8 Best Supplements for Vegans
It’s no secret that food trends have been dominating people’s choices and lifestyles. We keep hearing about new diets and health crazes, but how do we know which is better and healthier? Some advise low caloric intake, while others are restrictive and get rid of some food groups. Among the dozens of diets circulating everywhere comes the one that has been considered among the healthiest dietary systems out there. That is the vegan diet.1
What is a vegan diet?
The vegan diet is derived from “veganism,” which is defined as a way of life where all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty are excluded. This exclusion has to do with food and clothing. This is the reason why the vegan diet is a system that restricts any animal products: meat, eggs, and dairy. Many have resorted to this type of dieting for numerous reasons, from ethics to environmental concerns or to improve their health.
There are several different types of vegan diets:
- Whole-food vegan diet: can incorporate a wide variety of whole-plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, and nuts.
- Raw-food vegan diet: consists of raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and plant foods that are either uncooked or cooked at temperatures below 118 degrees Fahrenheit.2
- Thrive diet: raw-food vegan diet where you can eat plants and whole foods that are raw or minimally processed.
- 80/10/10: raw vegan diet with limited fat-rich plants like avocados and nuts. Mainly relies on soft greens and raw fruits.
- Raw until 4: low-fat vegan diet where you eat raw food until 4 p.m., then can have a cooked plant-based meal for dinner.
- Junk-food vegan diet: lacks whole plant food and relies on mock meats, cheeses, fries, and other processed vegan foods.
- The starch solution: low-fat, high-carb diet focused on starches and corn instead of fruits.
Vegan diets and health
Vegan diets can be very healthy and beneficial for your well-being. Vegans normally tend to be thinner and have a lower body mass index (BMI) than others. They also have more stable normal blood sugar levels, keeping type-2 diabetes at bay.3
Observational studies have linked vegan diets to a much lower risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease. Reports have also shown the vegan diet to lower bad cholesterol (LDL) as well as total cholesterol levels.3 4 Other health benefits include having lower risk of developing cancer, showing less severe symptoms of arthritis such as pain and joint swelling, and having lower risk of poor kidney function and mental issues.5
Foods to avoid in vegan diets
If you choose to follow a vegan diet, this means that you are choosing to follow a diet that has none of the following ingredients:
- Meat and poultry: beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, organ meats, and many others
- Seafood and fish: All types including shrimp, squid, calamari, crab, etc.
- Dairy: milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cream, ice cream, etc.
- Eggs: any kind of egg coming from any kind of animal
- Bee products: honey, bee pollen, and others
- Animal-based ingredients: lactose, casein, whey, egg white albumen gelatin, L-cysteine, omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish, etc.
What are the best supplements for vegans?
Despite the vegan diet being a healthy system that protects your health, its limited food choice may lead to certain nutrient deficiencies. These may put you at higher risk of certain health problems. Studies show that vegans may be deficient in vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, iron, calcium, and even zinc.6
While not having all the nutrients that your body needs can be worrisome, you can always try to pick foods that are fortified. In addition, consider eating fermented and sprouted food while avoiding caffeine-rich drinks that may sabotage your nutrient absorption.
Many may find it difficult to eat enough of everything allowed in order to have a well-balanced diet. That’s where supplements come in. There are numerous supplements for vegans. Just as much as it is important to pick the right nutrient-dense food to keep you healthy, it is as important to pick the right kinds of supplements. Here is a closer look at the best supplements that vegans can incorporate into their routine.
1. Vitamin B12
B12 is one of the most important supplements for vegans, as it plays a major role in many bodily functions. Vitamin B12 helps in the formation of red blood cells, metabolism of proteins, and the support of a healthy nervous system.
It is true that anyone can have vitamin deficiencies. However, with the limited variety of food to choose from, vegans are at a much higher risk of B12 deficiency. On the other hand, this vitamin gets absorbed differently by each individual and declines as you age. So unless you are eating a lot of B12-fortified foods, make sure to take a B12 supplement.
You can decide to take a B12 supplement as a pill, a spray, or a sublingual tablet. Keep in mind that the most readily absorbable form of vitamin B12 in pills is methylcobalamin. While sprays and sublingual tablets may be absorbed by the body more quickly, research shows that B12 pills can be just as effective at correcting a cobalamin deficiency as a sublingual.7
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps the body in many ways. It plays a role in regulating your mood and improving your immune system, as well as helping your body absorb many nutrients like calcium and phosphorus.
When you get exposed to sunlight, your body generates vitamin D. But this would require sitting anywhere between 15 to 20 minutes in the afternoon sun, every single day. Many do not have this option, especially those who live in cold regions where cloudy skies are part of their daily lives.
