As it has become increasingly common, the vegan diet offers many health benefits and continues to grow in popularity. Despite the many benefits of a vegan diet, it can be challenging for vegans to get all the nutrients the body needs while avoiding animal products. Some vitamins and minerals are less abundant in a plant-based diet.
As a result, one of the biggest concerns regarding a vegan diet is whether or not it will provide all of an individual’s necessary daily nutrients. Fortunately, the right supplements can help provide the added support that vegans need to reach their recommended daily nutrient intake and avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
What Supplements Should Vegans Take?
It is certainly possible for vegans to get all the nutrients they need from diet alone, but it often takes careful planning and special attention to daily meals. Still, despite one’s best efforts, it can be easy to fall behind on vital nutrients. Some of the important nutrients that vegans may need to supplement, if advised by a healthcare provider, include the following.
Calcium is a mineral that supports the health of your bone health and teeth while also helping to maintain the proper function of your muscles, nervous system, and heart. Most of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones. Experts typically recommend consuming at least 525 mg of calcium daily. Not getting enough calcium can lead to deficiency and reduced bone strength, which can cause an increased risk for bone fractures.
Calcium is most often found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products, but vegans can obtain calcium through green vegetables like kale, broccoli, and mustard greens and foods like chickpeas, tofu, and bok choy. Calcium is also commonly found in fortified sources like plant milk. Despite the number of plant sources that include calcium, it is still common for vegans to not receive enough of the important mineral.
The biggest challenge for receiving adequate amounts of calcium in a diet is the mineral’s low absorption rate in the body. For example, milk is rich in calcium, but the body can typically only absorb about 27% of the mineral. Unfortunately for vegans, this rate can be even lower for plant-based foods since many plants contain compounds that reduce calcium absorption. The low absorption rates make it even more crucial that vegans supplement for calcium.
Most calcium supplements contain one of two forms: calcium carbonate, or calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate contains the highest amount of calcium, made of about 40% elemental calcium, while calcium citrate is only about 21% calcium. However, the body has a much easier time absorbing calcium citrate than other forms of the mineral, making it a popular choice to serve as an ingredient in many supplements. The lower calcium concentration simply means you may need to take more calcium citrate supplements to meet their recommended daily intake.
2. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is a key nutrient that supports energy, metabolism, the health of the nervous system, and the development of red blood cells. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin B12 is 2.4mcg for adults. A B12 deficiency can have several concerning side effects, including fatigue, nerve damage, and anemia.
Vitamin B12 is found in various sources and whole foods, which most often include fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. This means that vegans often miss out on the key sources of vitamin B12. Despite the belief that there are no viable plant-based options for B12, vegans can obtain the vitamin through fortified foods like plant milk, nutritional yeast, and breakfast cereals.
Regardless, it is true that this key vitamin is less abundant in plant-based foods, making it more difficult for those on a vegan diet to get the recommended daily amount of B12 through food alone. As a result, vegetarians and vegans are more likely to experience a B12 deficiency. A vitamin B12 supplement is a great way to ensure that you receive enough of this crucial nutrient and should be taken regularly by vegans.
Iron deficiency is one of the most prevalent nutrient deficiencies worldwide. Because iron is such an important factor in several bodily processes, failing to get enough iron is a significant problem. Iron is a foundational component of hemoglobin, which is found in red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body.
As a result, iron has an important role in supporting the transportation of nutrients throughout the body and supports healthy growth and brain development for children. Experts recommend that adult men receive at least 8 mg of iron per day, while women should receive a total of 18 mg per day.
Food sources of iron include leafy green vegetables, beans and lentils, whole grains, and iron-fortified foods, like cereals. However, some of the most iron-rich foods are red meat, poultry, and seafood, which are obviously out of the question on a vegan diet. By taking an iron supplement, vegans can support healthy levels of iron in the blood.
Iron can be a challenging mineral to obtain through diet alone because of its volatile absorption rates, particularly because digesting the mineral can lead to stomach discomfort. Heme iron, found in meats, is absorbed more easily by the body than non-heme iron, found more often in plants. The benefit of supplementing iron in a diet is that supplements often contain iron in more bioavailable forms, such as iron bis-glycinate, which is chemically altered to improve the body’s ability to absorb the vital mineral.
Iodine is considered a trace element, meaning the body does not need large amounts of it. Even though only micrograms are needed daily, iodine is important to the body as it helps support a healthy thyroid and metabolism. The recommended daily intake of iodine is 150 mcg.
This mineral also helps support a healthy pregnancy and cognitive development in babies, so the recommended amount for pregnant women is slightly higher at 220mcg per day. An iodine deficiency can present itself in multiple ways, including low energy levels, a negative mood, and poor memory.
Iodine is found from sources closer to the ocean, like seaweed or plants grown near the ocean. Because of the cleaning solutions used on farms, dairy products are also high in iodine. One of the most wide-available sources of iodine is iodized salt. Just a half teaspoon of iodized salt is enough to reach your recommended daily intake.
Although vegans typically have lower iodine levels than non-vegans, iodized salt and seaweed make great vegan mineral sources. The body does not produce iodine on its own, highlighting the need to obtain the nutrient through diet or supplementation.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays a large role in several processes in the body, like supporting immune function, a healthy mood, and muscle recovery. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is a large factor in the body’s ability to absorb calcium and phosphorus during digestion.
Despite its importance, vitamin D is elusive to both vegans and omnivores. Unfortunately, vitamin D is not found naturally in many foods. Most foods that contain vitamin D are fortified with the nutrient, and even these foods rarely contain enough of the vitamin to reach the recommended daily intake. For adults, the RDA for vitamin D is 15 mcg a day, but this recommendation may be underselling how much your body really needs.
Omnivores can find vitamin D in foods like cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, and egg yolk. You can find vitamin D in vegan foods like fortified plant milk, fortified cereals, and fortified orange juice. Altogether, these foods may not always contain enough vitamin D to be effective.
Sunlight is also an excellent source of vitamin D, and just 15 minutes in the sun can be enough for many individuals to obtain the necessary amount of vitamin D. However, many factors, like climate, time outdoors, and skin color can affect your ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun.
Vitamin D2 and D3 are both available as options for supplementing the amount of vitamin D in the body, but D3 supplements may be more effective at increasing the body’s overall vitamin D levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids make up the building blocks of many cells in the body. There are three main types of omega-3s, which include alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is abundant in plant-based foods like plant oils, nuts, and seeds. However, DHA and EPA are harder to obtain on a vegan diet. These omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fish oil, which, of course, are not conducive to a vegan diet.
The body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, but only in very small and usually insufficient amounts. Therefore, it is a good idea to supplement your diet with EPA and DHA.
Plant-based sources of EPA and DHA can be found in trace amounts in some types of seaweed, and in higher amounts in some types of algae. Vegans may choose to supplement their intake of these two vital nutrients by snacking on seaweed, taking algae oil, or choosing an omega-3-rich supplement that includes algae.
On the bright side, algae is one of the most abundant sources for anyone. In fact, vegans may have the upper hand here. Eating fish provides so many omega-3 nutrients because fish rely on microalgae for their diets, so the reality is that by avoiding fish and choosing algae, vegans can simply skip the “middleman” in the process. Even better, the body can absorb omega-3 fatty acids through algae at a much more efficient rate than through fish.
Zinc is a vital mineral that supports a healthy metabolism, proper immune function, and the proper healing of damaged tissue. The mineral is key in cell growth, making zinc intake even more important during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is between 8 and 11 mg.
Dietary sources of zinc include shellfish, beef, and poultry. Vegan sources of zinc include legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fortified cereals. Vegan sources of zinc, unfortunately, can provide lower absorption rates because of nutrients that reduce the body’s ability to absorb it.
On the bright side, practices like consuming large amounts of protein, eating fermented foods, like tempeh, and soaking legumes can all increase the body’s ability to absorb the mineral. If you struggle to obtain zinc through these foods, then including a daily supplement is a completely viable option.
Explore Your Options for Vegan Supplements
A vegan diet can provide a wealth of nutrients for those who stick to it. However, a restricted diet reduces many opportunities for receiving vital nutrients, and many vegans can benefit from a bit of support. Fortunately, many available supplements can help vegans obtain their recommended daily amounts of important nutrients at high absorption rates.
By including a few supplements in a daily routine, vegans can get the support they need to avoid nutrient deficiency. To support an overall healthy lifestyle, iwi life includes many of the above nutrients in our omega-3 supplements.
At iwi life, we want to support your health and wellness no matter what your lifestyle. We strive to provide essential nutrients that fit any lifestyle while maintaining a strong commitment to sustainability. From our Omega-3 supplement to our complete multivitamins, we offer several products to help you stay one step ahead of your nutritional needs. To see your options for all-natural, plant-based supplements, explore our entire family of products.
Choosing a calcium supplement | Harvard Health.
How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians? | PubMed Central
Vitamin B12 - Health Professional Fact Sheet | National Institute of Health
Iron - Consumer Fact Sheet | National Institute of Health
Iodine status and thyroid function of Boston-area vegetarians and vegans | National Library of Medicine
A Statistical Error in the Estimation of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Vitamin D | National Library of Medicine