A very large concerns for vegans and people who are not vegan but are considering going vegan is that they wont be receiving enough vital nutrients.
I have gone into depth about two big topics (vitamin B12 and Iron) on previous blogs (which I urge you look at). However, I want to outline the nutrient supplements that I recommend, and why.
Supplements I would recommend:
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system, a vital bodily function.
Some plant foods seem to contain a form of vitamin B12 naturally, but there's still debate on whether this form is active in humans. What's more, no scientific evidence supports whether unwashed organic produce is a reliable source of vitamin B12. If you read the vitamin B12 you will understand this statement, as vitamin B12 is found in soil and water bodies.
Doing research on yourself is import. The most important thing you can actually do for your health. For example, eat your normal diet and go and get a blood test done. This way you can gauge actually what your levels are. Personally my diet gives me enough vitamin B12 so because of that I only recommend vitamin B12 supplements as a safety net just to ensure that you are getting enough in your diet. When looking for a supplement look to make sure that it is vegan friendly.
However if you don't get enough through your normal diet I would highly recommend taking a vitamin B12 supplement and eating vitamin B12 fortified products.
Finally, your ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age. Therefore, the Institute of Medicine recommends that everyone over the age of 51, vegan or not, consider fortified foods or a vitamin B12 supplement.
2. Long chain omega-3's
Omega 3's can be split into essential omega 3 fatty acids and long chain omega 3 fatty acids.
Long chain omega 3's include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosasahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not considered essential because your body can make them from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
These long chain omega 3's are essential in the structural role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also seem important for brain development and reducing the risk of inflammation, depression, breast cancer, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Additionally, research consistently shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA than omnivores. Thats because EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal products like fatty fish and fish oil.
Vegans can reach this recommended 200–300 mg intake by supplementing with algae oil.
What’s more interesting however is that minimising your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils, as well as making sure to eat enough ALA-rich foods, may further help maximise EPA and DHA levels.
Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms like fatigue and decreased immune function. However there are no higher rates of anemia in vegans than any other diet. Interesting huh? Hopefully this will quiet all the haters.
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.
Because heme iron is more easily absorbed from your diet than non-heme iron, vegans are often recommended to supplement iron into their diets. However as per my recommendation with vitamin B12 I suggest getting your blood work done so that you can see how your levels are with your current diet.
Vegans with a low iron intake should aim to eat more iron rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, enriched breads, and some plant milks, can further help.
Don't just supplement iron as it can do more harm than good by damaging cells or blocking the absorption of other minerals. Extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma, and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it's best not to supplement unless it’s truly necessary.
Iron needs to always be in equilibrium. Too little and too much is dangerous. Our bodies can regulate heme iron which means if you are always eating lots and lots of animal protein and iron than chances are you may be getting too much iron. Non-heme iron however can be regulated in the body and therefore there is no chance of overdosing, for the lack of a better word, on it.
So pumping non-heme iron seems like the clear winner over heme iron because of its ability to be well regulated in the body. Not only that but consuming non-heme iron is often recommended to remove the negative effects of heme iron (as mentioned in the Iron podcast).
So eat your plant iron sources because it really speaks for itself.
Now protein isn't inadequate in a vegan diet. Protein is abundant. Protein is in every food source.
The only reason I say supplement with protein is because people are often confused as what contains protein. People sometimes under eat the recommended dose because they overestimate the quantities of protein in food.
For this reason I suggest having a protein shake in the morning with breakfast. Just to ensure that you are receiving a boost of protein in your diet.
As a rule of thumb, if you're eating adequate amount of food, you will be receiving adequate protein levels. People in the western world as very rarely protein deficient.
I also suggest eating foods like lentils, beans, tofu, tempeh, and protein supplements.
Head over to the protein blog to read more about vegan protein!
1. Institute of Medicine (US) Standing Committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes and its Panel on Folate, Other B Vitamins, and Choline. (1998) Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US). Retrieved 28 August 2019 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK114310/ doi: 10.17226/6015
2. Watanabe F, Yabuta Y, Bito T, Teng F. (5 May 2014) Vitamin B₁₂-containing plant food sources for vegetarians. Nutrients. 2014;6(5):1861–1873. Retrieved 1 June 2019 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4042564/ doi:10.3390/nu6051861