A common concern for vegans is whether they obtain adequate amounts of certain nutrients from food. Here’s what you need to know about supplements.
As a vegan, you’ve made the choice to do what is best for the health of animals and the planet. Being in a position of privilege to choose what you eat, you’ve made it your responsibility to make a conscious decision to lessen the exploitation of animals and humans, as well as the burden of climate change on the rest of the world.
However, this choice comes with some considerations. If you’re vegan, you’ve probably wondered, “What supplements should I be taking?”
This answer is highly dependent on what you eat, your lifestyle and where you live, because supplementation should be as individualized as you. In general, vegans have better nutrient intakes than meat-eaters because they’re eating more nutrient-dense plant foods, including vegetables (particularly dark leafy greens), fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Whatever your dietary choices, it’s important to get enough essential nutrients. If you’re not able to do that through food, consider these supplement options.
1. Vitamin B12
One thing that every vegan needs to know is that the only reliable vegan sources of vitamin B12 are fortified foods and supplements. There is too much misinformation floating around about mushrooms, seaweed, unwashed produce and other plant foods containing adequate amounts of active vitamin B12 when in fact, they don’t.
B12 is a water soluble vitamin and is very affordable in supplement form, and there is no excuse not to get your B12 through the following:
- Eat fortified foods with 2-3.5 micrograms of vitamin B12 twice per day
- Supplement with 25-100 micrograms of vitamin B12 daily
- Supplement with 1000 micrograms of vitamin B12 once per week
2. Vitamin D
Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is synthesized by our bodies when our skin is exposed to UV light. Regardless of your diet, there are many factors that could prevent you from making adequate vitamin D, including dark skin tone and living at a high latitude (where the sun’s rays aren’t very strong).
However, this is not a vegan-specific issue; in fact, 1 billion people are vitamin D deficient or insufficient worldwide.
There are just a few food sources that contain vitamin D naturally, and none of them are vegan. There are some mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light that contain vitamin D, but be sure to check the label and do not assume all mushrooms contain vitamin D..
To get enough vitamin D, do one of the following:
- Eat fortified foods with at least 600 IU of vitamin D daily
- Supplement with at least 600 IU of vitamin D daily*
* The ideal vitamin D intake is highly contested. There is evidence suggesting we need much more than 600 IU per day (more like at least 1000 IU per day). Before you take more than 1000 IU per day, talk to your doctor. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level of vitamin D is 4000 IU for adults. If deficient, your healthcare provider may recommend very high doses, but only do so under their guidance.
Note: vitamin D2 is the vegan form of vitamin D. If a label says D3 from lichen, that is vegan too.
3. DHA and EPA
These long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for heart health. Chia, flax, and walnuts are good sources of ALA, which our bodies can turn into DHA and EPA. The issue is that many people have low conversion rates, so taking a vegan DHA and EPA supplement can offer some peace of mind.
Vegan DHA and EPA comes from algae, which is how fish obtain it (and why fatty fish such as salmon are touted as such a good source of omega-3s). There are several kinds of vegan DHA and EPA supplements on the market. Omega-3 needs vary by sex — adult females need 1.1 grams/day and men need 1.6 grams/day. Generally, aim to:
- Eat 1-2 servings of ALA-rich foods daily
- Supplement with 200-300 milligrams of vegan DHA and EPA every 2-3 days
While it is possible to get enough calcium from plant foods, some people fall short. In that case, it might be a good idea to take a supplement.
Good sources of calcium include calcium-fortified milks, cooked greens and calcium-set tofu. If you’re not eating a few servings of these foods every day (to total 1,000 milligrams), then consider making up the difference with a calcium supplement.
Iodine can often be forgotten in discussions around plant-based nutrition. Meat eaters get iodine from cow’s milk and sea animals, whereas vegans often obtain it from sea plants, iodized salt and supplements.
Just ½ teaspoon of iodized salt contains all the iodine you need for the day, which you can use while cooking and salting your food at home.
There is plenty of iron to go around in the plant kingdom, but if you’re prone to iron-deficiency anemia (typically if you’re a menstruating person or athlete), supplements may be necessary.
One way to increase the iron you absorb from food is to eat vitamin C-rich foods along with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C-rich foods include strawberries, bell peppers, tomatoes and citrus. Plant-based sources of iron include beans and lentils, spinach, Swiss chard, tempeh, almonds and pistachios.
It’s also important not to drink coffee or tea, or take calcium supplements with iron-containing foods as they inhibit absorption. This is the reason why you won’t find a supplement that’s high in both iron and calcium — which can be challenging because these are two important nutrients for women. If you need to supplement with both, be sure to take them at different times of the day.
Adapted from the original article.
Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN is a Chicago-based Registered Dietitian who helps others lead a life of compassion that improves their overall relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies. As an expert in eco-ethical and vegan lifestyles, she’s passionate about helping individuals end their struggle with food and live an unrestricted life in the kitchen. Learn more about Taylor at Whole Green Wellness.