A whole-foods plant-based diet is one of the healthiest ways of eating. Not only does it promote health and well-being, but it is also known for its potential to prevent chronic diseases.
Although a healthy vegan diet is particularly rich in vitamins and minerals, some nutrients are available in plant foods only in minute amounts or not at all.
The lack of some nutrients (f.e. cholesterol, saturated fats) has a positive effect on health. Others, however, need to be supplemented to prevent possible adverse consequences.
In this post, we'll talk about the five supplements all vegans need to get all the nutrients that are otherwise difficult to get on a plant-based diet.
Note: This post provides you with general recommendations. No matter which supplement you decide to take, always consult your doctor and follow the package instructions carefully.
Moreover, to ensure that you dose the supplements correctly and that your body is able to use and absorb what you take in, it's recommended to get a blood test done regularly.
Alright, let's dive right in.
1. Vitamin B12:
Vitamin B12 is almost non-existent in plant foods. That's why all vegans must supplement it regularly and for the long term. A deficiency can have severe and possibly irreversible health consequences.
Adults should take at least 2500 μg vitamin B12 per week. You can do this, for example, by taking a supplement that contains 1000 μg 3 times a week or one with 500 μg five times a week.
The most reliable supplements are sublingual ones, such as lozenges, chewable tablets, drops, and sprays.
Alternative options are tablets and capsules. However, some people can't absorb vitamin 12 from those sources. That's why sublingual supplements are more reliable.
If you have a diagnosed deficiency, you may get injections.
Learn more about Vitamin B12 here.
2. Vitamin D
Extraordinary about vitamin D is that the body can produce it, provided you spend enough time in the sun. So, 10-30 minutes several times a week without sunscreen and with at least 25% of the skin uncovered.
However, in many countries, the power of the sun is only strong enough in the warmer months (April - October) to enable Vitamin D production in the skin.
In the winter or if you generally spend little time outdoors, it's recommended to supplement the vitamin.
Drops are the most popular supplement. The dosage varies from brand to brand, but the majority recommend one drop per day.
Depots are also a common option. These are capsules/tablets that contain a larger amount of vitamin D, which the body then stores. Thus, it only has to be taken once every few weeks.
To promote absorption, it's beneficial to take the supplement with higher-fat meals or a handful of nuts.
Learn more about vitamin D here.
Iodized salt is a common iodine source; however, you can only partially meet your need by consuming it. Moreover, salt in high doses may have a negative health impact. Thus, alternative sources of iodine are preferred.
Since plant foods are not a reliable source of iodine in many parts of the world (f.e. Central Europe, North America) supplementing the mineral is often recommended for vegans.
Nori flakes are the most popular supplement. You can simply add them to salads or soups. Usually, only a small amount daily is sufficient to meet the need (follow the recommended intake instructions on the package!).
Alternatively, you can consume ½ Nori sheet daily.
If you are not a fan of eating algae, you can take kelp tablets (pulverized brown seaweed).
If you have a diagnosed deficiency, your doctor may recommend taking an iodine supplement.
You can learn more about iodine here.
When it comes to selenium, too much, as well as too little, can negatively affect your health.
Plant foods may or may not be a reliable source depending on which country you are from.
If you live in a region where the soil is low in selenium, the easiest way to meet your need is by consuming 2-3 Brazil nuts a day.
If you live in a region with selenium-rich soil, you can meet the need by consuming local plant foods. In that case, you don't need to consume additional Brazil nuts.
As too much selenium can be harmful, you should only take supplements if your doctor instructs you to.
You can learn more about selenium here.
5. Omega-3 fatty acids
There are three primary omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Plant foods mostly contain ALA, which the body can convert to EPA and DHA. However, it is currently unclear whether enough can be converted to avoid adverse health consequences.
Therefore, many physicians, who specialize in plant-based diets, recommend taking a microalgae supplement.
If you take microalgae oil you, you usually, need to take about 1 teaspoon daily.
Alternatively, you can take capsules. The exact dosage varies depending on the brand, but usually, you take 1 or 2 a day.
Vegans tend to get enough ALA, so it's not necessary to supplement that fatty acid.
You can learn more about omega-3 here.
Only rarely do vegans need to supplement the following nutrients.
By incorporating iron-rich foods as well as implementing strategies that promote absorption, vegans can reduce their risk of iron deficiency. Nevertheless, insufficiencies can occur. That's why regular blood tests are important.
Since an excess supply of iron can be harmful, you should only take a supplement if you have a diagnosed deficiency, or your doctor advises you to do so.
Generally, vegans get enough zinc. Moreover, you can promote zinc absorption by using certain preparation methods. Vegans who get sick a lot may benefit from taking a low-dose zinc supplement.
Usually, getting enough calcium poses no problem for vegans. Moreover, you can support adequate intake by incorporating calcium-rich foods into your meals and implementing strategies that promote absorption.
Furthermore, an adequate vitamin D supply is essential as it influences the absorption and excretion of calcium.
As with iron, you should only take a calcium supplement when your doctor recommends you do.
There is a misconception that vegans are deficient in protein. However, that is not true. Vegans usually get adequate amounts of protein, provided they consume enough calories and eat proteins from various plant sources.
Even vegan athletes can meet their increased need on a plant-based diet. The use of protein powders is not necessary and not always recommended.
Summary: 5 supplements all vegans need to take
What supplements are you currently taking?