Do Vegan Diets Need Supplement Support?
Though your plant-based, vegan diet may be overflowing with colour, delicious wholefoods, and unrefined goodness, it’s also likely to have a shortage of important nutrients. “But what could be healthier than an abundance of fruits and veggies?” you ask. The answer is pretty simple: by eliminating two major food groups, meat and dairy, you will encounter nutritional shortfalls that conspire to hijack your overall health. And while some well-intentioned proponents of veganism maintain that you can meet all your daily nutritional requirements with carefully planned meals and snacks, this advice may do more harm than good. Indeed, once you enter deficiency territory, trust us when we say your body won’t be happy. Here are seven key nutrients you may need to supplement your vegan diet with.
Typically found in animal products, this is a big one for vegans. Vitamin B12 plays a vitally important role in a host of bodily functions, including the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells, protein metabolism, and in the overall health of the nervous system. In short: it’s intimately woven with your wellbeing. Without it, a wave of unpleasantness will ensue: weakness, fatigue, light-headedness, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, digestive issues, and nerve problems. In addition to foods like nutritional yeast and fortified soya milk, adding a high-strength supplement to your diet is the only reliable way to achieve the recommended daily allowance of 1.5mg.
Not only a building block for DNA and red blood cells, but also essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body and energy production, iron is a key ingredient to your overall health and happiness. Too little, and you’ll find yourself exhausted, sluggish, and weak. You may even experience chest pain, headaches, and brittle nails. What makes iron so indispensible to a vegan diet is that the body absorbs twice or three times more from animal sources than plants. So, even if you’re packing your diet with plant-based iron – spinach, beans, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds – it can be helpful to take an iron supplement to cover any nutritional shortfalls. The Department of Health advises 8.7mg a day for adult men and 14.8mg for adult women.
Traditionally abundant in dairy products, like cheese and milk, calcium is another key nutrient for a vegan diet. Besides being famous for bolstering teeth and bones, this mineral also plays a central role in nerve signalling, heart health, and muscle function. Of course, you can find calcium in plant sources, too; kale, watercress, chickpeas, broccoli, and pak choi are crammed with it. However, there’s a raft of scientific evidence to suggest most vegans don’t meet their recommended daily allowance of 700mg (1). As such, a high-strength calcium supplement can be a useful way to plug any gaps you encounter.
As a vegan, you may not be gorging on saturated fats in the form of animal products, but you still need fat in your diet. And this is where omega-3 comes in – in particular long-chain essential fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid, which (DHA) play a major structural role in your eyes and brain. Inconveniently for vegans, these nutrients are usually found in oily fish. To ensure your nutritional needs are met, therefore, we suggest adding a flaxseed supplement to your diet – one of the richest sources of fish-free omega-3.
Usually concentrated in animal products, zinc is also crucial for vegan diets. Needed for immune function, cell renewal, and metabolism, an insufficient intake of the mineral can lead to a number of health implications, such as hair loss, digestive issues, and even delayed wound healing. Besides maxing your intake of zinc-rich, plant-based foods – legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains – adding a high-strength zinc supplement to your diet is a simple and effective way to meet your recommended daily allowance of 9.5mg (adult men) and 7mg (adult women).
In truth, it’s not just vegans who could do with topping up their vitamin D levels. This sunshine vitamin influences a slew of bodily processes, including mood, memory, immune function, and muscle recovery. Unfortunately, animal products (mackerel, salmon, beef liver, cheese, egg yolks) are famous for hogging most of the vitamin D. And though some foods are branded as fortified, it’s rarely enough to satisfy the recommended daily allowance of 10mcg. Beyond food, sun is the next best way to get your vitamin D fix. But in colder months, this isn’t always an option, especially in the UK. The most reliable way vegans can reap the vitamin D benefits is by taking a quality vegan-friendly supplement.
It’s possible that you haven’t heard too much about iodine, but that’s no reflection of just how vital it is for good health, particularly as a vegan. Simply put, iodine controls your metabolism. If you fail to meet your daily requirement of 150mcg, you may start to complain of forgetfulness, dry skin, low mood, weight gain, and lagging energy levels. The foods that boast consistently high iodine levels are seafood, fish, dairy products, seaweed, and iodized salt. However, since we don’t sell iodized salt in the UK, and seaweed is unlikely to form a staple of your vegan diet, taking an iodine supplement is the safest way to close any nutritional shortfalls.
Whatever your reasons for pursuing veganism – health, environmental implications, or as a stand against animal cruelty – you should never loose sight of your nutrition. And while a well-planned and varied plant-based diet will supply you with plenty of goodness, the nutritional benefits can only be felt so far. In truth, certain nutrients are much harder to attain through diet and fortified foods alone. To ensure all your nutritional bases are covered, we suggest investing in a high-strength multivitamin, with a good spread of the nutrients outlined above, and an omega-3 (flaxseed) supplement With these in place, you can begin adding other nutrients to the mix, paying particularly close attention to vitamin B12, iron, and vitamin D.
Clarys. P., Deliens. T., Huybrechts. I., Deriemaeker. P., Vanaelst. B., De Keyzer. W, Hebbelinck. M., Mullie. P. (2014). Comparison of nutritional quality of the vegan, vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian and omnivorous diet. Nutrients. 6(3), 1318-32.
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Keri Filtness has worked in the Nutrition Industry for 19 years. She is regularly called upon for her professional comments on health and nutrition related news. Her opinions have been featured by BBC3, Prima, Vitality, The Mirror, Woman’s Own and Cycling Weekly, amongst others. She has also worked one to one with journalists, analysing their diets and health concerns and recommending changes and additions, where appropriate.