7 Supplements You Need on a Vegan Diet
Vegan diets are a common concern if they offer all the necessary vitamins and minerals to your body.
Many claim that a diet based on whole foods easily satisfies any nutrient requirement.
Some even encourage vegans to avoid any additives.
While this type of advice is good, it can do more harm than good.
Here are seven nutrients that you may need to add to a vegan diet.
Unwashed organic food, mushrooms grown on soils rich in B12, nori, spirulina, chlorella and nutritional yeast, often high in vitamin B12.
Some believe that vegans who eat enough of the right plant foods need not worry about a deficiency of vitamin B12.
However, there is no scientific basis for this belief.
Several studies show that while anyone with low B12 levels of vitamin has a higher risk of deficiency. This seems to be especially true for vegans who do not take any supplements.
Vitamin B12 is important for many body processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of red blood cells that carry oxygen. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system.
Too little vitamin B12 can cause damage to anemia and the nervous system, as well as infertility, bone disease and heart disease.
The recommended daily intake for adults is 2.4 mcg per day, 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy and 2.8 mcg per day during breastfeeding (4).
The only scientifically proven way vegans can reach these levels is by eating B12-fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement. B12-fortified foods commonly include plant milk, soy products, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Some plant foods naturally appear to contain a form of vitamin B12, but there is still debate as to whether this form is active in humans.
In addition, no scientific evidence supports the use of unwashed organic products as a reliable source of vitamin B12.
Nutritional yeast only contains vitamin B12 when fortified. Vitamin B12 is light-sensitive, however, and can degrade if it is purchased or stored in clear plastic bags.
It is important to remember that in small doses, vitamin B12 is best absorbed. The less often you ingest vitamin B12, the more you need to take.
That is why vegans who are unable to reach the recommended daily intake using fortified foods should opt for a daily supplement that provides 25–100 mcg of cyanocobalamin or a weekly dosage of 2,000 mcg.
Those who are weary of taking supplements may find it reassuring to have their blood vitamin B12 levels checked before taking any.
But be aware that high intakes of seaweed, folic acid or vitamin B6 can falsely inflate markers of vitamin B12. For this reason, instead of evaluating your methylmalonic acid status, you may want your healthcare practitioner.
Interestingly, your ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age. Therefore, the Institute of Medicine recommends that everyone over the age of 51 — vegan or not — consider fortified foods or a vitamin B12 supplement.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps improve your intestinal absorption.
It also influences other physical processes, including immune function, mood, memory, and muscle recovery.
For children and adults, the RDA for vitamin D is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day. The elderly, as well as lactating or pregnant women, should have 800 IU per day (20 mcg).
However, there is evidence that your daily requirements are actually far higher than the current RDA.
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods enriched with vitamin D are often considered insufficient to meet everyday needs.
Partly due to worldwide reports of vitamin D deficiency in vegans and omnivores.
Besides the low amount you get from your diet, sun exposure can also produce vitamin D. Most people are likely to make enough vitamin D if the sun is strong by spending 15 minutes in the midday sun— as long as they don’t use sunscreen.
But the elderly, the darker-skinned, the northern-or the colder, and those who do not spend much time outdoors, may not be able to produce enough.
In addition, many dermatologists warn against the use of sun exposure to increase vitamin D levels due to the known negative effects of excess UV radiation.
The best way for vegans to ensure they receive sufficient vitamin D is to test their blood. Those who can’t get enough of enhanced food and sunshine should consider taking a daily supplement of vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3.
Although vitamin D2 is likely sufficient for most people, some studies have shown that vitamin D3 appears to be more effective in increasing blood vitamin D levels.
For this reason, you may want to try a vegan vitamin D3 option such as Vitashine or Viridian.
Omega-3 fatty acids may be divided into two categories:
Essential omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, that is, you can only get it from your diet.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are included in this category. They are not considered technically essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are of structural importance to your brain and eyes. Suitable diets also seem important for brain development and for preventing inflammation, depression, breast cancer, and ADHD.
High ALA plants are flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and soybeans. Most EPA and DHA are found in animal products such as fatty fish and fish oil.
In theory, sufficient ALA should maintain adequate levels of EPA and DHA. But studies have shown that the conversion of ALA to EPA could be as low as 5 percent, while the conversion to DHA could be nearly 0 percent.
Furthermore, research has consistently shown that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50 percent lower levels of EPA and DHA blood and tissues than omnivores.
While there is no official RDA, many healthcare professionals agree that EPA and DHA supplements of 200–300 mg should be sufficient per day.
By supplementing algae oil, Vegans can achieve this recommended intake.
