Making the switch to a plant-based diet has many exciting benefits, for the planet, for the animals and for your health, including lowering your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Adding certain vitamin and mineral supplements to a plant-based diet can help boost those awesome benefits or fill in nutritional gaps when diet planning is difficult. Because we all know life can get busy sometimes and that getting in your kale can be tough! So here are a few key vitamins and nutrients to consider as you navigate a vegan lifestyle and all it has to offer:
Vitamin B12 is often considered the one supplement that all vegans should take on a regular basis. B12 maintains bodily processes, forms red blood cells, metabolizes proteins and supports a healthy functioning nervous system. Though the vitamin is present mainly in animal-based products, it can also be found in some fortified vegan foods, such as plant-based milks, cereals and nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast has a nutty and cheesy taste and is widely touted as a vegan superfood. B12 is also attainable via supplements, typically in pill, gummy or spray form, and taking a B12 supplement is typically considered the best way for vegans to maintain optimal B12 levels.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids provide amazing health benefits. The nutrients aids in neurodevelopment in children, helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, improves heart health and strengthens bones. They may also help with depression, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), attention deficit disorder (ADHD), allergies, and cystic fibrosis.
The must-have omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which are attainable via diet or supplements, as your body can’t produce it, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which your body produces using ALA.
While omega-3 is found abundantly in fish and fish oil supplements, as well as some plant-based foods such as chia seeds and walnuts, vegans can ensure sufficient levels of the nutrients, and in proper balance, by taking an algae oil supplement.
Iron is required to produce healthy blood cells and carry oxygen throughout your body. Most vegans will have adequate iron levels if an abundance of nuts, dried fruits, leafy greens, legumes and fortified foods are being consumed. Eating foods high in vitamin C alongside iron-rich foods will help in the absorption of iron. An iron supplement can be helpful for those not eating enough iron-rich plant foods or for those with absorption issues.
It is a myth that a plant-based diet cannot provide adequate calcium. Dark, leafy green vegetables such as bok choy, mustard greens and watercress, along with chickpeas, and fortified foods such as plant-based milks and tofu are excellent sources of calcium. Simply seeking a vegan multivitamin that contains calcium may offer extra assurance that levels are being met.
Vitamin D regulates mood, strengthens the immune system and facilitates nutrition absorption in the body. When you get enough sunlight, your body produces its own vitamin D. For most people living in the Northern Hemisphere however, vitamin D deficiency is a widespread problem. Those on a plant-based diet can get vitamin D from mushrooms, fortified cereals and plant milks, but a supplement is often necessary in colder months. Though many vitamin D supplements are produced using sheep’s wool (lanolin), and are therefore not vegan-friendly, there are vegan formulas available. Be sure to check labels.
Zinc revs up the metabolism and promotes immune system health. Plant-based sources of zinc include legumes, tofu, walnuts, cashews and chia seeds. Absorption of plant-based sources of zinc can be difficult for some, so supplementation –either on its own or in a multivitamin—can be helpful.
Your thyroid gland relies on iodine to function properly. Seaweed/ kelp products offer a good plant-based source of iodine, as well as iodized salt, but iodine can also be taken in supplement form, and is often found in vegan multivitamins.
What to Look for in a Supplement?
Supplementation can help ensure a plant-based diet is optimally healthful. Here are a few things to look for when shopping for supplement products:
- No animal products, such as lactose, gelatin, lanolin, beeswax
- Rich in bioavailable forms of the minerals and vitamins
- Does not contain microbes, heavy metals, pesticides pollutants or GMOs
- Research supports the dosage of vitamins and minerals in the supplement
Being vegan is good, but being a healthy vegan is crucial. Consuming a balanced plant-based diet and supplementing where needed can help ensure deficiencies do not work against all the wonderful benefits of eating animal-free. If you are experiencing symptoms of vitamin or mineral deficiency, see your doctor for a blood test and further advice.