One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs. Theoretically, one CAN get all the nutrition they need from plants. Is this always possible in today’s world? Not so much.
With the amount of pollution, toxicity, and erosion of soils, our whole system (including our bodies) does not function optimally. This means a lot of us are faced with hormonal imbalances, nutrient malabsorption, and even plant-based foods may not be as rich in nutrients as they used to be just 50 years ago.
This is why, despite meaning well, the advice to solely survive on whole foods may do more harm than good.
Each individual organism functions differently, this is why it is important to observe your body and make the necessary changes. Here are
6 Supplements To Most Definitely Consider On A Vegan Diet
1. Vitamin B12
Even omnivores are nowadays advised to take a B12 supplement.
B12 deficiency is far more common than most health care practitioners and the general public realize. Data from the Tufts University Framingham Offspring Study suggest that 40 percent of people between the ages of 26 and 83 have plasma B12 levels in the low normal range – a range at which many experience neurological symptoms. Most surprising to the researchers was the fact that low B12 levels were as common in younger people as they were in the elderly.
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, bone disease 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.
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.
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.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is a problem among vegans and omnivores alike.
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 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, there is some evidence that your daily requirements are actually 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 (19, 24).
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.
How to Get Tested for Vitamin D
It may be a good idea to have your blood tested for vitamin D levels every once in a while. One test you may want to consider is the 25-hydroxy vitamin D test, which can measure if you’re getting too little or too much vitamin D (because too much vitamin D can be harmful).
Many experts recommend that you aim for a blood level between 30 and 50. For most people who don’t get a daily dose of about 20 to 30 minutes of direct sun exposure, a daily dose of 2,000 IUs of vitamin D3 will ensure you get the right amount.
And you can also perform an easy self-test for vitamin D deficiency right now.
Here’s how: Press your thumb into your sternum. That’s your breastbone. Press there with your thumb with moderate pressure.
If you experience discomfort when you push with a moderate amount of force, you may have a vitamin D deficiency, and you might want to get checked.
What’s the Difference Between Vitamin D2 and D3?
Most studies seem to indicate that vitamin D3 may be more effective and more beneficial to your body than vitamin D2.
But until recently, most of the vitamin D3 on the market was from animal sources. Now, it’s possible to find vegan D3 supplement options.
Those unable to get enough from fortified foods and sunshine should consider taking a daily vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3 supplement.
3. Long-Chain Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids can be split into two categories:
Essential omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: This category includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not technically considered essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a structural role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also seem important for brain development and preventing inflammation, depression, breast cancer and ADHD (31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36).
Plants with a high ALA content include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and soybeans.
Getting enough ALA should theoretically maintain adequate EPA and DHA levels. However, studies report that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as low as 5%, whereas conversion to DHA may be near 0% (37, 38).
Additionally, research consistently shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA than omnivores (39).
While no official RDA exists, most health professionals agree that 200–300 mg of a supplement containing EPA and DHA per day should be sufficient (39).
Vegans can reach this recommended intake through an algae oil supplement.
Minimizing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and sesame, as well as making sure to eat enough ALA-rich foods, may further help maximize EPA and DHA levels (40).
Chia seeds and flax seeds, in particular, have abundant ALA, which the body can convert to EPA and DHA. (Remember: It’s important to grind or crush the seeds so your body can get the beneficial nutrients.) Walnuts and hemp seeds also provide ALA.
But whether you’re getting enough depends on the amount of ALA you’re consuming, your conversion efficiency, and your body’s particular needs.
Considering how critically important EPA and DHA are to human health, supplementation is probably a good idea for most people – and especially for those who don’t eat consistent amounts of salmon, sardines, or other high-fat fish.
How much do you need? There’s no official recommendation, but most experts suggest a minimum of 250-500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults.
4. Vitamin K
How Vitamin K2 Can Benefit Everyone, Including Plant-Based Eaters
There are two forms of vitamin K:
K1 is found in plants, especially green, leafy vegetables.
