Vegan dietary choices and supplements
Modern food production systems and lifestyles make it more difficult for everyone – vegans or not – to get all they need from diet alone. Sometimes, vegan dietary choices and supplements go hand-in-hand. Here are 7 nutrients that you may need to supplement with while on a vegan diet.
Vitamin B12 may be the most important supplement for vegans. This vitamin plays a role in the formation of red blood cells, helps metabolise proteins, and even supports a healthy nervous system.
Vegans typically have a higher risk of deficiency as there are limited vegan sources of this vitamin. Those wary of taking supplements may find it reassuring to get their blood levels of vitamin B12 checked before taking any.
Vitamin D helps regulate mood and improve immune system function, and it aids the body’s absorption of other nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorous.
Few foods contain vitamin D. Vegan sources of vitamin D include fortified cereals and some types of mushroom. The body can make vitamin D when it gets enough sunlight. However, this is not always possible.
The best way vegans can ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D is to have their blood levels tested.
A plant-based vegan diet is generally high in some types of omega-3 fatty acids, but it is low in others.
Omega-3 fatty acids offer several health benefits, including:
- aiding neurodevelopment in infants and children
- preventing Alzheimer’s diseaseand dementia
- lowering the risk of heart disease
- reducing the risk of rheumatoid arthritis
Essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), must come from the diet. The body cannot make them itself. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids, such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), are nonessential, meaning that the body can make them using ALA.
Vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower EPA and DHA levels. Algae oil supplements and concentrates are the best vegan sources of EPA and DHA.
Iron is a nutrient used to make new DNA and red blood cells, as well as carry oxygen in the blood. It’s also needed for energy.
Iron can be found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available from animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants.
The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner, because getting too much iron can again be dangerous.
Calcium is another vital nutrient that some vegans may be lacking. It plays an important role in bone and teeth formation, muscle function, and heart health.
The following plant sources are rich in calcium:
- dark, leafy greens, such as mustard greens, bok choy, and watercress
- legumes, such as chickpeas
- fortified foods, which include many types of plant-based milk
If a person is not getting enough calcium from these foods, they should consider supplementation. Taking vitamin D alongside calcium may help boost its absorption.
Zinc is a mineral that’s crucial for metabolism, immune function, and the repair of body cells.
While not all vegans have low blood levels of zinc, studies showed that vegetarians — and especially vegans — have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood levels of zinc than omnivores.
Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a daily supplement.
Getting enough iodine is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism. Vegans are considered at risk of iodine deficiency.
The only foods considered to have consistently high iodine levels are iodized salt, seafood, seaweed, and dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and farm equipment.
Vegans who do not want to consume iodized salt or eat seaweed several times per week should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Well-planned vegan diets can fulfill your nutritional needs. That said, certain nutrient requirements may be difficult to achieve through diet and fortified foods alone.
All vegans who are unable to meet their dietary recommendations through diet alone should consider taking supplements. Still, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regime.
Disclaimer: All content on the The Local Choice Pharmacy is created and published online for informational purposes only. It does not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on as health advice.