While we all know that a balanced diet is key to healthy living, we often do not pay much attention to how much of a particular food group we’re including in our diets. Though being vegan and vegetarian is a personal choice, leaving a particular food group when following a certain diet plan or other such reasons can do you more harm than good and could make you deficient in certain nutrients.

In a previous article, we discussed how hardcore meat-eaters could be missing out on essential nutrients obtained from plants. In this article, we talk about the nutrients that you cannot readily achieve from a vegetarian diet.

1) Creatine
A molecule commonly found in animal food, creatine is stored in muscles and is also present in significant amounts in the brain. It provides the muscle cells with greater strength and increases endurance, making it an easily accessible energy reserve for muscle cells.[1] Creatine supplementation can improve strength and muscle mass.[2]

While creatine can be produced by the liver, it is not enough and vegetarians might have lower levels of creatine in their muscles.[3] Creatine supplementation can improve brain function and physical performance in such cases to overcome the deficiency.[3,4,5]

2) Cholecalciferol
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, impaired brain function, depression, and reduced strength.[6-13]

There are two active forms of vitamin D, cholecalciferol (from animals) and ergocalciferol, which is mostly found in plants. The former increases vitamin D blood levels much more effectively.[14,15,16] Fatty fish and egg yolks are the most potent source of cholecalciferol.

3) Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin), is a water-soluble nutrient involved in the formation of red blood cells, normal brain functioning and maintenance of the nerves. Without enriched foods or supplements, vegetarians are at a high risk of vitamin B12.[17]

Fish, dairy products, meat, and eggs are rich sources of vitamin B12.[18] While lacto-ovo vegetarians get vitamin B12 from dairy products, vegans may find it difficult to obtain.[19] This puts vegans at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency than vegetarians.[]

Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause weakness, impaired brain function, fatigue, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

4) Carnosine
The antioxidant carnosine is found in the brain and muscles and high levels of it are crucial for improved muscle performance and reduced muscle fatigue.[24,25] Vegetarians have less carnosine in their muscles than hardcore meat-eaters.[26,27,28,29]

Supplementation with beta-alanine increases muscle mass and improves endurance by increasing carnosine levels in muscles.[30,31]

5) Heme-Iron
Heme iron, a type of iron only found in meat, is better absorbed than non-heme iron found in plants. The better absorption of heme iron is known as the ‘meat factor’ and it even improves the absorption of non-heme iron.[32] 

Also, heme-iron isn’t affected by antinutrients such as phytic acid found in plant foods, which, on the other hand, can hamper the absorption of non-heme iron. This is the reason why vegetarians and vegans are more prone to anemia than meat eaters.[33]

6) Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
An essential omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for normal brain functioning and development.[34] Deficiency in DHA can affect the mental as well as cognitive health.[35,36] Inadequate intake of DHA, especially in pregnant women, can adversely affect the brain development in the child.[37]

DHA is composed of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is found in high amounts in chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds. However, it needs to be converted to DHA by the body. This conversion process is not an efficient one, because of which vegans and vegetarians are often lower in DHA than meat-eaters [38,39,40,41,42]

7) Taurine
A sulfur compound found in the brain, heart, and kidneys, taurine plays a key role in bile salt function, muscle function, and the body’s antioxidant defenses.[43,44,45,46]

Supplementation with taurine can have various benefits for heart health such as a controlled blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.[47,48] Taurine is only found in animal foods such as poultry, seafood, fish and dairy products.[49] Taurine levels are significantly lower in vegans than in meat eaters.[50,51]

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Diseases & Conditions here.

Read More:
Health-Wise: Hard Core Meat-Eaters, Here’s What You’re Missing Out On
9 Benefits Of Medicinal Herbs
Cook Smart: How To Retain More Nutrients In Your Food
The 4 Types Of Vitamin B12 Supplements (& Which One You Should Be Taking)
The Sunshine Vitamin: 6 Health Benefits Of Vitamin D That You Should Know Of
Vitamins For Vitality: Why They Are Essential (& How To Get Them Naturally)
Too Much Vitamin A Can Hamper Your Immunity: Study

1. Graham AS, Hatton RC. Creatine: a review of efficacy and safety. J Am Pharm Assoc (Wash). 1999 Nov-Dec;39(6):803-10; quiz 875-7. Review. PubMed PMID: 10609446.

2. Bird SP. Creatine supplementation and exercise performance: a brief review. J Sports Sci Med. 2003 Dec 1;2(4):123-32. eCollection 2003 Dec. Review. PubMed PMID: 24688272; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3963244.

3. Burke DG, Chilibeck PD, Parise G, Candow DG, Mahoney D, Tarnopolsky M. Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2003 Nov;35(11):1946-55. PubMed PMID: 14600563.

4. Benton D, Donohoe R. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. Br J Nutr. 2011 Apr;105(7):1100-5. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510004733. Epub 2010 Dec 1. PubMed PMID: 21118604.

5. Rae C, Digney AL, McEwan SR, Bates TC. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 22;270(1529):2147-50. PubMed PMID: 14561278; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC1691485.

6. Dobnig H. A review of the health consequences of the vitamin D deficiency pandemic. J Neurol Sci. 2011 Dec 15;311(1-2):15-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jns.2011.08.046. Epub 2011 Sep 22. Review. PubMed PMID: 21939984.

7. Lappe JM, Travers-Gustafson D, Davies KM, Recker RR, Heaney RP. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation reduces cancer risk: results of a randomized trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jun;85(6):1586-91. Erratum in: Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Mar;87(3):794. PubMed PMID: 17556697.

8. Giovannucci E, Liu Y, Hollis BW, Rimm EB. 25-hydroxyvitamin D and risk of myocardial infarction in men: a prospective study. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jun 9;168(11):1174-80. doi: 10.1001/archinte.168.11.1174. PubMed PMID: 18541825; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3719391.

9. Zittermann A, Prokop S. The role of vitamin D for cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2014;810:106-19. Review. PubMed PMID:

10. Faridar A, Eskandari G, Sahraian MA, Minagar A, Azimi A. Vitamin D and multiple sclerosis: a critical review and recommendations on treatment. Acta Neurol Belg. 2012 Dec;112(4):327-33. doi: 10.1007/s13760-012-0108-z. Epub 2012 Jul 6. Review. PubMed PMID: 22767049.

11. Annweiler C, Schott AM, Allali G, Bridenbaugh SA, Kressig RW, Allain P, Herrmann FR, Beauchet O. Association of vitamin D deficiency with cognitive impairment in older women: cross-sectional study. Neurology. 2010 Jan 5;74(1):27-32. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3181beecd3. Epub 2009 Sep 30. PubMed PMID: 19794127.

12. Kjærgaard M, Waterloo K, Wang CE, Almås B, Figenschau Y, Hutchinson MS, Svartberg J, Jorde R. Effect of vitamin D supplement on depression scores in people with low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D: nested case-control study and randomised clinical trial. Br J Psychiatry. 2012 Nov;201(5):360-8. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.111.104349. Epub 2012 Jul 12. PubMed PMID: 22790678.

13. Grimaldi AS, Parker BA, Capizzi JA, Clarkson PM, Pescatello LS, White MC, Thompson PD. 25(OH) vitamin D is associated with greater muscle strength in healthy men and women. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Jan;45(1):157-62. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31826c9a78. PubMed PMID: 22895376; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3544152.

14. Trang HM, Cole DE, Rubin LA, Pierratos A, Siu S, Vieth R. Evidence that vitamin D3 increases serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D more efficiently than does vitamin D2. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Oct;68(4):854-8. PubMed PMID: 9771862.

15. Heaney RP, Recker RR, Grote J, Horst RL, Armas LA. Vitamin D(3) is more potent than vitamin D(2) in humans. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Mar;96(3):E447-52. doi: 10.1210/jc.2010-2230. Epub 2010 Dec 22. PubMed PMID: 21177785.

16. Romagnoli E, Mascia ML, Cipriani C, Fassino V, Mazzei F, D’Erasmo E, Carnevale V, Scillitani A, Minisola S. Short and long-term variations in serum calciotropic hormones after a single very large dose of ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) or cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) in the elderly. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Aug;93(8):3015-20. doi: 10.1210/jc.2008-0350. Epub 2008 May 20. PubMed PMID: 18492750.

17. Pawlak R, Parrott SJ, Raj S, Cullum-Dugan D, Lucus D. How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians? Nutr Rev. 2013 Feb;71(2):110-7. doi: 10.1111/nure.12001. Epub 2013 Jan 2. Review. PubMed PMID: 23356638.

18. Watanabe F. Vitamin B12 sources and bioavailability. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2007 Nov;232(10):1266-74. Review. PubMed PMID: 17959839.

19. F. Phillips. Vegetarian nutrition. Nutrition Bulletin. Volume 30, Issue 2, pages 132–167, June 2005

20. Herrmann W, Schorr H, Obeid R, Geisel J. Vitamin B-12 status, particularly holotranscobalamin II and methylmalonic acid concentrations, and hyperhomocysteinemia in vegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Jul;78(1):131-6. PubMed PMID: 12816782.

21. Dagnelie PC, van Staveren WA, Vergote FJ, Dingjan PG, van den Berg H, Hautvast JG. Increased risk of vitamin B-12 and iron deficiency in infants on macrobiotic diets. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Oct;50(4):818-24. PubMed PMID: 2801586.

22. Millet P, Guilland JC, Fuchs F, Klepping J. Nutrient intake and vitamin status of healthy French vegetarians and nonvegetarians. Am J Clin Nutr. 1989 Oct;50(4):718-27. PubMed PMID: 2801576.

23. Dong A, Scott SC. Serum vitamin B12 and blood cell values in vegetarians. Ann Nutr Metab. 1982;26(4):209-16. PubMed PMID: 6897159.

24. Kohen R, Yamamoto Y, Cundy KC, Ames BN. Antioxidant activity of carnosine, homocarnosine, and anserine present in muscle and brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1988 May;85(9):3175-9. PubMed PMID: 3362866; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC280166.

25. Reddy VP, Garrett MR, Perry G, Smith MA. Carnosine: a versatile antioxidant and antiglycating agent. Sci Aging Knowledge Environ. 2005 May 4;2005(18):pe12. Review. PubMed PMID: 15872311.

26. Derave W, Ozdemir MS, Harris RC, Pottier A, Reyngoudt H, Koppo K, Wise JA, Achten E. beta-Alanine supplementation augments muscle carnosine content and attenuates fatigue during repeated isokinetic contraction bouts in trained sprinters. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2007 Nov;103(5):1736-43. Epub 2007 Aug 9. PubMed PMID: 17690198.

27. Hill CA, Harris RC, Kim HJ, Harris BD, Sale C, Boobis LH, Kim CK, Wise JA. Influence of beta-alanine supplementation on skeletal muscle carnosine concentrations and high intensity cycling capacity. Amino Acids. 2007 Feb;32(2):225-33. Epub 2006 Jul 28. PubMed PMID: 16868650.

28. Stout JR, Cramer JT, Zoeller RF, Torok D, Costa P, Hoffman JR, Harris RC, O’Kroy J. Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on the onset of neuromuscular fatigue and ventilatory threshold in women. Amino Acids. 2007;32(3):381-6. Epub 2006 Nov 30. PubMed PMID: 17136505.

29. Van Thienen R, Van Proeyen K, Vanden Eynde B, Puype J, Lefere T, Hespel P. Beta-alanine improves sprint performance in endurance cycling. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Apr;41(4):898-903. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e31818db708. PubMed PMID: 19276843.

30. Sale C, Saunders B, Harris RC. Effect of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine concentrations and exercise performance. Amino Acids. 2010 Jul;39(2):321-33. doi: 10.1007/s00726-009-0443-4. Epub 2009 Dec 20. Review. PubMed PMID: 20091069.

31. Kendrick IP, Kim HJ, Harris RC, Kim CK, Dang VH, Lam TQ, Bui TT, Wise JA. The effect of 4 weeks beta-alanine supplementation and isokinetic training on carnosine concentrations in type I and II human skeletal muscle fibres. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2009 May;106(1):131-8. doi: 10.1007/s00421-009-0998-5. Epub 2009 Feb 12. PubMed PMID: 19214556.

32. Valenzuela C, de Romaña DL, Olivares M, Morales MS, Pizarro F. Total iron and heme iron content and their distribution in beef meat and viscera. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2009 Dec;132(1-3):103-11. doi: 10.1007/s12011-009-8400-3. PubMed PMID: 19475341.

33. Sanders TA. The nutritional adequacy of plant-based diets. Proc Nutr Soc. 1999 May;58(2):265-9. Review. PubMed PMID: 10466165.

34. Guesnet P, Alessandri JM. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the developing central nervous system (CNS) – Implications for dietary recommendations. Biochimie. 2011 Jan;93(1):7-12. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2010.05.005. Epub 2010 May 15. Review. PubMed PMID: 20478353.

