HomeArticlesWhere can vegans and vegetarians get biologically significant elements

Are they irreplaceable?

For human health and vital activity, we need biologically active elements that allow cells and organs to perform their functions. They are divided into macronutrients (the content of which in living organisms is more than 0.01%), microelements (the content is less than 0.001%), vitamins and proteins (proteins and amino acids). Many of the listed elements are synthesized by our body, but for this they need, so to speak, building material that comes with food. The fresher and more balanced the food we consume, the healthier the body and the more harmonious the work of all its organs and functions.

Many people, having learned about vegetarian/vegan nutrition, wonder how it is possible to survive without the irreplaceable biological substances found in meat products (if it is ethical to call meat a product). Most large mammals (elephant, cow, gorilla, rhinoceros, etc.) feed only on grass and leaves, but at the same time they have a powerful muscular body and produce a high-protein product for feeding their cubs - milk. In the same way, people can get all the necessary elements for life from plant foods and synthesize them in the relevant organs (liver, large intestine, kidneys). The basis of health is food that can be digested in the stomach with minimal energy costs for the body, properly absorbed in the intestines, does not disturb the balance of microflora (presence of important bacteria, the ratio of processes of suppuration and fermentation) and is easily excreted by the excretory system. This requires eating fresh, unrefined plant foods, non-GMOs, with minor culinary modifications, abstaining from drugs (especially antibiotics), balancing essential bionutrients without overdoing any of them, reducing stressors and living in a clean ecological environment. .

What should vegetarians / vegans do without trace elements contained in meat? Is it possible that nature, having given a person wide teeth for chewing (and not for capturing a victim) food, a long intestine and weak gastric juice (compared to predators that digest bones), did not provide for a full-fledged plant nutrition? The examples of many long-lived vegans prove otherwise. Living without meat is possible and healthy. Let's look at how the plant world can provide the body with everything necessary.

It should be remembered that any product is best absorbed and gives all its useful elements only in the right form and in the right combination with other products and bioelements. In this article, we only give examples of the sources of the most important essential substances.

The content of useful trace elements in plant foods


Calcium is probably the most controversial macronutrient. Adults need to consume about 800-1200 mg of calcium per day. Of course, there is no doubt that this is one of the most important substances for building the skeletal system of our body and a number of other important functions in the work of the circulatory and nervous systems. The debate is about whether calcium from milk can really be absorbed by the human body. But nature made sure that we were able to get calcium from a number of other products, and with a higher content and ease of absorption:

  • sesame seeds, poppy seeds;
  • soy, rice or almond milk;
  • Orange juice;
  • almonds, Brazilian and walnut;
  • wheat bran;
  • curly, white, Chinese leafy (bok-choy) cabbage, broccoli;
  • tofu;
  • parsley, dill, basil, spinach, celery;
  • apricots, grapes, apples, pears, currants.

Phosphorus is inextricably linked with calcium in performing its most important functions: growth and restoration of the body, building teeth and bones, coordinating acid-base balance, improving metabolism, etc. Sources:

  • wheat, rice, oat bran, green buckwheat;
  • hazelnuts, walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews;
  • seeds of sesame, poppy, flax, pumpkin, sunflower;
  • beets, carrots, cabbage, Jerusalem artichoke, baked potatoes;
  • tomato, cucumbers;
  • garlic;
  • legumes (chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils);
  • mustard, cumin, fennel, coriander seeds.

trace elements

Iron is an integral part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to tissues and organs, and carbon dioxide back to the lungs.  It is thanks to the combination of iron with oxygen that our blood has a red color. In addition to hemoglobin, the iron element is involved in many metabolic, redox and immune processes. The average daily iron intake is 10 mg for men, 15-20 mg for women (18 mg for pregnant and lactating women), the maximum allowable intake per day is 45 mg. Where can you find such an important element:

  • legumes: chickpeas, beans, peas, lentils, soybeans;
  • cereals: buckwheat, oatmeal, whole grain wheat and rye flour, sprouted grains;
  • apples, apricots, dates, figs (especially dried), pomegranate, raisins, prunes;
  • broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, asparagus;
  • nuts: peanuts, almonds, cashews, etc.;
  • greens: lettuce, and especially spinach, basil, thyme, parsley, marjoram, mint;
  • seeds: flax, pumpkin, chia, sunflower;
  • spirulina;
  • chocolate;
  • spices: coriander, turmeric, dried laurel, oregano, sage, ginger, etc.

