There are many perks to the vegan lifestyle, including the fact that it can be good for your health—as long as you’re ensuring that you get the optimal balance of the nutrients you need. Supplements can help fill in the gaps for vegans, but how do you know which ones you need? We asked professionals to share guidance. Read on to learn more.
Melanie Musson is a wellness expert for the life insurance site, QuickQuote.com.
Iron, calcium and B-12
Iron. Because vegan sources of iron from food aren't as easily absorbed as animal sources, vegans may need an iron supplement to maintain healthy iron levels even if it seems like they’re getting the recommended amount from their diet.
Calcium. Most people equate milk with calcium and believe it’s one of the only sources. That assumption is not true. Green leafy vegetables are good sources of calcium, too. It can be difficult to get enough daily through a vegan diet. It can be done, but vegans need to be intentional about it. A calcium supplement is an easy way to make sure a vegan is getting enough.
B-12. This is probably the most important supplement for a vegan to take. It’s one of the most difficult vitamins to get enough of through food sources alone, and it’s one of the most necessary vitamins for proper bodily function, so it only makes sense that it’s the most essential vitamin for a vegan to take.
Dr. Tina Gupta is a physician, ACE certified fitness nutrition expert and co-founder of the health and wellness site The LifestyleCure. She is the author of the book “SMART & Skinny Habits” which teaches people how to lose weight in order to reverse diabetes.
B12 - Most common deficient vitamin in vegans. It is essential to replace vitamin B12 through diet or supplements (if the body is not absorbing it from food).
DHA and EPA (long-chain Omega 3 fatty acids) - Vegans generally have low levels of DHA and EPA as the main source of both is fish. DHA and EPA are actively converted from ALA (which vegans do get enough of) but a lot of it does not get converted successfully. Therefore vegans must take supplements for them.
Cara Hoepner, MS, RN, CS, PMHNP-BC provides traditional and integrative medicine to individuals living with the challenges of mood, anxiety, trauma, ADHD – and sleep. Find her at bayareapsychiatric.com
Nutrients that most people living a vegan lifestyle will be low in include vitamin B12 and iron, and most clients coming to see me know this, as they have heard these nutrients are found in red meat. Others that are important include calcium and zinc, long-chain fatty acids (omega 3s, found in fish), and iodine.
In addition to healthful foods, supplementation may be used. Here are some suggestions for the supplements, their forms, foods to find them in, and risks of deficiency:
Vitamin B12 helps us to metabolize proteins, supports the nervous system, and the formation of red blood cells.
Magnesium may be low in anyone’s diet depending on their metabolic needs and the quality of their diet and soil their food was grown in. 80% of individuals are low in magnesium when it’s measured in red blood cells.
A vegan diet can be very healthy if done correctly. However, there are a few supplements that vegans need to take in order to ensure they are receiving all the vitamins and minerals necessary for optimal health.
1. The most important supplement for vegans is vitamin B12, which is found in nature only in meat and animal products. B12 is fortified in some foods including plant-based milk and vegan meat substitutes, so this is another option for vegans who prefer not to use supplements.
2. Another important supplement for vegans to take is iron. While iron is found in plant-based foods such as spinach and legumes, the iron from plant-based foods is not as well absorbed as the iron from meat and animal-based sources.
3. A third important supplement for vegans to take is vitamin D (especially those who live in northern areas that don’t see the sun year-round). While you can get vitamin D from the sun, the only other good sources of vitamin D are animal-based foods. Mushrooms do have a good amount of vitamin D, but this form is not as bioavailable as vitamin D from animal sources.
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This mineral is required for thyroid function and helps manage how the body produces and uses energy. The intensity of iodine in plants typically will depend on the soil's iodine content in which it’s grown. In general, the closer to the sea, the more iodine it will contain, and thus vegans are likely to get enough from plant products, but even then, no guarantee remains. Seaweed, which grows naturally in seawater, is a great source of iodine - this includes nori, laver, dulse, and, of course, the kelp family.
The best way to know how much iodine you’re getting is to take a kelp supplement. They are inexpensive, reliable and you don’t have to worry about taking too much.
Non-vegans can easily get their intake of iodine from eating a variety of foods, such as a variety of fish, seaweed, shrimp, and many other kinds of seafood, which are typically substantially rich in iodine.
These vitamins and minerals are generally the ones that are predominantly found in animal and/or seafood-based products. Plant-based foods are usually a poor source of these nutrients. Additionally, some of these supplements, such as iron, are found to be a good source in some vegetables; however, the type of iron in plant-based foods is not as easily absorbed in the human body as the one from animal-based products.
Vitamin D can be obtained from the sun, however the amount of melanin in the skin determines how well it will be absorbed by the human body. Additionally, too much vitamin D can pose additional skin damage risk. Thus, it is extremely crucial to get routine checkups of the blood levels of these particular vitamins so that the proper dosage of supplements and/or need of supplements can be determined.
One vitamin vegans and vegetarians [may] need to take is vitamin B12 or cobalamin as we know it. It plays a vital role in blood cell formation, cell metabolism, production of DNA, and nerve function. An important thing to note is that vitamin B12 can be stored in our bodies for years, and its deficiency is extremely rare. However, vegans and vegetarians might lack it, as plant-based food doesn't contain it.
If they notice some signs of vitamin B12 deficiency such as weakness, tiredness, pale skin, shortness of breath, depression, and heart palpitations, vegans and vegetarians should ensure they take adequate supplementation nasally or orally or eat fortified foods.
Melissa Morris is a certified nutritionist who writes for the life insurance site, QuickQuote.com.
Vegans should consider
A few supplements that vegans should consider include vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and calcium.
Vitamin B12 is found mostly in animal products and is important for red blood cells and energy metabolism. There is some vitamin B12 added to fortified cereals and soy milk, but a supplement might be necessary.
Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats found in fish and are important for heart health, brain health, and joint health.
Iron is best absorbed from animal products but can be also found in some plant products like fortified cereals, beans, rice, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables. It’s important to have your blood levels of iron tested by a health care professional before taking an iron supplement because toxicity can occur.
The best sources of calcium are dairy products, but it can also be found in tofu and some vegetables. Calcium is very important for strong bones, and a deficiency can make bones soft or weak over time.
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, US News, Women’s Health magazine, Huffington Post, Healthline, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reader’s Digest, Lifehack, Insider, and Well+Good among others.
This vitamin is necessary
Most plant-based dieters are lacking some essential nutrients, primarily vitamin B12. This vitamin is necessary for making red blood cells and keeping the brain and nervous system working properly. Since B12 is found in animal foods or fortified foods it is important to make some wise swaps when going plant-based.
Since B12 is not found in plants it has to be supplemented or consumed through fortified foods on a plant-based diet. Common B12 fortified foods include vegan milk, breakfast cereals, and alternative dairy products.
This is a crowdsourced article. Contributors are not necessarily affiliated with this website and their statements do not necessarily reflect the opinion of this website, other people, businesses, or other contributors.
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