The Top 8 Best Supplements For Vegans

Vegan woman holding supplement capsule.

Vegan diets are often criticized for not providing the body with the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. However, many people believe that a plant-based, whole-food diet can easily meet all your daily nutritional needs. Some people even recommend that vegans shun supplements altogether. This advice, while well-intentioned, can cause more harm than good.

This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of eating vegan, and how to make sure that you are meeting all your nutritional needs if you decide to go the vegan route.

The Pros And Cons Of  A Vegan Diet

Going vegan can be a great choice for many reasons, such as:

  • Improving your health: A vegan diet, which consists of only plant-based foods and no animal products, has been associated with a number of health benefits. Because a vegan diet is typically high in fiber, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, it may help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Additionally, a vegan diet may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as promote weight loss. Some studies also suggest that a vegan diet may improve kidney function and lower the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Reducing your environmental impact: By eliminating meat and other animal products from your diet, you can reduce your carbon footprint and help conserve natural resources. A vegan diet requires less land and water than a diet that includes meat and dairy products. According to some estimates, if everyone switched to a vegan diet, it could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70%. Reducing the demand for animal products can also help prevent the destruction of natural habitats and decrease the number of animals living in factory farms.
  • Promoting animal welfare: By not supporting the animal agriculture industry, vegans can reduce the number of animals living in factory farms, where they are often subjected to inhumane living conditions and mistreatment. Furthermore, veganism also eliminates the need for animals to be used in testing of cosmetics, cleaning products, and other consumer goods, which can be harmful to animals.

However, it’s important to consider a few things before making the switch to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need and that your vegan diet is balanced and sustainable.

  • Increased risk for nutrient deficiencies: One of the most important things to consider before going vegan is nutritional deficiencies. Animal products are a rich source of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, therefore it’s important to find plant-based alternatives for these nutrients or to take supplements to ensure that you are getting enough. You will also need to be mindful of protein intake and make sure you are getting enough from plant-based sources such as beans, nuts, and tofu.
  • Greater importance on food variety: Another thing to consider is how you will incorporate a variety of foods into your diet. A balanced diet should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats. Because veganism often comes with a higher intake of carbohydrates and lower intake of protein, it can lead to deficiencies in certain essential amino acids. It’s essential to make sure you are consuming a variety of plant-based protein sources to make up for it.
  • May impact social activities: It’s also important to consider the social aspect of going vegan. Eating out or going to social events may become more difficult, and you may need to bring your own food or make special requests when dining out.

Lastly, it’s important to educate yourself on the best ways to make a transition to a vegan diet. You may want to consult a dietitian or a nutritionist to help you plan a healthy, balanced diet, and to make sure that you are getting all the nutrients that you need.

8 Supplements And Vitamins To Compliment A Vegan Diet

Going vegan can have many benefits but it’s essential to make sure that you are doing it in a sustainable and healthy way, by planning ahead, being mindful of nutrient deficiencies, and seeking professional help if necessary. These nutrients and supplements are essential for maintaining overall health, preventing deficiencies and supporting the optimal function of the body.

1. Vitamin B12

Woman in lab coat holding placard reading "Vitamin B12"

Vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in many of the body’s essential functions. It is required for the proper function of the brain and nervous system, as well as the formation of red blood cells.

The body needs vitamin B12 to make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent a type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia that makes people tired and weak.

Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. This makes it a concern for vegans, as they do not consume these food items and may not get enough vitamin B12 in their diet.

Although some plant foods appear to have a naturally-occurring form of vitamin B12, there is currently debate as to whether this form is active in humans. (1) Additionally, there is no scientific evidence that supports the claim that unwashed organic produce is a reliable source of vitamin B12.

A deficiency in vitamin B12 can lead to serious health problems, such as anemia, nerve damage, and cognitive decline. Long-term deficiency can also increase the risk of developing certain cancers and heart disease.

It is important for vegans to include a reliable source of vitamin B12 in their diet or take a supplement to avoid deficiency and ensure optimal health.

How Much B12 Should Vegans Take?

The recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 for adults is 2.4 micrograms (mcg). (2) However, the amount of vitamin B12 that an individual needs can vary based on their age, sex, and overall health status. It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them.