It should be remembered that a diet dominated by boiled and refined foods ensures the absorption of only 3% of iron from food.

Zinc takes part in the synthesis of the breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, in the functioning of the immune system and hormone-producing glands, wound healing and detoxification of the body. The daily norm of zinc is 15-25 mg. During pregnancy, due to the indispensability of zinc for the normal development and growth of the child, the need for it increases and amounts to 100 mg during the entire period of pregnancy. It is found in the following products:

  • pumpkin, sunflower, sesame seeds;
  • cereals: whole grain products, bran, germ parts of grain, oatmeal, buckwheat. In the wheat milling process, actually 80% is lost;
  • spinach, chard, asparagus;
  • potatoes, cabbage, beets, carrots;
  • apples, plums, cherries;
  • legumes: beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, peas;
  • basil, parsley, dill, coriander, thyme, mustard seeds.

Vitamins are organic substances contained in food and necessary for the functioning of all heterotrophic organisms. Vitamins are found in food (or in the environment) in very small amounts and are therefore considered micronutrients. They are not synthesized in the human body (except for vitamins D, which is produced under the action of sunlight, A, obtained from provitamins, K and B3), and therefore must be present in sufficient quantities in the diet. The main sources of vitamins are vegetables, fruits and berries.

Vitamin A (beta-carotene) is very important for the functioning of the visual organs, fighting infections and maintaining skin health. Plant foods contain carotene (provitamin A), which is converted into vitamin A in the liver and intestines of a person under the influence of the enzyme carotinase. The daily dose of provitamin A is 4.5-5 mg. It is worth considering that vitamin A accumulates in the human body and can last up to 2-3 years. Can be found in many foods, especially orange:

  • pumpkin, cantaloupe;
  • carrots, potatoes, tomatoes;
  • papaya, apricot, mango;
  • broccoli, collard greens (kale) and other green leaves;
  • red bell pepper;
  • sea ​​buckthorn, mountain ash, wild rose.

Vitamin E (tocopherol) regulates the process of reproduction, metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, protects cells from free radicals. Sources:

  • vegetable oils;
  • wheat germ;
  • sunflower seeds;
  • hazelnuts, almonds, peanuts;
  • avocado;
  • tomatoes;
  • green beans;
  • kiwi, mango.

Vitamin B1 (thiamine) promotes the conversion of carbohydrates, fats and proteins into energy, normalizes blood circulation, the functions of the nervous system.
Contained in:

  • shells of cereal grains, wheat germ;
  • buckwheat and oatmeal;
  • ground sesame;
  • sunflower and flax seeds;
  • beans, asparagus.

Vitamin B9 (folic acid) contributes to the growth and proper development of the body, the metabolism of homocysteine ​​and stimulates blood formation in the bone marrow. Under the influence of intestinal bacteria, it can be synthesized in the human large intestine. Sources:

  • green vegetables with leaves;
  • legumes;
  • citrus;
  • salads, green onions.

The most worrying issue is the lack of vitamin B12 in strict vegetarians (vegans) and raw foodists, which is extremely important for the formation of red blood cells, the neutralization of chemicals, etc. This vitamin is the only one that is synthesized exclusively by microorganisms (bacteria, actinomycetes); people need it in very small amounts (for an adult - 2.4 mcg per day). There is an opinion (including one cited by scientists from all over the world) that it is found only in food of animal origin (including dairy and sour-milk products). Many sources of information for vegans state that B12 can be found in blue-green algae and spirulina, tempeh (a fermented product made from soybeans), mushrooms (including chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, morels, champignon mushrooms, etc.), some other plant products, as well as the fact that it can be synthesized not only in the human large intestine, but also in small quantities in the small intestine. However, the statistics now available indicate a high probability of B12 deficiency , if for a long time you do not consume either animal products or synthesized B12 in the form of injections, tablets or foods enriched with it (soy and other plant milk, breakfast cereals, etc.) . It is highly likely that B12 deficiency will not show up for the first few years after changing the diet, and may be subtle later on. But in general, vegans are encouraged to add vitamin B12 (or foods fortified with it) to their diets. Be sure to monitor your condition and in case of any violations or concerns, take the necessary tests.

