The Best Vegan Supplements to Keep You Thriving
Being vegan is pretty amazing because the benefits are bar none. Aside from the life-saving effects for animals like cows, pigs, and chickens, it turns out that eating plants (and not animals) is better for your health and the planet, too. And despite the misconception that you need to eat meat to be healthy, you actually can meet all your nutritional needs while following a well-balanced vegan diet.Shop Cruelty-free, Vegan Beauty Products
With that said, it’s important to be in the know about certain vitamins and minerals that can sometimes be more difficult to obtain. Keep these five supplements in mind to complement your plant-filled diet and ensure you’re at optimal health—and so you can live your best vegan life for the long term.
1. Vitamin B12
If you’re vegan, you may have heard that B12 is a necessary supplement. And it’s true: Several studies show that while anyone can have low B12 levels, vegans are at a higher risk of deficiency—especially those who are not taking supplements.
B12 plays a role in some of your body’s most important functions, including maintaining nerve function and forming oxygen-transporting red blood cells. But if you’re not getting enough of the vitamin, over time, such deficiency may cause anemia, nerve damage, and even problems with memory and reasoning.
While B12 is naturally found in animal products, plants don’t contain this vitamin, which means that vegans must find it elsewhere. The scientifically proven way is by consuming B12-fortified foods such as vegan milk, meat, cereals, and nutritional yeast (cheese-flavored flakes or powder) and to take a B12 supplement. While the recommended daily intake is 2.4 mcg for the average adult, supplements are often many times the recommended dietary allowance (RDA). Doses up to 1,000 mcg, though unnecessary, aren’t harmful. Your body is a magical vessel and takes what it needs and pees out the rest.
It’s important to note that your body’s ability to absorb B12 decreases with age. That’s why the Institute of Medicine recommends that anyone over the age of 51 (vegan or not) should consider eating more fortified foods or taking a B12 supplement.
2. Omega-3 fatty acids
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids that play a role in keeping our brain and eyes healthy: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). And while the short-chain ALA is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid—meaning we can only get it from our diet—the latter two, EPA and DHA, are long-chain fatty acids that our body can make from ALA.
If that sounds a little complicated, especially if you’re also wondering how these fit into a vegan diet, you’re not alone. Plants that contain ALA include flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. However, EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal products like fatty fish and fish oil.
The fact that our bodies can make its own EPA and DHA is good news for vegans, but some studies show that vegans can have up to 50 percent lower concentrations of the two long-chain fatty acids than omnivores. This is why vegans should consider supplementing to reach the recommended daily intake of 200 to 300 mcg per day.
But how do you boost your omegas? Eat plenty of ALA-rich foods and take algae oil or an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
The long-held stereotype of vegans being malnourished, weak, and anemic because of the lack of animal meat in our diet has been demystified thanks to increasing medical and nutritional research and, in turn, more people becoming educated on the subject.
Iron is a nutrient that’s needed for energy metabolism, to make new DNA and red blood cells and carry oxygen in the blood, and the truth is that vegans can get plenty of iron from a plant-rich diet. Foods that are high in iron include cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds, as well as iron-fortified products like plant milk, cereals, and breads. You can also cook with cast-iron pots and pans and try combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C to help boost absorption.Shop Clean Beauty Skincare Products
Iron comes in two forms: heme iron, which is only available from animal products, and non-heme iron, which is found in plants. Although it’s generally understood that heme iron is more easily absorbed from your diet than non-heme iron, experts suggest that the quantity of iron from plant-based foods in the diet is much greater in most people’s meals, contributing more to iron nutrition than iron from animal products.
With that said, iron deficiency can still happen, so be sure to get your levels checked regularly. The RDA is 8 mg for adult men and post-menopausal women, and 18 mg per day for adult women. If you’re low, try supplementing with a vegan brand—but only do so if your levels are low because unnecessary intake can do more harm than good.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an interesting beast. While it influences many bodily processes, including immune function, mood, memory, and muscle recovery, very few foods naturally contain this important vitamin. This could explain why Vitamin D deficiency happens among vegans and omnivores alike.
One way to boost your Vitamin D levels is through fortified foods, including vegan products such as plant-based milk, orange juice, soy products, and cereals.
Aside from the small amount we might get from our diet, the only other way to make Vitamin D is with sun exposure, and most people likely get enough by exposing their skin to midday sun for about 15 minutes—which sounds simple but could be difficult if you live in colder climates or don’t spend much time outdoors everyday. Plus, we all know about the negative effects of the sun’s UV rays, and many dermatologists warn against using this method to boost Vitamin D levels.
This brings us back to the simplest method: a supplement. For Vitamin D, the RDA for children and adults is 600 IU (15 mcg), but some studies suggest our bodies require much more, so anyone who is unable to maintain normal blood levels could benefit from taking a supplement.
Zinc is a mineral that’s required for the function of over 300 enzymes and is involved in many other processes in the body, including metabolism, immune system function, and cell repair. While some plant foods contain high levels of zinc, they also contain phytates, which are known to be antinutrients that reduce zinc’s absorption. Processing methods like heating, sprouting, soaking, or fermenting can help improve the bioavailability of zinc.
Legumes, whole grains, and vegetables like potatoes, kale, and green beans contain some amounts of this important mineral, as do nuts and seeds, but vegans who are concerned about their zinc intake should consider taking a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement to help meet the RDA of 8 to 11 mcg per day.
- Nutrition concerns and health effects of vegetarian diets | National Library of Medicine
- Are you getting enough B12? | Harvard Health Publishing
- Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet | National Institutes of Health
- A statistical error in the estimation of the recommended dietary allowance for Vitamin D | National Library of Medicine
- Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians | National Library of Medicine
- Review on iron and its importance for human health | National Library of Medicine
- Effect of vegetarian diets on zinc status | National Library of Medicine
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