Plant-based diets are good for your health. But voiding meat products altogether? There might be some complications. While it’s great to go vegan, plant foods can lack essential nutrients, too.
Certain vitamins and minerals are abundant only in meats and other animal products. So, what's the best thing to do?
Vegans may need to pay more attention to their plant-based diets or consider taking supplements, especially if nutrient deficiency symptoms are present.
Though it’s essential to visit your physician or nutritionist first before you pop any pills. In the meantime, we’ve rounded up the most important vegan supplements you may consider taking:
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that does a number of things for your body. For example, it helps to create your red blood cells and DNA, and assist your nervous system.
But here's the thing: Your body doesn’t produce this vitamin. While there are B12 sources, it’s only between animal-based products and supplements.
Your body is not also able to store vitamin B12 for long, so you need to get it regularly. Not having enough vitamin B12 raises your risk for a certain type of anemia that could potentially cause damage to your nervous system.
Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency include tingling, poor balance, fatigue, and memory or speech impairment.
Why Vitamin B12 is good for you:
Vegans expose themselves to the risk of having B12 deficiency since a plant-based diet avoids animal products. Vitamin B12 supplements help prevent this risk.
This essential vitamin promotes heart health, prevents nerve damage, boosts energy levels, and supports immunity.
How to get Vitamin B12:
Since vitamin B12 deficiency could lead to anemia and neurological problems, it is important to have your B12 levels monitored yearly, and to regularly take a supplement. You can supplement with B12 by consuming B12-fortified foods.
Some nutritional yeast goods, seafood, fish, and non-dairy milk contain this essential vitamin. Medical experts suggest taking at least 100 to 200 mcg of vitamin B12 per day to meet this nutritional requirement.
Known as the “sunshine vitamin,” Vitamin D is acquired from sun exposure. This fat-soluble vitamin can also be found in very few foods and dietary supplements.
Like Vitamin B12, Vitamin D performs various significant functions in your body. It regulates cell growth, immune and neuromuscular function, and prevents inflammation.
Vitamin D also promotes better calcium and mineral absorption, and aids in the optimal functioning of your brain, muscles, thyroid, pancreas, and your heart. This important vitamin also supports your immune system.
Why Vitamin D is good for you:
Not having enough vitamin D can make your bones brittle, thin or deformed. In adults, having sufficient vitamin D prevents the risk of Osteomalacia. Vitamin D, together with calcium, also reduces the risk of osteoporosis in older adults.
Since it also helps regulate the production of insulin, vitamin D makes you less prone to developing type 2 diabetes. It also prevents the risk of various types of cancer, and shields your body from colds and flu, especially during the winter.
How to get Vitamin D:
While it is present only in very few foods, it’s still possible to get enough of Vitamin D. For example, mushrooms! Researchers discovered that mushrooms can offer the same amount of vitamin D contained in supplements.
Some of the rich sources of vitamin D are the button, maitake, morel, portobello, and shiitake mushrooms. What’s more, you can boost their vitamin D content by exposing them to the sun!
Other Vitamin D sources are fortified almond milk and soy milk as well as tofu. Don’t forget to check their labels though, to make sure they are fortified with vitamin D.
You can also get vitamin D from plant-derived supplements, especially if your work schedule doesn’t allow you to have enough sunlight.
And speaking of sunlight, it’s the most natural way to get your vitamin D requirement. It takes five to 30 minutes of sun exposure two times every week for your body to produce sufficient vitamin D.
Remember to find the right balance, though, as excessive sun exposure may lead to sunburn.
There are three basic omega-3 fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha-linolenic acid (AHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). All of these play a critical role in human health.
DHA, for instance, helps develop nerve and eye tissues. It represents around 97 percent of omega-3 fatty acids in your brain, and 93 percent of omega-3 fatty acids in your eyes.