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) improves immunity, regulates redox processes, protects against free radicals, reduces the risk of sclerosis. Found in almost all fruits and vegetables. Main sources:

  • wild rose, sea buckthorn;
  • black currant, raspberry, strawberry;
  • kiwi, oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemon peel;
  • parsley, lettuce;
  • broccoli, cauliflower;
  • tomatoes, red pepper.

Vitamin F (omega-3 and omega-6, unsaturated fatty acids) is the building block for fats, which the body needs as nutrients. It also regulates blood clotting, participates in the metabolism of cholesterol, has an anti-allergic effect and many other functions. Sources:

  • vegetable oils of linseed, wheat ovaries, mustard, sunflower, walnut;
  • avocado;
  • almonds and other nuts;
  • brown rice, corn.

Amino acids are synthesized by our body by enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract from proteins that we get from food. In the process of digestion, 12 of the 20 amino acids necessary for life are formed. The remaining eight, which we cannot synthesize on our own (because animals and humans lack the necessary enzyme), we must obtain from food in finished form. These 8 amino acids are called essential (contrary to popular belief that they cannot be replaced with plant foods!). A healthy human microflora (in many people it is pathogenic putrefactive due to meat food) effectively processes plant fiber into excellent quality protein. Moreover, plant foods have another important advantage: along with amino acids, you get the substances necessary for the most complete absorption of proteins: carbohydrates, vitamins, trace elements, hormones, chlorophyll, etc.

Essential amino acids (proteins) can be found in the following foods:

  • soy products (more than 100% of the daily protein requirement): tempeh, tofu, milk, soy meat;
  • quinoa, brown (unpeeled) rice, buckwheat, oats and other grains (preferably whole grains);
  • chia seeds, alfalfa, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp;
  • peanuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, pine nuts (use in moderation due to high fat content);
  • green beans (2 cups contain 26 grams of protein!), chickpeas, beans, lentils and other legumes;
  • asparagus, broccoli;
  • potatoes, corn;
  • dried apricot and peach;
  • amaranth, spinach, chard.

Important! Excess protein intake should be guarded against as it can lead to imbalances and serious kidney and bone diseases.

So, you can be sure that in addition to the controversial vitamin B12, all other trace elements in their original form in sufficient quantities can be obtained from plant foods with further synthesis in your own body. Try it and see for yourself! Be healthy! 🙂

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Victoria Shurupova Victoria Shurupova


  1. A study was conducted, unfortunately I will not say that vitamin B12 is produced by our body. But for this, there must be a certain flora in the intestines, and a lack of this vitamin can occur due to disturbed flora. And if the analyzes show a deficiency, then this is not a fact that you need to take it additionally.

    1. Yes, I read the same information about B12. Like many others 🙂 It is difficult to get an unambiguously objective conclusion from the data on the Internet, but I myself am inclined to the same version (its references seemed more convincing and authoritative).

        1. The Russian-language Wikipedia you quote: “B12 is a vitamin that is not found in plant food sources” is somewhat at odds with the English-language one : “Vitamin B12 is rare from plant sources”.

          Even in the same English-language Wikipedia, for example, there is such information: “In Hong Kong and India, vitamin B12 deficiency has been found in roughly 80% of the vegan population as well,” i.e. the problem is big, but not 100%. Whether the remaining 20% ​​is taking supplements, from the Abstract to this study , I definitely did not understand. Moreover, the same scientific article claims that the problem is clearly observed in vegetarians who consume dairy products (and, by the way, eggs too, still being called vegetarians ...). It turns out (from this study) that even such a vegetarian diet is not complete and needs supplements, if we talk about the masses, i.e. statistics and possible (not to be confused with mandatory) consequences.

          In particular, there are different situations, and everything is not so simple. But with the fact that the available statistics unequivocally recommend the use of B12 supplements, we have to agree.

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