Make sure you eat enough ALA-rich foods, minimize the intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils such as maize, soy, safflower, sunflower and sesame, and may further help maximize EPAs and DHA.
Enough iodine is essential to a healthy thyroid function that controls your metabolism.
An iodine deficiency may cause irreversible mental retardation during pregnancy and early childhood.
Insufficient intake of iodine can lead to adult hypothyroidism.
This can cause symptoms such as low energy, dry skin, hand-and-feet tingling, forgetfulness, depression, and weight gain.
Vegans are considered at risk of iodine deficiency and studies have shown that vegans have blood iodine levels up to 50 percent lower than vegetarians.
For adults, the RDA is 150 mcg of iodine per day. Pregnant women should have 220 mcg per day and should increase their daily intake to 290 mcg per day.
The levels of iodine in plant foods depend on the iodine content of the soil. For example, foods grown near the ocean tend to be higher in iodine.
The only foods that are considered to have consistently high levels of iodine include iodine salt, seafood, algae and dairy products that collect iodine from solutions for cleaning cows and farms.
Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodine is enough to meet your everyday needs.
Vegans who do not want to eat iodine salt or who do not want to eat seaweed several times a week should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Iron is a nutrient used to produce new DNA and red blood cells and carries oxygen into the blood. It is also necessary for the energy metabolism.
Too little iron can lead to fatigue and reduced immune function. Symptoms and anemia.
For men who are adults and women after menopause, the RDA is 8 mg. It increases to 18 mg per day for adult women, and it is expected that pregnant women will reach 27 mg per day.
There are two types of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron can only be found in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants.
Because heme iron is easier to absorb from your diet than non-heme iron, it is often recommended that vegans target 1.8 times the RDA. That being said, more studies are needed to determine whether such high consumption is really necessary.
Low iron intake vegans should seek to eat more iron-rich foods such as cruciferous foods, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Further help can be given to iron-enhanced foods such as cereals, enriched bread and some herbal milk.
In addition, using cast-iron pots and pans to cook tea or coffee with meals and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C may increase iron absorption.
The best way to determine if supplements are needed is to check your health care practitioner for your levels of hemoglobin and ferritin.
Unnecessary intakes of supplements such as iron can be harder than good if cells are damaged or other minerals absorbed from your intestines are obstructed.
Very high concentrations can even cause seizures, lead to organ failure or coma, and sometimes even be fatal. Therefore, it is best not to add unless it is really necessary.
Calcium is a mineral for the bone and teeth. It also plays an important role in muscle function, nerve signaling, and heart health.
The calcium RDA is 1,000 mg / day for most adults and increases to 1,200 mg / day for adults over the age of 50 years.
Calcium sources include bok choy, kale, mosaic greenery, turkey greenery, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium tofu and fortified vegetable milk or juices.
Studies, however, tend to agree that most vegans have insufficient calcium.
A common remark among vegans is that vegan people have lower calcium consumption than omnivores because these minerals do not neutralize the acidity of a meat-rich diet.
Further research is needed to assess the effects of meatless diets on the daily calcium needs. However, there is evidence that vegans with less than 525 mg of calcium tend to be more susceptible to bone fractures.
All vegans are therefore encouraged to target the RDA to ensure that they consume at least 525 mg of calcium per day. Additives should be used if this can not be achieved by diet or food alone fortified.
Zinc is a mineral that is essential for metabolism, immune function, and body cell repair.
Inadequate zinc intake can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhoea and a delayed wound treatment.
The RDA for zinc is now set at 8–9 mg for adults per day. For pregnant women, it rises to 11–12 mg and for nursing women to 12–13 mg.
Actually, few plant foods contain zinc. In addition, due to their phytate content, zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited. Vegetarians are therefore encouraged to target the RDA 1.5 times.
Although not all vegans are low in blood zinc, a recent review of 26 studies found that vegetarians–and in particular vegans–have lower zinc levels and slightly lower levels of blood zinc than omnivores.
To maximize your intake, eat a number of zinc-rich foods all day long. All grains, wheat germ, tofu, brown bread, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Eating foods like tempeh, miso, and sufficient protein overnight, and eating fermented foods, also seems to boost absorption.
Vegans who are concerned about their intake or symptoms of deficiency may consider taking a supplement of 50%-100% daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate.
Take Home Message
Well-planned vegan diets can meet the nutritional requirements of all life stages.
This means that it can be difficult to achieve certain nutrient requirements through diet alone and fortified foods.
This applies in particular to long-chain vitamin B12, vitamin D andomega-3s.
All vegans who are unable to fulfill their dietary recommendations through diet alone should take supplements seriously. However, it is best to talk with your health care provider before starting a new supplementary regime.