Why is Omega-3 good for you:
DHA helps in regulating your mood and stabilizing your heart rhythm. It also helps lower triglycerides, and prevent various illnesses such as circulatory and heart diseases, and even certain types of cancer.
DHA also protects you against the risk of age-related cognitive decline, and significantly prevent your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Some people also use DHA to treat coronary artery disease (CAD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), type 2 diabetes, and even depression.
In other instances, it is used to improve vision and reduce the risk of an eye disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
How to get Omega-3:
Luckily for vegans, some plant foods are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids such as chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, camelina oil, and canola oil.
But rich amounts of these essential fatty acids are said to be found in fish, fish oil, or an algae-based supplement.
Some omega-3-rich sources are anchovies, herring, salmon, sardines, and other fatty fish. Certain forms of algae also contain omega-3 fatty acids.
While there’s no official endorsement yet, experts recommend taking 250-500 mg of combined DHA and EPA per day for healthy adults.
Iron is an important mineral that supports several body functions. For instance, iron helps carry oxygen from your lungs throughout your entire body.
Iron also plays a critical role in the metabolism of hundreds of enzymes and proteins that help carry out essential tasks such as cell growth, and DNA synthesis.
Since it helps perform key functions, your body needs an adequate supply of iron. Having too little iron may lead to iron deficiency anemia.
This often occurs as a result of poor diet or your body’s incapacity to absorb enough iron from foods. Young children and pregnant or menstruating women have a higher risk of having deficient iron.
But, take note:
Too much iron can be harmful to your body, too. Excessive consumption of iron supplements may lead to iron poisoning. In some cases, people inherit an iron disorder called hemochromatosis in which the body loads excessive iron.
Why Iron is good for you:
Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a substance in your red blood cells that help transport oxygen throughout your body.
If you don’t get enough healthy red blood cells, your body won’t be able to get sufficient oxygen, causing you to feel fatigued. Iron also helps to keep your cells, hair, nails, and skin healthy.
How to get Iron:
Apparently, the best source of iron is animal protein, particularly red meat.
But, it’s still possible for vegans to obtain iron from plant-based foods such as spinach, wheat bran, kidney beans, white beans, whole-wheat bread, prune juice, and dried fruits.
However, the body tends to find it difficult to absorb iron from plant-based products than from meat. What you can do is pair your plant-based iron foods with rich sources of vitamin C to improve nutrient absorption.
Since too much iron can be dangerous too, you can have your iron levels checked by a doctor.
A proper medical assessment is necessary to find out whether or not you need to supplement. Your supplement needs also depend on several factors such as your gender, age, and overall health.
Infants and toddlers have a higher iron requirement compared to adults.
But the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for healthy male adults aged 19 to 50 years is 8 mg, and 18 mg for female adults within the same age bracket.
One of the most important supplements for vegans is zinc. Zinc is an essential trace mineral that promotes optimal health. It also supports various body functions and helps stimulate enzymes activities.
Why is Zinc good for you:
Zinc plays a major role in your immunity, wound healing, cell growth, and breaking down of carbohydrates. This mineral is also said to combat common colds.
How to get Zinc:
Many plant foods are rich sources of zinc including legumes, beans, seeds, oats, nutritional yeast, and nuts. But the zinc contained in plant foods also tends to be poorly absorbed by the body.
In fact, many plant-based eaters struggle to obtain this nutritional requirement, and some of them may even be zinc deficient.
Plant-based eaters may find zinc supplements helpful to reap the benefits of this important mineral. In the United States, the RDA for zinc is 8 mg for women, and 11 mg for men per day.
A plant-based diet may be abundant in macronutrients and micronutrients that your body needs to thrive.
But you may still have to take vegan supplements to acquire the other essential nutrients that are only present in meat and animal products.
Fortunately, supplements for vegans can be taken easily, and they are remarkably affordable, too.
Should you consider taking these vegan supplements, remember to see your doctor or dietitian first. Getting a green light from medical and nutrition experts will help ensure you’re on the right path.