It’s also important to note that vitamin B12 supplements can interact with certain medications, which is another reason to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen.

For vegans, it’s recommended to regularly take a vitamin B12 supplement or to eat vitamin B12-fortified foods, such as plant-based milk, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast. It is also recommended for vegans to have their B12 levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

Lastly, the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12 becomes reduced as we age. It is therefore advised that all individuals aged 52 and up consider eating fortified foods or taking vitamin B12 supplementation, whether they are vegan or not. (3)

2. Vitamin D

Sun shining through tree leaf with the letter D.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays an important role in the body’s overall health. It helps the body absorb calcium, which is essential for strong bones and teeth. Vitamin D also helps regulate the immune system and can play a role in reducing inflammation in the body.

The body can produce vitamin D naturally when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, the amount of vitamin D the body produces through sun exposure can vary depending on factors such as time of day, latitude, skin pigmentation, and use of sunscreen.

For vegans, vitamin D may be a concern as it can be found in animal-based foods such as fatty fish, egg yolks and liver. There aren’t a lot of foods that naturally contain vitamin D, which is why many packaged foods in the US (such as milk and cereals) have vitamin D added.

Vegans may also have a harder time getting enough vitamin D from sun exposure, as they may avoid sun exposure or use sunscreen, which can reduce the amount of vitamin D the body produces. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to weak bones, muscle weakness and an increased risk of falls in older adults.

To ensure they get enough vitamin D, vegans should consider taking a vitamin D supplement or consuming fortified foods, such as plant-based milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals. It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them and have their vitamin D levels checked regularly.

How much vitamin D should vegans take?

The recommended daily intake of vitamin D for adults is 600-800 International Units (IU) per day. However, the amount of vitamin D that an individual needs can vary based on their age, sex, skin pigmentation, and overall health status.

Also, be aware that some D3 supplements are not vegan-friendly, and may be made from fish or sheep lanolin. Always check the label to verify that it’s a vegan D3 supplement.

It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them. Keep in mind also that vitamin D supplements can interact with certain medications, so it’s always best to consult with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen.

For vegans, it is recommended to take a vitamin D supplement or consume vitamin D-fortified foods, such as plant-based milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals regularly. Also, it is recommended to have their vitamin D levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

It’s also worth noting that many people may need more than 800IU a day, especially those with darker skin, those living in northern latitudes, older adults, and people who are overweight or obese, as well as those who are not exposed to sunlight regularly.

3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Young woman holding up an omega-3 fatty acid supplement capsule

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that are essential for human health. It is a vital component of cell membranes, and plays a role in maintaining the health of the heart, brain and eyes. Omeg-3’s are also anti-inflammatory and can help improve mood and cognitive function.

The main sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish and seafood. However, vegans can obtain omega-3 fatty acids from plant-based sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and algae-based supplements.

It’s important to note that while these plant-based sources of omega-3s are rich in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is an important omega-3 fatty acid, the body’s ability to convert ALA into the more beneficial forms of omega-3s such as EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is limited.

Therefore, vegans may need to consume more of these plant-based sources to get the same amount of EPA and DHA found in fish. However, research indicates that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as little as 5–10%, while its conversion to DHA may only be 2–5%. (4)

Furthermore, studies routinely show that vegans and vegetarians have EPA and DHA levels as much as 50% lower than those of omnivores. (5) A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can lead to dry skin, poor memory, and mood swings. It can also increase the risk of heart disease, depression, and other chronic diseases.

To ensure they get enough omega-3 fatty acids, vegans should consider taking an algae-based supplement or consuming foods rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, regularly.

How much omega 3 fatty acids should vegans take?

The recommended daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids for adults is 250-500 mg (milligrams) per day of EPA and DHA combined. However, the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that an individual needs can vary based on their age, sex, and overall health status.

It’s recommended that vegans consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them. It’s also important to note that omega-3 fatty acids supplements can interact with certain medications, so it’s always best to consult with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen.

For vegans, it’s recommended to consume foods rich in ALA, such as flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and walnuts, and consider taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement to meet the daily recommended intake of EPA and DHA.

