People on a vegan diet focus on plant-based foods.
They exclude all animal products.
This is because they don’t want to eat animal products, whether for health or environmental reasons.
A well-planned vegan diet can meet the majority of your nutrient needs while also providing certain health benefits.
However, as a vegan, you must monitor your vitamins and minerals to avoid deficiencies, particularly vitamin B12, which you can’t get from plant food.
In this article, we discuss 7 supplements to pay attention to if you are on a vegan diet.
Table of Contents
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for many processes in the body, including the metabolism of proteins and the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen.
It also plays a key role in your nervous system’s health (4).
The recommended daily intake for adults is 2.4 mcg/day, 2.6 mcg/day during pregnancy, and 2.8 mcg/day during breastfeeding (7).
The only proven way vegans can achieve these levels is to eat B12-fortified foods or take a supplement.
B12-fortified foods often include vegetable milk, soy products, cereals for breakfast, and nutritional yeast.
It is important to remember that vitamin B12 is better absorbed in small doses. The less vitamin B12 you consume, the better your body absorbs it.
People on a vegan diet may not fulfill the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12. They should take a daily supplement containing 25–100 mcg of cyanocobalamin.
Those who are wary of taking supplements can find it reassuring to test their blood before taking any.
B12 levels decrease with age. The Institute of Medicine recommends B12-fortified foods or a vitamin B12 supplement for everyone over the age of 51, vegan or not (14).
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps boost calcium and phosphorus absorption in your intestines (15).
For children and adults, the RDA is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day. The older people should aim for 800 IU (20 mcg) per day (20).
That said, there is some evidence that your daily needs are much higher than the current RDA (21).
You can also get vitamin D from sun exposure (23).
Most people are likely to make enough vitamin D when the sun is strong by spending 15 minutes in the midday sun.
There are also other aspects such as skin type, age, geographical location, sunscreen, and clothing.
In fact, most dermatologists caution against using sun exposure to raise vitamin D levels because of the negative effects of excess UV radiation (29).
The best way for vegans to ensure they get enough vitamin D is to test their blood levels. Those who can not get enough from foods and sunshine should have a daily dose of vitamin D2 or vitamin D3.
Zinc is a mineral crucial to metabolism, immune function, and cell repair. Not taking enough can lead to growth issues, hair loss, diarrhea, and delayed wound healing.
Zinc’s RDA for adults is 8 to 9 mg per day. For pregnant women, it increases 11–12 mg and for lactating women, 12–13 mg (32).
Few plant foods contain zinc. This is due to the fact that phytate concentration decreases zinc absorption from various plant sources.
Vegetarians are advised to reach 1.5 times the RDA. Although a recent review of 26 studies showed that vegetarians and vegans have lower levels of zinc than meat-eaters (33).
Eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day to optimize your intake. These include whole grains, tofu, bread sprouts, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Vegans with symptoms of zinc deficiency may consider taking a daily supplement of zinc gluconate or zinc citrate that provides 50% to 100% of the RDA.
Insufficient iron can cause anemia and other symptoms, including fatigue and decreased immune function. Among adult men and postmenopausal women, the RDA is 8 mg.
For adult women, it increases to 18 mg daily, and pregnant women will target 27 mg daily (36).
There are two ways to find iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is available only in animal products, whereas non-heme iron is present in plants (35).
Heme iron is easier to absorb than non-heme iron in your diet; they often recommend vegans target 1.8 times the normal RDA.
That said, to decide whether such large intakes are required, further studies are needed (37).
Vegans with low levels of iron should eat more iron-rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
The best way to determine whether supplements are required is to get your health practitioner to test your levels of hemoglobin and ferritin.
Keep in mind, excess intakes of supplements such as iron can do more harm than good (40).
High levels may even lead to seizures, organ failure, and, sometimes, death. Therefore, it is better not to supplement unless you really need it (41).
Calcium is an essential mineral for bone and tooth health. It also plays a role in the control of the muscles, nerve impulses, and heart health.
For most adults, the calcium RDA is set at 1,000 mg daily and increases to 1,200 mg daily for adults over 50 years of age (42).
An often-heard statement among the vegan community is that vegans have fewer calcium needs. They do not use this mineral to balance the acidity caused by a meat-rich diet.
To determine how meatless diets impact daily calcium requirements, further work is needed. There is evidence, however, that vegans consuming less than 525 mg of calcium are at an increased risk of bone fractures (45).
That’s why all vegans are encouraged to target the RDA, making sure they consume at least 525 mg daily. If their diet does not contain enough iron, vegans should take an iron supplement.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a crucial role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also appear essential for brain function and to prevent obesity, anxiety, breast cancer, and ADHD (46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51).
Plant sources with a high content of ALA include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and the seeds of hemp and soy. In animal products such as fatty fish and fish oil, EPA and DHA are mostly found.
Theoretically, having enough ALA will maintain adequate levels of EPA and DHA. Studies, however, show that ALA’s conversion to EPA is as low as 5–10%, while DHA conversion may be close to 2–5% (52, 53).
Research also shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower rates of EPA and DHA than meat-eaters (54).
While there is no official RDA, most health professionals agree that there should be sufficient amounts of 200–300 mg of an EPA and DHA supplement per day (54).
Vegans can use an algae oil supplement to meet this recommended intake.
Minimizing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils such as corn, soy, sunflower, and sesame and ensuring that you eat enough ALA-rich foods can also help maximize the levels of EPA and DHA (55).
It is important to get enough iodine for good thyroid function, which regulates your metabolism. During pregnancy and early childhood, an iodine deficiency can lead to permanent mental retardation (56).
Insufficient intake of iodine in adults may cause hypothyroidism. This can cause symptoms such as low energy, dry skin, hand and foot tingling, fatigue, and weight gain (56).
The RDA is 150 mcg of iodine per day for adults. Pregnant women will strive for 220 mcg daily. It is recommended that a breastfeeding woman’s intake should be 290 mcg daily (59).
Iodine levels depend on the soil’s iodine content in plant foods. Food grown near the ocean, for example, is higher in iodine.
Half a teaspoon of iodized salt (2.5 ml) is enough to meet your everyday needs. Vegans who do not want to eat iodized salt should take iodine supplements.
Vegan diets should meet nutritional needs at all stages of life.
However, meeting those nutrient requirements through diet alone and fortified foods may be difficult.
Vegans who are unable to meet their dietary requirements solely through diet should consider taking supplements.
Also, before starting a new vitamin supplement, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider.