If you follow a vegan diet, you know how important it is to have a strong understanding of nutrition. You have to be mindful of every choice you make in order to meet your dietary needs. Sticking to a vegan lifestyle is a serious decision. Vegans are at a higher risk for dietary deficiencies, so it’s crucial that they get the proper micronutrients. Taking daily supplements may help to support your vegan diet and nutritional wellness.
Here are 4 nutrients you should consider supplementing with, and how to select the best one.
1. Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 is most commonly found in beef, chicken, fish, milk, yogurt, cheese, and eggs. Thankfully, B-12 can also be found in some fortified foods as well, such as breakfast cereals. Symptoms of vitamin B-12 deficiency include tingling or numbness in hands and feet, muscle weakness, confusion, depression, nausea, and bloating or gas.1 A vitamin B-12 supplement is a good addition to any vegan’s supplement routine to prevent deficiency. For the best bioavailability, vegans should steer away from the synthetic form of B-12 called cyanocobalamin, but choose the form naturally found in food. The natural form of vitamin B-12 is called methylcobalamin.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is difficult to obtain in just food alone if you adhere to a vegan diet. Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. Vitamin D, like B-12, can also be found in some fortified foods including dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and breakfast cereals. A population study released in 2018 states, “…vitamin D deficiency is becoming an epidemic across the United States, even among groups that were not previously labeled “at-risk.”2 Unfortunately, many vitamin D supplements don’t use the active form of vitamin D and aren’t vegan friendly. Your vitamin D supplement should contain vitamin D3, also called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). A vegan-friendly vitamin D can be sourced from plants instead of sheep’s wool.
3. Fatty Acids
If you aren’t eating fish, you probably aren’t getting a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. However, there are numerous sources of omega-3 fatty acids a vegan can choose from, including chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and seaweed. Fatty acids are essential for nervous system function, including brain health. In fact, DHA may even prevent age-related dementia.3 Obtaining omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is a great way to ensure you are keeping your nervous system, including your brain and eyes, happy. In addition to foods, you can support your diet with a high quality, microalgae-sourced DHA supplement.
If you aren’t eating red meat, you might be having a difficult time getting iron in your diet. Plant sources of iron are also a little more difficult for the body to utilize than meat-sourced iron. There are many great non-animal sources of iron including lentils, tempeh, black beans, chickpeas, quinoa, pumpkin, pistachios, swiss chard, and collard greens. However, if you are having a difficult time filling your iron needs or your doctor has recently diagnosed you with iron deficiency, you should consider supplementing your diet. The recommended daily allowance of Iron is 8 mg per day for males and 18 mg per day for women.4 Women are more susceptible to iron deficiency during active menstrual years. After menopause, women’s iron needs match men’s. Because Iron can build to dangerous levels in the body, it is best to talk to your doctor about your iron needs first. If you and your doctor agree you are in the market for a supplement, you should choose one that won’t cause stomach upset and includes vitamin C for optimal absorption.
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- Pernicious Anemia. National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/pernicious-anemia. Accessed September 13, 2019.
- Parva NR, Tadepalli S, Singh P, et al. Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012). Cureus. 2018;10(6):e2741. Published 2018 Jun 5. doi:10.7759/cureus.2741
- Cole GM, Frautschy SA. DHA may prevent age-related dementia. J Nutr. 2010;140(4):869–874. doi:10.3945/jn.109.113910
- Iron. National Institutes of Health. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iron-HealthProfessional/. Updated August 22, 2019. Accessed September 13, 2019.