Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals

Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals

Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals

Why do we assume plant-based foods are healthy? 

I used to thiVitamins and Minerals - Plants vs Animalsnk it was because fruits and vegetables were a good source of fiber and antioxidants. I thought these powerful plant ingredients fought off cancer and disease and promoted health and longevity. But after finding no validity to these claims, I surely thought it was because of their vitamins and minerals.

“How do the vitamins and minerals of plant vs animals compare?”

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients. Whereas macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) provide energy, micronutrients help release energy from these macronutrients while also performing myriad of functions like healing wounds, bolstering the immune system, and repairing cellular damage.


Vitamins are organic compounds found in plants and animals. Because they are compounds they can be broken down by things like heat and acid. They are more “fragile” than minerals. And therefore, cooking, storage, and even air exposure can inactivate them.

There are 13 essential vitamins that we need in our diet:

  • Vitamin A*
  • Vitamin B (there are 8 B vitamins)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D*
  • Vitamin E*
  • Vitamin K*

Four of these vitamins are fat soluble* and the other nine (C and B vitamins) are water soluble. This is important because fat soluble vitamins get stored in body tissues, mainly fatty tissues and the liver.

Taking in too much for too long can lead to hypervitaminosis (too much vitamin). Deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins can also occur especially with inadequate fat intake or a diet poor in these vitamins.

In contrast, the water soluble vitamins, B and C, do not store up in the body. If you consume more than you need, the excess is excreted. However, unlike the fat soluble vitamins that store up, vitamins B and C must be continuously replenished in the diet.


Minerals are inorganic elements also found in both plant and animal foods. As elements, they hold their chemical structure and aren’t broken down like vitamins.

There are 16 essential minerals that we need in our diet:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur
  • Sodium
  • Chloride
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Manganese
  • Iodine
  • Selenium
  • Molybdenum
  • Chromium
  • Fluoride

These minerals play important roles in basically every function of the body. They help regulate blood pressure and fluid balances. They keep muscle and nerve cells firing. They deliver oxygen and facilitate cellular growth and replication. As with vitamins, mineral deficiencies and toxicities can occur if intake is inadequate or in excess.

Plant vs Animal: Vitamins and Minerals

If you take nothing else away from this article, this is what I would remember:

  • Plant-based food does not provide complete nutrition. It is missing essential nutrients that humans must get through animal foods.
  • Meat provides complete nutrition. It contains all the macro and micronutrients humans need to function.

Throughout human history, animal-based foods were the only ones that would have been available year round. If meat didn’t provide complete nutrition, humans wouldn’t exist.

Vitamins – Plants vs Animals

There are 3 vitamins in particular that are inadequate/absent in most plant-based foods.

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D3
  • Vitamin K2

Without eating meat-based foods there is a serious risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. While trace amounts can be obtained in some plant foods, fungi, and eating soil, to get adequate amounts it’s nearly essential to eat meat or supplement.

Vitamin B12 is vital to making our DNA, RNA, and blood cells. And a deficiency leads to tiredness and weakness, megaloblastic anemia, and can devastate the nervous system. People who are deficient in vitamin B12 can experience a host of problems including imbalance, depression, confusion and dementia. (r, r, r)

Let’s look at a comparison between plant and meat vitamins and minerals.

  • Vitamin A – It is approximately 20 times more bioavailable in animal-based food than plant-based foods.
    • In fact, plant foods don’t actually have vitamin A. They have carotenoids which have to be converted to Vitamin A.
  • Vitamin B – Animal-based foods are the best source of B Vitamins. Especially B12.
  • Vitamin C – Plant-based foods are a better source of vitamin C. Does it matter? (Hint: Yes and No.)
  • Vitamin D – Plants don’t contain Vitamin D3 (the form our body needs). Sun and meat is our answer here.
    • Plants have Vitamin D2, and our body can convert some D2 to D3
    • Fungi are also a source of vitamin D
  • Vitamin E – Plant-based foods have higher concentrations of vitamin E.  And for good reason. A plant-based diet requires additional protection from oxidation of PUFA which Vitamin E helps provide through its antioxidant properties. It’s still found in adequate supply in meat.
  • Vitamin K – Both plant and animal foods have the K1 version; however, plants don’t have K2 which is vital for human life.
    • K2 also has numerous forms. The essential kind we need is MK-4, which is only in animal food. We can convert some K1 to MK-4 but generally not enough to meet our needs.

References: (r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r, r)

Minerals – Plants vs Animals

While all essential minerals can be found in both plant and animal foods, there is a stark difference in absorption of these micronutrients. Animal-based nutrients have higher bioavailability as well as less hindrance from antinutrients that come “pre-packaged” with plant-based food.

Bioavailability and Antinutrients

Iron is a prime example of the difference in bioavailability between plant-based and animal-based minerals. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. And since iron plays a vital role in carrying oxygen to cells throughout the body, deficiencies lead to fatigue, weakness, pallor, and anemia. Memory and cognitive problems are common symptoms when iron levels get too low.

There are two kinds of iron.

  1. Plant iron = non-heme iron.
  2. Animal iron = heme iron.

Plant iron, the non-heme version, is at least 3X less bioavailable than heme iron from animal sources. To make matters worse, plant-based foods contain antinutrients that further inhibit the absorption of numerous minerals, including iron. Phytates, for example, interfere with the absorption of plant iron, thereby making a poor source of iron even worse.

vitamins and minerals - plants vs animalsStudies have shown that vegetarians often have similar iron intakes to omnivores on paper, yet they suffer a higher degree of iron deficiencies. For example, a study of 75 vegan women found that 40% of them were iron deficient, despite having iron intakes that were above the recommended daily allowance (RDA).

