This post may contain affiliate links to awesome products that I love. I won't promote items that I don't use or think you'll find useful. The full disclosure policy is super boring, but it can be found here.
Vitamins vegans need | Important vegan supplements
First, let’s be clear. Following whole food, plant-based vegan diet has been proven not only safe but beneficial. Both the American Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics (aka not vegan organizations) state that well-planned vegan diets are both safe and can have health benefits. It is important to note that ANY diet should be well-planned. That being said, when you are following a vegan diet there are things that you should keep an eye on. Just as you should on any other diet.
Generally speaking, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from food rather than supplements (with the exception of B12.) How do you know if you’re getting the vitamins vegans need? I recommend using an app like Cronometer. Check out my post about counting calories for more info on this app. I don’t count calories, macros, etc. but I do input my food in Cronometer once or twice a week to see how I am doing. If you’re new to this style of eating, you should probably do it more frequently. You don’t have to fit your exact goals every time, it’s completely normal to be over or under on some days. Just make sure you’re generally getting the vitamins and nutrients that you need. If you’re not, look into varying your diet or supplementing if necessary.
Another good option is to go to the doctor and check your levels. This is a particularly good idea if you’re just starting out. Many omnivores are lacking in nutrients, so it can be good to see where you’re at and what you need to be working on.
So, what vegan supplements should you be looking at? Here are some that are (or can be) important.
Vitamins Vegans Need (and everyone else)
B12 is probably the only legitimate concern that anyone should have about vegan diets. Most of the other arguments against a vegan diet are pretty dumb. The lack of B12 in vegan diets is problematic, but it’s also very easy and inexpensive to supplement. Although B12 is only found in animal products, it doesn’t come directly from the animals. B12 comes from soil and insects, so unless you want to eat soil and insects, you should probably supplement. Sublingual cyanocobalamin is what I use and recommend. I like NOW brand because it’s pretty inexpensive and tastes good. We take it 2-3 times per week. We tried buying something else once and it was awful, lesson learned! If you want to learn more about B12, check out some of the videos on NutritionFacts.
If you live in a warm climate with plenty of year-round sunshine, you probably get all of the vitamin D that you need. If not, you should make sure that you’d either directly supplementing or making sure that your food/drinks are vitamin-d fortified. Please note that this is not a vegan specific issue. Omnivores should also supplement vitamin D if they are not getting enough sunshine. Cow milk is fortified with Vitamin D, it is not naturally occurring. Many plant milks are also fortified, check your labels!
If you want to play it safe and supplement, Deva Vegan has a great supplement that’s only about $5 for a 90-day supply. The same brand actually has a lot of supplements if you decide that’s something you want to look into.
I struggled with iron deficiency anemia for years. I wasn’t vegan. Iron deficiency is a real problem, but not one that is specific to vegans. Iron supplements can really wreck your digestion, so I recommend making sure that you are taking in plenty of foods that are high in iron. Here are some high-iron foods to get you started:
- Tofu, tempeh, edamame (soybeans)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Peas and Beans
- Pumpkin, Sesame, Hemp, and Flaxseeds
- Leafy Greens like Spinach
- Potato skins (try to choose organic if you are going to eat the skins!)
You don’t need to drink cows milk in order to get enough calcium. In fact, the negative effects of drinking cows milk far outweigh any benefit from this “easy” source of calcium. Foods like leafy greens, and beans, nuts, and seeds have a moderate amount of calcium. Most non-dairy beverages and many juices are calcium-fortified, making it easy to get all the calcium you need. My personal favorite is calcium-set tofu, and Trop 50 orange juice fortified with Calcium and Vitamin D.
Protein is a macronutrient but I am including it on here even though I don’t want to. If vegans had a dollar for every time they were asked “but how do you get enough protein?” we’d probably all be millionaires! I understand that it’s been thoroughly ingrained in us that meat=protein but guess what? Plants have protein! Some plants have a LOT of protein. It’s very easy to get enough protein following a whole foods plant-based diet. At this point in time, I do not regularly use any vegan protein powder but that is another option if you’re overly worried about protein (which you shouldn’t be.) Every now and then I put a scoop of Vega protein powder in my banana smoothies because it’s yummy and I need to use it. 😉
I’ve also seen a lot of blog posts saying that vegans are often lacking in Zinc, but that’s not a problem that I have personally encountered. If your zinc intake is low, it’s cheap and easy to supplement. I like the NOW brand vegetarian capsules.
Of course, there are many other vitamins vegans need, but these are the basics that you’ll hear about. When following a plant-based diet, you’ll likely be getting more vitamins and nutrients than ever before! A little planning will ensure that you get everything you need while following a healthy, compassionate and environmentally friendly diet.