Algae-based supplements are considered a reliable source of ALA, EPA and DHA for vegans and vegetarians, as they provide the long-chain omega-3s that are most beneficial to human health. Also, it is recommended that vegans have their omega-3 levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

4. Iron

Cast iron skillet surrounded by various iron-rich vegetables.

Iron is a mineral that is essential for the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. It also helps muscles store and use oxygen.

Iron is found in two forms, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron, which makes up about 40% of the iron in animal tissue, is well absorbed. Non-heme iron, which makes up about 60% of the iron in animal tissue and all the iron in plants (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts) is less well absorbed.

For vegans, iron can be a concern as it is mainly found in animal-based foods such as red meat, poultry, and fish. Vegetarian sources of iron such as leafy greens, beans, lentils, and fortified cereals, are non-heme sources, which are not as well absorbed as heme iron. Additionally, some compounds found in plant-based foods, such as phytates and tannins, can inhibit the absorption of non-heme iron.

A deficiency in iron can lead to anemia, fatigue, poor immune function, and decreased cognitive function. To ensure they get enough iron, vegans should include iron-rich foods in their diet such as leafy greens, beans, lentils, and fortified cereals. They can also increase their absorption of iron by consuming vitamin C-rich foods along with iron-rich foods, such as citrus fruits or bell peppers.

It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them and to have their iron levels checked regularly.

How much iron should vegans take?

The recommended daily intake of iron for adult men, postmenopausal women, and all adults over the age of 50, is 8 mg (milligrams) per day. For adult women it’s 18 mg per day, and for pregnant women it’s 27 mg daily.

However, vegans need double the amount of iron compared to people who eat meat, poultry, and seafood. Therefore, vegans should aim for the following daily amounts of iron:

  • Adult vegan men: 16 mg
  • Adult vegan women: 36 mg
  • All adult vegans over 50: 16 mg

It’s also important to be aware that consuming an excess of iron can be harmful. In general, your total daily intake of iron should not exceed 45 mg a day unless your doctor specifically advises taking a higher dose.

The amount of iron that an individual needs can vary based on their age, sex, and overall health status, so it’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them.

It’s also important to note that iron supplements can interact with certain medications, such as antacids and antibiotics, and also can cause stomach upset and constipation, so always check with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen.

For vegans, it is recommended to consume a variety of iron-rich foods, such as leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, and fortified cereals. It’s also recommended to increase your absorption of iron by consuming vitamin C-rich foods along with iron-rich foods, such as citrus fruits or bell peppers.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to have their iron levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

5. Calcium

Calcium-rich foods displayed on a table.

Calcium is a mineral that is essential for the development and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. It also plays a role in muscle function, blood clotting, and nerve function. Calcium is found in many foods, including dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, as well as in some leafy green vegetables and fortified foods.

For vegans, calcium can be a concern as many traditional sources of calcium come from animal-based products. However, there are plenty of plant-based sources of calcium such as fortified plant-based milk, tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, kale, collard greens, and fortified orange juice.

Unfortunately, research suggests that most vegans don’t get enough calcium. (6) Some people claim that vegans have lower calcium needs than omnivores since they don’t use the mineral to neutralize the acidity created by a diet high in meats.

Further research is necessary to determine how meatless diets may impact calcium requirements, but evidence indicates that vegans whose intake of calcium is less than 525 mg per day are prone to a greater risk of bone fractures. (7)

A deficiency in calcium can lead to weak bones, osteoporosis, and an increased risk of fractures. To ensure they get enough calcium, vegans should include calcium-rich foods in their diet, such as fortified plant-based milk, tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, kale, collard greens, and fortified orange juice.

It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them and to have their calcium levels checked regularly.

How much calcium should vegans take?

The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults is 1000 milligrams (mg) per day for men and women up to age 50, and 1200 mg per day for women over 50 and men over 70. However, the amount of calcium that an individual needs can vary based on their age, sex, and overall health status.

