, which can be found in plant sources, including fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, it is not as readily absorbed by the body as heme iron is.
In addition, certain plant-based compounds can further inhibit iron absorption, making it more difficult for those following a vegan diet to consume enough iron, per a paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010.
Read More: 10 signs and symptoms you may have an iron deficiency
Not consuming enough iron could cause you to feel lethargic and it could put you at risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia, which is a potentially serious condition that occurs when your body isn’t making enough red blood cells.
Vegans are at risk of developing a vitamin-B12 deficiency, which can have irreversible effects if left untreated
Unfortunately, this deficiency can be tough to detect. According to the National Institutes of Health, many vitamin-B12-deficiency symptomscan be mistaken for other conditions such as weight loss, appetite loss, constipation, fatigue, weakness, and anemia.
Some neurological symptoms of this deficiency that are potentially irreversible include numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, issues with balance, and even dementia.
Aiming to eat a varied, nutrient-dense diet and potentially taking supplements that contain B12 and other vitamins may help you to avoid certain deficiencies.
Getting enough protein can also be a challenge for some vegans — but there are plenty of plant-based proteins that can help
Among other things, a protein deficiency can cause fatigue, hair loss, and swelling. Since this diet does not include meat, a popular protein source for many, those who follow a vegan diet must be careful to consume plenty of high-quality, vegan-friendly proteins.
“Vegan protein sources include but are not limited to tempeh, soy foods (such as tofu, edamame, and soy milk), legumes (such as chickpeas, black beans, and lentils), nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, cashews), seeds (such as flax seeds or chia seeds), seitan, and quinoa,” said Jessica Jones, MS, RD, CDE and cofounder of the healthy-living website, Food Heaven Made Easy.
The vegan diet isn’t sustainable or practical for everyone
Any diet that involves entirely eliminating multiple food groups can be difficult to follow and it doesn’t work for everyone, noted Jones.
“Many clients that I work with often believe that veganism (or any one diet in particular) is the only way to be healthy and that’s simply not true. Because of this, I see people adopt a vegan diet when it’s not sustainable for them long-term,” said Jones.
So before choosing to follow this diet, you may want to consult with your doctor or nutritionist to see if it is practical based on your current state of health and lifestyle.