Antinutrients are another topic all unto themselves.

But in essence, plants contain phytochemicals used to deter predators from eating them. Many of these phytochemical interfere with absorption of essential vitamins and minerals. Iron, calcium magnesium, and zinc are all hindered by various antinutrients. So when a plant-based food says it has 50% of your RDA of zinc, it may be off, way off.

In contrast, meat doesn’t contain these antinutrients, rather it contains vitamins and minerals in forms easy for us to absorb and utilize. (r, r, r, r, r)

Micronutrient Concentrations

Plant-based foods aren’t just harder to absorb, but they tend to have smaller quantities of the “big hitters.”

For example, many plant-based foods are lower in iodine and zinc compared to animal foods.

When comparing plant and animal vitamin and minerals we have to keep in mind:

  • The concentration / quantity provided in the food source
  • The bioavailability of that micronutrient in its particular form (i.e. heme vs non-heme iron)
  • The antinutrients that further inhibit availability

Beyond Micronutrients

It’s important to evaluate other nutritional differences between plants and animal foods beyond their micronutrients.


Most plant-based foods are incomplete proteins. This means various plant-based foods have to be combined to get all the amino acids needed. Exacerbating the situation, these proteins are mostly found in plant seeds which often contain the highest concentrations of antinutrients and phytochemicals that can impair human health. Animal-sourced protein is complete protein.


Plant and animal fat content are also quite different. EPA and DHA are essential fatty acids not found in most plant-based foods (algae is a notable exception).

Further, evidence suggest that a ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s should be around 1:1. However, vegetable oils greatly overwhelm this ratio towards pro-inflammatory omega-6s. Animals that are raised on their natural diet often have a ratio close to 1:1; however, animals raised on an unnatural diet can also skew this ratio towards omega-6s. (r)


Animal foods are naturally low in carbohydrates. You can get some carbs in organ meats, some in dairy from the lactose, but for the most part, animal food is low in carbohydrates.

Plant-based foods are high in carbohydrates. Based on the fact that hyperinsulinemia underlies almost every modern chronic disease, it’s likely humans aren’t designed to handle high doses of carbohydrate. Which is exactly what has happened thanks to the agricultural revolution and exacerbated via the industrial revolution that brought us refined, processed carbs.

There is no such thing as an essential carbohydrate. Humans don’t need to eat carbs. In fact, a look at human anatomy through evolution reveals what humans are actually designed to eat. (r)

Glucose also impacts micronutrient absorption. For example, glucose and Vitamin C look very similarly molecularly and they compete with each other for absorption. The less glucose one consumes, the less vitamin C one needs. And it’s not just vitamin C. Glucose lowers plasma potassium levels and less glucose leads to better magnesium levels. (r, r)

So what we see is that the lack of carbohydrates in one’s diet alters micronutrient requirements. Thiamine is an excellent example. A “carb burner” requires twice as much thiamine as a “fat burner.” (r, r, r)


Plant-based foods do not supply dietary cholesterol. Only animal-based foods do. Evidence suggest this has significant health implications. Especially for the brain that hogs 25% of all bodily cholesterol.

Context Matters.

The amount of vitamins and minerals one needs is inextricably linked to countless factors such as one’s overall diet, lifestyle, gender, age, ect. Blanket statements and recommendations like RDAs are massive generalizations that can range from a little off to way off.

For example, the switch from a heavy meat-based diet to a heavy plant-based diet results in a higher degree of folate deficiencies. (r) This is contrary to what the “label” may have you predict. Context matters.

We live in a society that often thinks “more is better.” But when it comes to nutrients, the right amount is what we want. A diet “high” in Vitamin C isn’t necessarily better or good. A diet “low” in Vitamin E very well may be optimal in the context of that overall diet.

Context matters.


Plants do contain another macronutrient that animal foods don’t – fiber. Some people think this is why plant-based foods are necessary. However, contrary to popular belief, humans don’t need fiber, and it’s often detrimental in the diet.

For example, many plant-based foods come packaged with insoluble fiber which can bind to magnesium. Thus, fiber acts like an antinutrient preventing nutrient absorption.

Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals

If one wants to eat plant-based foods for their vitamins and minerals, that’s all fine and well. However, it should be recognized that plant-based food is incomplete nutrition requiring the mixing of various plant-based foods together, supplementing, or including animal foods in the diet.

Meat is complete nutrition. It doesn’t require the addition of plant-based foods or supplements to obtain all the macro and micronutrients we need. And I think it’s fair to say that meat is a superior choice to plant-based food for your vitamins and minerals.

If you would like to learn more about micronutrients and how to avoid deficiencies with a meat-based diet, I’d highly recommend watching the Meat Health Masterclass:

46 Replies to “Vitamins and Minerals – Plants vs Animals”

  1. Hi this so interesting but a lot to take in. I take vitc vit d, calcium tabs each day. I excercise but find myself still tired, irritable and get depressed quite easily. I am 62 female. Maybe I am not getting enough minerals? Do you have a balanced meal plan , maybe I am not eating enough good food ? Thanks Gail

    1. Hi Gail, perhaps try adding in a bit more red meat.
      As strange as it sounds, if you changed your 1st meal of the day to just red meat (ideally a more fatty cut like ribeye) and filled up on that first thing (without any carbs) – and watched what happened, I think you’d be amazed.

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