While on a vegan diet, it can be difficult to find certain vitamins and minerals contained in the food you eat. Here are some vegan diet supplements that you can take to help your body get the essential vitamins and minerals to remain healthy.
While plant based diets are now growing in popularity, meanwhile there is a common miss understanding surrounding the vegan lifestyle. You may start to find yourself thinking about whether you can get enough nutrients to support a healthy body while on a vegan diet.
Foods often touted to be rich in vitamin B12 include unwashed organic produce, mushrooms grown in B12-rich soils, nori, spirulina, chlorella, and nutritional yeast.
Several studies show that while anyone can have low vitamin B12 levels, vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of deficiency. This seems especially true for vegans who are not taking any supplements.
Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system.
Too little vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and nervous system damage, as well as infertility and bone and heart disease.
The daily recommended intake is 2.4 mcg per day for adults, 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy, and 2.8 mcg per day while breastfeeding.
The only scientifically proven way for vegans to reach these levels is by consuming B12-fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement. B12-fortified foods commonly include plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast only contains vitamin B12 when fortified. However, vitamin B12 is light-sensitive and may degrade if bought from or stored in clear plastic bags.
It’s important to keep in mind that vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small doses. Thus, the less frequently you ingest vitamin B12, the more you need to take.
This is why vegans who are unable to reach the recommended daily intake using fortified foods should opt for a daily supplement providing 25–100 mcg of cyanocobalamin or a weekly dosage of 2,000 mcg.
Those wary of taking supplements may find it reassuring to get their blood levels of vitamin B12 checked before taking any.
Iron is a nutrient used to make new DNA and red blood cells, as well as carry oxygen in the blood. It’s also needed for energy metabolism.
Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms like fatigue and decreased immune function.
The RDA is 8 mg for adult men and post-menopausal women. It increases to 18 mg per day for adult women, and pregnant women should aim for 27 mg per day.
Iron can be found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available from animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants.
Because heme iron is more easily absorbed from your diet than non-heme iron, vegans are often recommended to aim for 1.8 times the normal RDA. That said, more studies are needed to establish whether such high intakes are needed.
Vegans with a low iron intake should aim to eat more iron-rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, enriched breads, and some plant milks, can further help.
Also, using cast-iron pots and pans to cook, avoiding tea or coffee with meals, and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can help boost iron absorption.
The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner.
Unnecessary intake of supplements like iron can do more harm than good by damaging cells or blocking the absorption of other minerals.
Extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma, and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it’s best not to supplement unless it’s truly necessary.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps enhance the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your gut.
This vitamin also influences many other bodily processes, including immune function, mood, memory, and muscle recovery.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D for children and adults is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day. The elderly, as well as pregnant or lactating women, should aim for 800 IU (20 mcg) per day.
That said, some evidence suggests that your daily requirements are far greater than the current RDA.
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods fortified with vitamin D are often considered insufficient to satisfy the daily requirements.
This could partly explain the worldwide reports of vitamin D deficiency among vegans and omnivores alike.
Aside from the small amount you get from your diet, vitamin D can be made from sun exposure. Most people likely make enough vitamin D by spending 15 minutes in the midday sun when the sun is strong — as long as they don’t use any sunscreen and expose most of their skin.
However, the elderly, people with darker skin, those who live in northern latitudes or colder climates, and those who spend little time outdoors may be unable to produce enough.
Furthermore, because of the known negative effects of excess UV radiation, many dermatologists warn against using sun exposure to boost vitamin D levels.
The best way vegans can ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D is to have their blood levels tested. Those unable to get enough from fortified foods and sunshine should consider taking a daily vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3 supplement.
Although vitamin D2 is probably adequate for most people, some studies suggest that vitamin D3 is more effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D.
Calcium is a mineral that’s necessary for good bone and teeth health. It also plays a role in muscle function, nerve signaling, and heart health.
The RDA for calcium is set at 1,000 mg per day for most adults and increases to 1,200 mg per day for adults over the age of 50.
Plant sources of calcium include bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, and fortified plant milks or juices.
However, studies tend to agree that most vegans don’t get enough calcium.
An often-heard remark among the vegan community is that vegans have lower calcium needs than omnivores because they do not use this mineral to neutralize the acidity produced by a meat-rich diet.
More research is needed to evaluate how meatless diets affect daily calcium requirements. However, evidence suggests that vegans consuming less than 525 mg of calcium tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures.
For this reason, all vegans are encouraged to aim for the RDA, making sure they consume at least 525 mg of calcium per day. Supplements should be used if this can’t be achieved through diet or fortified foods alone.
Certain nutrient requirements may be difficult to achieve through diet and fortified foods alone.
This is especially true for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and long-chain omega-3s.
All vegans who are unable to meet their dietary recommendations through diet alone should consider taking supplements. Still, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regime.