It’s also important to note that calcium supplements can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners and thyroid hormones, so it’s always best to consult with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen. It’s also recommended that vegans have their calcium levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

For vegans, it is recommended to consume a variety of calcium-rich foods, such as fortified plant-based milk, tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, kale, collard greens, and fortified orange juice, regularly. Aim for getting at least a 525 mg total intake of calcium per day.

6. Iodine

Bowl of seaweed, which is high in iodine.

Iodine is a mineral that is essential for the production of thyroid hormones, which play a critical role in regulating metabolism and growth and development. Iodine is found in many foods, including seafood, dairy products, and in some plant-based sources such as sea vegetables.

For vegans, iodine can be a concern as many traditional sources of iodine come from animal-based products. However, there are plenty of plant-based sources of iodine such as sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and dulse, and also, fortified foods.

Vegans are considered to be at a greater risk of iodine deficiency, and research indicates that vegans have as much as 50% lower iodine levels than vegetarians. (8)

Iodine fortification is not a common practice worldwide, and some areas may have soil with low iodine levels, which can affect the iodine content of plants grown in those areas.

A deficiency in iodine can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland, fatigue, weight gain and difficulty losing weight, and an increased risk of developing goiter, hypothyroidism and cognitive impairment. To ensure they get enough iodine, vegans should include iodine-rich foods in their diet, such as sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and dulse, and also, fortified foods.

How much iodine should vegans take?

The amount of iodine that an individual needs will vary based on age, sex, pregnancy and lactation status, and overall health status. In general, the recommended daily intake of iodine for adults is 150 micrograms (mcg) per day, while for pregnant women it’s 220 mcg, and for nursing women it’s 290 mc. 

Additionally, you should not exceed a daily intake of 1,100 mcg unless your doctor specifically prescribes it, as too much iodine can be harmful. It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them.

It’s also important to note that iodine supplements can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners and thyroid hormones, so it’s always best to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen.

It is recommended that those following a vegan diet consume a variety of iodine-rich foods, such as sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and dulse, and also, fortified foods. Additionally, a half-teaspoon of iodized salt (2.5 ml) is enough to meet your daily requirement.

However, vegans who don’t wish to consume iodized salt or eat seaweed on a regular basis should consider using an iodine supplement. Keep in mind that consuming large amounts of kelp and other seaweed can also lead to excessive iodine intake, which can be harmful.

Therefore, it is important to use these foods in moderation and also to have their iodine levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

7. Zinc

Several foods that are high in zinc, displayed on blue wooden table

Zinc is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in many physiological processes, including immune function, wound healing, and protein synthesis. It is found in a variety of foods, but the richest sources are typically animal-based, such as meat, seafood, and dairy products.

Because vegans do not consume any animal-derived products, they may be at greater risk for zinc deficiency if they do not carefully plan their diets to include zinc-rich plant-based foods or supplements. Although not every vegan is low in zinc, one research review found that vegetarians (and vegans in particular) consume lower amounts of zinc and have slightly lower zinc levels than omnivores. (9)

Zinc deficiency can lead to a variety of health problems, including:

  • Immune dysfunction: Zinc plays a crucial role in the functioning of the immune system, and deficiency can lead to increased susceptibility to infections and illnesses.
  • Delayed wound healing: Zinc is necessary for the formation of collagen, a protein that is a key component of skin and other connective tissues. Deficiency can slow the healing of wounds and increase the risk of infection.
  • Loss of appetite and changes in taste perception: Zinc plays a role in the sense of taste and smell, and deficiency can lead to a loss of appetite and changes in the way food tastes.
  • Hair loss: Zinc is important for healthy hair, and deficiency can cause hair loss and dry, flaky scalps.
  • Diarrhea: Zinc deficiency can cause diarrhea, particularly in young children.
  • Skin rash: Zinc is important for the development and maintenance of healthy skin, and deficiency can cause a variety of skin problems, including rashes, acne, and eczema.
  • Cognitive impairment: Zinc is important for cognitive development and function, and deficiency can lead to problems with memory, attention, and thinking.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other factors as well, and a medical professional should be consulted to determine if zinc deficiency is the cause.

Some examples of plant-based foods that are good sources of zinc include legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. It is important for vegans to be mindful of their zinc intake and consider taking zinc supplements if needed.