K2 is lesser-known and harder to obtain in our modern diets. It’s found in dairy products, in egg yolks, and in some fermented foods.
Vitamin K2 is important because it’s associated with reduced bone loss, reduced risk of hip and bone fractures, and reduced rate of osteoporosis.
K2 is most effective when combined with vitamin D to promote strong bones and a healthy heart.
Our bodies can convert K1 to K2. But it’s uncertain how much is being converted, and our bodies produce less K2 as we age.
K2 supplements are widely recommended, and they may be especially beneficial for people who don’t consume dairy products or fermented foods on a regular basis.
Plant-based sources of K2 include sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and natto.
Because there’s widespread variance in how efficiently humans convert K1 to K2, many experts recommend that adults aim to take approximately 100 mcg of K2 per day.
Zinc Is Important for Many Vegans, Vegetarians, and Plant-Based Eaters — Especially As You Age
Zinc is an important trace mineral everyone needs to stay healthy.
It’s necessary for your body’s immune system to work properly. It also plays a role in cell growth, wound healing, and breaking down carbohydrates. It’s also been found effective in helping to fight the common cold.
Plant foods, such as beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, oats, and nutritional yeast, are good sources of zinc.
But the zinc in plant foods is sometimes bound to phytates, making it more difficult for the body to absorb this nutrient.
Soaking and sprouting can help reduce the phytates, but even then, many plant-based eaters struggle to get the optimal amount. And keep in mind that zinc absorption typically decreases as you age.
The reality is, many vegans, vegetarians, and plant-based eaters may be deficient in their zinc levels.
Supplementing with zinc may be the best option for plant-based eaters — and often for older adults in general.
How much should you take? For most adults, 11-13 mg per day is generally the recommended supplemental dose of zinc.
Getting enough iodine is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism.
An iodine deficiency during pregnancy and early infancy can result in irreversible mental retardation (41).
In adults, insufficient iodine intake can lead to hypothyroidism.
This can cause symptoms such as low energy levels, dry skin, tingling in hands and feet, forgetfulness, depression and weight gain (41).
Vegans are considered at risk of iodine deficiency, and studies report that vegans have up to 50% lower blood iodine levels than vegetarians (42, 43).
The RDA for adults is 150 mcg of iodine per day. Pregnant women should aim for 220 mcg per day, and those breastfeeding are recommended to further increase their daily intake to 290 mcg per day (44).
Iodine levels in plant foods depend on the iodine content of the soil. For instance, food grown close to the ocean tends to be higher in iodine.
Vegans who do not want to consume iodized salt or fail to eat seaweed several times per week should consider taking an iodine supplement.
What You Should Take Away from This Article
A diet based on whole plant foods will give you an abundance of most of the micronutrients and macronutrients you need to thrive. But you still may need to consider supplementing with a few nutrients.
When you cover these bases, you optimize your chances of enjoying a long, vibrant, and fabulous life.
Fortunately, taking these supplements can be easy. And compared to the cost of disease, remarkably affordable.
An Easy Way to Get the 3 Nutrients Most Plant-Based Eaters Are Lacking
If you’re eating a predominantly vegan or you want to, the three nutrients you need to be most concerned about are vitamin B12, vitamin D3, and EPA/DHA.
Meeting your needs for these nutrients through supplements can be costly and confusing. But that’s why we’re excited about a new product called Complement.
This supplement is made for plant-based eaters. It’s made with organic, non-GMO, and veganingredients. It’s free of gluten and artificial fillers, additives, and preservatives. It has the right amount of the important nutrients your plant-based diet may be lacking — and nothing more. And it’s a spray, which makes it easy to take directly in your mouth or to add to foods — without any capsules, fillers, or other junk.
Dea is passionate about pursuing gentle, pure living in all its forms. She’s a veg and fruit foodie, who loves to explore the healing properties of plant-based foods and then fully indulge in their sun-filled taste. She believes that “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”