To compensate for this low exposure to the sun, you would need to eat food rich in vitamin D such as fish, eggs, and dairy. This is where the dilemma happens: vegans cannot eat anything animal. So, since staying away from animal products will possibly lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D, a daily supplement is recommended.8
Calcium is considered to be a vital nutrient that vegans may be deficient in. This mineral has major roles in the proper functioning of many systems like the formation of teeth and bones, having proper muscle function, and maintaining a healthy heart.
To ensure that you are getting enough calcium in your vegan diet, eat plenty of dark leafy vegetables, legumes, and fortified foods. If you are not getting enough of these, taking a calcium supplement is recommended. Many come as a combination of calcium and vitamin D, which are the best supplements to maximize the absorption of both at the same time.9
Iron is an important mineral, as it helps build healthy blood cells and assists them in carrying oxygen to all organs. There are two forms of iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is derived from animal sources, while nonheme iron is found in plants.
While heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body, you may be able to get enough iron from nonheme sources such as nuts, legumes, whole grains, seeds, dried fruits, and dark leafy vegetables. Iron absorption in the body can also be improved by consuming iron with vitamin C.10
If you think your diet may be deficient in iron, talk to your doctor before adding an iron supplement. While iron deficiency can be detrimental to your health, getting too much of it can be dangerous.
Zinc is a mineral that’s important for healthy metabolism, cell growth and repair, and a strong immune system. Vegans are at high risk of being deficient in this mineral because even if it is available in some plant sources, it is not readily absorbed.
Many plants contain phytates, which are mostly found in legumes and cereals, that can impair the absorption of zinc. One way to reduce the content of phytate is by leavening bread, which can activate the enzyme phytase and break down phytic acid.11
Considering the fast pace of our lives and the lack of proper time for lengthy food preparation, it can be a good idea to take a quality zinc supplement if you are on a vegan diet.
6. Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 is a fatty acid that is a source of healthy fat. Some vegan diets can be rich in this fatty acid while others are low. What puts omega-3 under the spotlight is its many health benefits such as the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, helping the development of the nervous system in kids and children, lowering the risk of heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, and many others.12
Omega-3 fatty acids are either essential or non-essential. Essential ones like alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) cannot be made by the body, so they have to come from food. Non-essential fatty acids, like docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), can be made by the body.
The essential fatty acid ALA is the precursor to the other fatty acids. However, ALA can only be converted to DHA and EPA in very small amounts. So unless you eat a diet high in soy, flaxseed, canola oil, and fish, it is recommended to have an omega-3 supplement. Keeping in mind that a vegan cannot have fish oils, resorting to algae oil is a good alternative.13
7. Vitamin K2
Vitamin K2 plays a major role in blood clotting and wound healing. There are two types of vitamin K: K1 occurs naturally in many dark plants like spinach, and K2 is found mainly in animal products such as dairy, eggs, and dark meat chicken.
Since vegans do not eat anything originating from animals, vitamin K2 deficiency becomes a concern for them. So taking a vitamin K2 supplement can be a great complement to a vegan diet, especially when coupled with a vegan probiotic supplement that can help the intestines process vitamin K2 more usefully.14
Incorporating a multivitamin can be the best way to fill in the gaps in a vegan diet, including the common vitamin deficiencies above. If you are one of those people who do not like to take pills, deciding on one high-quality supplement that can provide you with all your nutritional needs can be the solution.
There are many multivitamins out there. You need to pick the one that meets your needs. For example, if there is something specific that you want to address such as a specific pill for your age, gender, and lifestyle, you can do that. There are also multivitamins that have been formulated especially for vegans that you should consider.
When looking for a multivitamin, however, keep in mind that more isn’t necessarily better. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, for example, are fat-soluble and become toxic when there is too much of them in the body. Stick to supplements that don’t have mega-doses of vitamins as well as trusted brands that have been tested for vitamin content.
Add supplements to fill in nutritional gaps
While vegan diets offer many health benefits, they might lead to some deficiencies due to their restricted food list. Make sure you are exposed to the sun daily when possible, eating a diet of many different types of vegan foods, and complementing your diet with supplements that help you be at optimal health.
In addition to considering these 8 essential supplements for vegans, a ZYTO bioscan can show you which specific supplements your body prefers, or what we call your biological coherence. A ZYTO scan is non-invasive and can be done in just a few minutes.
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12. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” National Institutes of Health. Ods.od.nih.gov.
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14. “Vitamin K: Why Probiotics are Essential to Vitamin K – and Why You Likely Need More of Both.” Body Ecology. Bodyecology.com.