35. Sinn N, Bryan J. Effect of supplementation with polyunsaturated fatty acids and micronutrients on learning and behavior problems associated with child ADHD. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2007 Apr;28(2):82-91. PubMed PMID: 17435458.

36. Young G, Conquer J. Omega-3 fatty acids and neuropsychiatric disorders. Reprod Nutr Dev. 2005 Jan-Feb;45(1):1-28. Review. PubMed PMID: 15865053.

37. Helland IB, Smith L, Saarem K, Saugstad OD, Drevon CA. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics. 2003 Jan;111(1):e39-44. PubMed PMID: 12509593.

38. Gerster H. Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 1998;68(3):159-73. Review. PubMed PMID: 9637947.

39. Arterburn LM, Hall EB, Oken H. Distribution, interconversion, and dose response of n-3 fatty acids in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6 Suppl):1467S-1476S. Review. PubMed PMID: 168418

40. Lee HY, Woo J, Chen ZY, Leung SF, Peng XH. Serum fatty acid, lipid profile and dietary intake of Hong Kong Chinese omnivores and vegetarians. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2000 Oct;54(10):768-73. PubMed PMID: 11083485.

41. Davis BC, Kris-Etherton PM. Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: current knowledge and practical implications. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Sep;78(3 Suppl):640S-646S. Review. PubMed PMID: 12936959.

42. Sanders TA, Reddy S. The influence of a vegetarian diet on the fatty acid composition of human milk and the essential fatty acid status of the infant. J Pediatr. 1992 Apr;120(4 Pt 2):S71-7. PubMed PMID: 1560329.

43. Shivananjappa MM, Muralidhara. Taurine attenuates maternal and embryonic oxidative stress in a streptozotocin-diabetic rat model. Reprod Biomed Online. 2012 May;24(5):558-66. doi: 10.1016/j.rbmo.2012.01.016. Epub 2012 Jan 28. PubMed PMID: 22414371.

44. Spriet LL, Whitfield J. Taurine and skeletal muscle function. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2015 Jan;18(1):96-101. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000135. Review. PubMed PMID: 25415270.

45. Julius D. Militante, John B. Lombardini. Dietary taurine supplementation: Hypolipidemic and antiatherogenic effects. Volume 24, Issue 10, Pages 787–801.

46. Lerdweeraphon W, Wyss JM, Boonmars T, Roysommuti S. Perinatal taurine exposure affects adult oxidative stress. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013 Jul 15;305(2):R95-7. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00142.2013. Epub 2013 Apr 24. Review. PubMed PMID: 23616107.

47. Elvevoll EO, Eilertsen KE, Brox J, Dragnes BT, Falkenberg P, Olsen JO, Kirkhus B, Lamglait A, Østerud B. Seafood diets: hypolipidemic and antiatherogenic effects of taurine and n-3 fatty acids. Atherosclerosis. 2008 Oct;200(2):396-402. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2007.12.021. Epub 2008 Feb 1. PubMed PMID: 18242615.

48. Mizushima S, Nara Y, Sawamura M, Yamori Y. Effects of oral taurine supplementation on lipids and sympathetic nerve tone. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1996;403:615-22. PubMed PMID: 8915402.

49. Laidlaw SA, Grosvenor M, Kopple JD. The taurine content of common foodstuffs. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr. 1990 Mar-Apr;14(2):183-8. Erratum in: JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr 1990 Jul-Aug;14(4):380. PubMed PMID: 2352336.

50. Laidlaw SA, Shultz TD, Cecchino JT, Kopple JD. Plasma and urine taurine levels in vegans. Am J Clin Nutr. 1988 Apr;47(4):660-3. PubMed PMID: 3354491.

51. Rana SK, Sanders TA. Taurine concentrations in the diet, plasma, urine and breast milk of vegans compared with omnivores. Br J Nutr. 1986 Jul;56(1):17-27. PubMed PMID: 3676193.

Armed with a PhD in Alternative Medicine, a graduate degree in Biotechnology, an MSc, and an MBA in Clinical Research and Clinical Pharmacology, Dr Jonathan is a certified practitioner of Alternative Medicine and is actively involved in patient education initiatives. He is also the author of the bestselling book, Outsmart Diabetes. Dr Jonathan loves to share his passion for herbs and other alternative medicinal practices with others through his writing.