Vegan dieters don’t eat any animal products, including meat, dairy, and eggs. Their diet is plant based which has multiple benefits but lacks vitamins and minerals required by the body. As much as they want to stick to their way of eating, they need supplements to cover for the missing nutrients. However, for vegans who still refuse to supplement they might experience negative effects such as feeling tired and lack of energy. Also, adding animal products to one’s diet can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer. Below, are key supplements that you may consider including in your diet if you’re a vegan.
Vitamin B12 is naturally found in unwashed organic produce, nori (a type of seaweed), nutritional yeast, mushroom, and animal products. This vitamin is crucial as it plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, metabolism of proteins and supports a healthy nervous system. Note that animals don’t make B12, they get it from the dirt they eat. Then the soil bacteria in the gut of the animal makes B12, meaning the B12 in animal products comes from the soil.
Vitamin B12 deficiency leads to anemia, nervous system damage, infertility, bone disease, and heart disease. When supplementing, a daily intake of 2.4 mcg is recommended. Anyone can be low in this vitamin B12 but vegans are at a higher risk of deficiency as they have limited sources.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that influences bodily processes including immune function, mood, memory, and muscle recovery. Additionally, it enhances the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from the gut. The vegan diet isn’t sufficient enough to provide the required amount of vitamin D daily. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D and those fortified are still considered insufficient. For adults and children, your daily RDA is 600 IU while the elderly, pregnant and lactating mothers require 800 IU per day.
The body can, however, make enough vitamin D from the sunlight by spending an average of 15 minutes in the morning sun. But this tends to be impossible for most people that’s why many turn to supplements. Plus, omnivores and vegans can benefit tremendously from taking vitamin D supplements.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids can be grouped into two categories: essential omega 3 fatty acids and long chain omega 3 fatty acids. Essential omega 3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which comes from a diet since our bodies can’t be able to make it. While long chain omega 3 fatty acids include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) made by the body using ALA. A study done noted that the human body has limited capability of converting ALA into DHA or EPA therefore, vegans tend to be low in EPA and DHA. They can obtain these two from algae oil supplements and concentrates. Benefits of omega 3 fatty acids in the body are:
- Preventing Alzheimer’s disease
- Lowering the risk of heart disease
- Reducing the risk of rheumatoid arthritis
- Aiding neurodevelopment in infects and children
Enough iodine in the body helps with thyroid functioning which controls metabolism. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy and early infancy can lead to irreversible mental retardation. In adults, insufficient iodine results in hypothyroidism, hence causing symptoms such as low energy levels, dry skin, tingling in hands and feet, forgetfulness, depression and weight gain. Vegans are considered to be at a higher risk of iodine deficiency with up to 50 percent lower blood iodine levels than vegetarians. Iodine salt, seafood, and dairy products contain iodine. However, vegans who don’t want to consume either of the above foods should consider taking iodine supplements.
Zinc is used in metabolism, immune function, and repair of body cells. Its deficiency leads to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea and delayed wound healing. The RDA for zinc is at eight to nine per day for adults which should be increased to 11 mg for pregnant women. We have multiple plant-based sources of zinc but a compound called phytate in the plant impairs its absorption of it. While not all vegans have zinc deficiency, research shows that overall, vegans tend to have lower zinc levels.
Calcium is an important nutrient necessary for bone and teeth health. Also, it helps with muscle functioning, nerve signaling, and heart health. Sources of calcium include bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, and fortified milk. However, studies suggest that vegans don’t get enough calcium since they don’t eat all the nutrients required. Daily consumption of 1000 mg of calcium is recommended for adults while those aged above 50 years should increase their intake up to 1200 mg per day. Vegans are encouraged to use supplements if they can’t acquire calcium from their diet.
Vitamin K-2 is crucial for blood clotting and wound healing. It’s obtained from dairy products and egg yolks. Because vegans don’t eat dairy or eggs, they should eat fermented food or take vitamin K-2 Supplements. Examples of vegan fermented food with vitamin K-2 are:
- Vegan kimchi
- Unpasteurized kombucha
- Nitto, a fermented soybean dish
- Raw sauerkraut
- Plant-based kefir
In addition to that, taking a vegan probiotic supplement can help the gut process vitamin K. All in all, a vegan diet isn’t fully capable of maintaining good health. They need to include other nutrients to have a well-functioning body.
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