Many people, vegan or not, struggle to maintain balance in their diet and keep their nutrition levels where they need to be. As a general fact, people with dietary preferences no doubt miss out on many nutrients and vitamins that foods they don’t find appetizing supply – and this could lead to major health issues. A lack of vitamin B12, for instance, can cause permanent, irreversible damage to the nervous system.

Yet B12 is one of the many pieces of the nutrition puzzle that vegans and vegetarians will find missing from their standard array of food. Less-strict vegetarians can find the vitamin in fish, but most will have to take a multi-vitamin to ensure their brains don’t lose functionality, because it is not found in any non-animal form (unless something has been purposely fortified with it). Of the top 10 foods highest in vitamin B12, none are vegan, and eggs and cheese are the only non-living creatures on the list. Omega-3 fatty acids are another nutritional element not found in most vegetarian diets (again with the exception of those who include fish), but flaxseed oil and raw walnuts will act as suitable replacements for sea creatures.

Iron tends to be another missing ingredient, but foods like beans and spinach – common ingredients in many vegan dishes – make up for the lack of the mineral, and zinc is found in lima beans as well. Often underrated and overlooked, zinc is key to many reproductive and immune system functions, as well as neurological health.

Most vegetarians and vegans are probably well aware and taking supplements for those missing essentials. And again, most are probably aware that protein is lacking in many vegan diets, but many athletes that require high amounts of protein are able to get their daily intake without issue, so why can’t you? Recently, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster decided to go vegan. So far, he’s been vegan for two weeks, and joins the ranks of other NFL players who are vegan, such as future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez, who has played well into his 30s without much slowing down. Anyone familiar with football positions is aware of how difficult a position running back is to play, and how much of a beating they can take; for this reason, many are concerned that he may wear-down and lack power over the course of this next season.

Foster’s 229-pound frame requires 175 grams of protein per day to make sure his strength does not deteriorate, a number most vegans would look at with fear if they had to maintain it. Without meat, Greek yogurt, and milk, such levels of protein are difficult to reach, especially because most protein powders are unregulated. Tofu and beans are great friends of many herbivores, however, and a half cup of tofu has 19 grams, while a half cup of beans has seven. Luckily, many of us don’t have to concern ourselves with a number that high.

Three other major nutrients that find themselves M.I.A. in vegan diets that most are unaware of are CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid, an anti-oxidant and anti-carcinogen available in pill form), stearic acid, and beef fat. Beef fat, a major nutrient? According to recent studies, consumption of monounsaturated fats (found in beef fats) are linked to a reduction in bad cholesterol and an increase in good cholesterol, and the effects are greater in insulin-dependent individuals. Meanwhile, stearic acid is a saturated fat found in beef and other meats, but despite prevalent thought that saturated fats cause an elevation in cholesterol, research indicates that this acid lowers bad cholesterol. How important these are as cholesterol-balancing agents is totally up to you and whether you have another method.

Neither of those are absolutely essential, but they are undoubtedly helpful. There are several vegan options to circumvent those, however, and they are effective at lowering bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol as well. What have you guys found to be effected at regulating cholesterol? How did you combat the lack of certain nutrients in your diets, and what were the most effective ways to prevent forgetting about them? Let us know, and leave us a comment you might find helpful to others.