How Much Zinc Should Vegans Take?

The recommended daily intake (RDI) of zinc for adults is 8-11mg/day, with higher amounts recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Like some other supplements, consuming excessive amounts of zinc can be harmful. It’s recommended that you not go above 40 mg per day unless your doctor has specifically prescribed a larger dose.

Since vegans do not consume any animal-derived products, they may have a harder time getting enough zinc from their diet, as the richest sources of zinc are typically animal-based. It is recommended that vegans should aim to consume at least the RDI of zinc through a combination of zinc-rich plant-based foods and/or supplements.

Some examples of plant-based foods that are good sources of zinc include:

  • Legumes (such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans)
  • Nuts and seeds (such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and cashews)
  • Whole grains (such as quinoa, oats, and brown rice)
  • fortified foods such as breakfast cereals

It’s important to note that phytates, which are found in whole grains, legumes, and nuts, can inhibit zinc absorption, so it may be necessary for vegans to consume higher amounts of these foods to meet their zinc needs.

It’s always a good idea to talk with a nutritionist or a doctor to see if you are getting the right amount of zinc in your diet, or if you should consider taking zinc supplements.

8. Vitamin K

Several fruits and vegetables that contain high amounts of vitamin K.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a critical role in blood clotting, bone health and also has an important role in the regulation of blood sugar and the metabolism of bone proteins. Vitamin K is found in many foods, including leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils, and some fruits.

For vegans, vitamin K can be obtained from plant-based sources such as leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, blueberries, figs and soybeans. However, it’s important to note that the Vitamin K found in plants is mainly in the form of vitamin K1, which has a lower bioavailability compared to vitamin K2 which is found mainly in animal-based foods.

A deficiency in vitamin K can lead to a bleeding disorder, weaker bones, and an increased risk of fractures. To ensure they get enough vitamin K, vegans should include vitamin K-rich foods in their diet, such as leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and soybeans, regularly.

It’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them and to have their vitamin K levels checked regularly.

How much vitamin K should vegans take?

The recommended daily intake of vitamin K is 120 mcg (micrograms) for adult men and 90 mcg per day for women. However, the amount of vitamin K that an individual needs can vary based on other factors, including age, pregnancy and lactation status, and overall health.

For these reasons, it’s important for vegans to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate dosage for them. It’s also important to note that vitamin K supplements can interact with certain medications, such as blood thinners, so it’s always best to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting any supplement regimen.

It’s recommended that vegans consume a variety of vitamin K-rich foods, such as leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, and soybeans, regularly to meet their vitamin K needs. Also, it is recommended to have their vitamin K levels checked by a healthcare professional at least once a year.

Additional Vegan Supplements And Minerals

Lastly, there are a couple more nutrients that you may want to pay attention to.

  • Selenium helps protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, mood disorders, heart disease, and cancer. It can also help to prevent fertility issues in both men and women. Due to soil depletion, it isn’t found in many plant foods. However, it is found in high quantities in brazil nuts, and eating just one nut per day is enough for most people to get enough selenium.
  • Magnesium is another nutrient that is lacking due to soil depletion, and these days magnesium deficiency is an issue for many people in general, not just vegans. Magnesium is also important for iodine absorption. If you decide to supplement with iodine, it’s recommended to supplement with some magnesium as well.

Conclusion

Veganism can provide health benefits, but it can also cause deficiencies in important nutrients. You should be aware of the nutrients that your body requires and how you can get them if you’re vegan or considering becoming one.

A well-planned vegan diet is a great way of getting vitamins and minerals. However, some nutrients may not be easily achieved through diet alone or fortified foods. This is particularly true for vitamins B12 and D, as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Vegans who cannot meet their minimum recommended nutritional requirements should look into taking supplements. Regardless, it’s a good idea to consult a healthcare professional before you start a new supplement regimen.


References:

  1. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/5/1861
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56068/table/summarytables.t2/?report=objectonly
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK114310/
  4. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/640S/4690006?login=false
  5. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.5694/mja11.11507
  6. https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/6/3/1318
  7. https://www.nature.com/articles/1602659
  8. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/96/8/E1303/2833831
  9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.6179
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