If you're a vegan following a plant-based diet, it's more than likely that you'll encounter questions about how nutritious your diet is.
The fact is that most whole-food plant-based diets contain nearly all of the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for the body to function happily and healthily.
However, there are still some essential vitamins and minerals that you may want to include in your diet or supplement to ensure you are reaching the recommended daily amounts.
This blog focuses on eight vitamins and minerals vital to a healthy, balanced diet, so you can ensure you include them in yours.
Table of Contents:
Which supplements should you take as a vegan and why?
1 - Vitamin B-12
2 - Vitamin D
3 - Omega-3
4 - Calcium
5 - Iron
6 - Iodine
7 - Zinc
8 - Protein
Are vegan supplements necessary?
Which supplements should you take as a vegan and why?
Although vegan diets are often questioned for their nutritional value, you can find a lot of goodness in a whole-food, plant-based diet.
Vegan diets offer all the nutrients required for healthy and active living, except for Vitamin B-12, which is difficult to find in adequate quantities in plants.
Despite this, there are still certain vitamins and minerals that the body can’t store, so it's important to ensure that you're reaching your recommended daily intake to prevent deficiencies. This is where supplementing can be useful.
Here's a breakdown of the top eight essentials you must ensure are part of your vegan diet for a healthy lifestyle. We’ve covered everything from how to find important vitamins and minerals in foods to why they are important and how you can supplement them should they be lacking, so you can enhance your diet with everything you need to function healthily.
Vitamin B-12 is commonly recognised as the only vitamin that you cannot reliably source from a varied plant-based diet. Because of this, vegans have a higher chance of becoming vitamin B-12 deficient. B-12 is an important vitamin for many of the body's processes, such as the formation of red blood cells, protein metabolism and the health of the nervous system.
B-12 is only naturally found in dairy foods, fish and meat, so including it in a vegan diet involves taking on fortified foods such as plant-based milk, vegan spreads, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast. When relying on fortified foods for your supply, you must check your food labels to ensure you get enough of your daily vitamin B-12 intake.
If your body lacks vitamin B-12, this can lead to anaemia, bone and heart disease and infertility if left unaddressed; sometimes, the symptoms of these conditions can take up to 5 years to appear.
Although there is evidence of vitamin B-12 in plant foods, there's little knowledge about whether this is easily absorbed when ingested. In a vegan diet, as it is difficult to reach the RDA for vitamin B-12, it's recommended that vegans take daily supplements to prevent a deficiency from occurring.
The body absorbs vitamin B-12 best in small doses, meaning the less frequently you take supplements, the more your body requires it. There's no harm in slightly exceeding the amount of vitamin B-12 you take, so it's better to take a supplement that contains slightly more than the recommended amount than none to keep up your daily consumption of 1.5mg per day, as recommended by the NHS.
Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means the body can store it, unlike water-soluble vitamins such as B-12. Vitamin D helps to absorb calcium and phosphorus from the gut and is beneficial for immune function, memory, mood and muscle recovery.
The best way to take on vitamin D for vegans and non-vegans is through at least twenty minutes of daily sun exposure, which can present skin-related problems due to the sun's harmful UV rays. Although, in countries that receive low light in the winter, it can be difficult to benefit from adequate daylight to absorb enough sun rays.
Few vegan foods contain adequate levels of vitamin D, other than fortified cereals and spreads, so it's recommended that you supplement your diet with Vitamin D, particularly in winter when it's harder for the body to convert it from sunlight.
Always check the nutritional information when choosing Vitamin D supplements, as vitamin D3 is often derived from animal sources.
The world of omega-3 is quite complex. These fatty acids can be split into two categories: essential omega-3 fatty acids, also known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and are the only essential omega-3 fatty acid you can only get from your diet, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, which your body converts from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3s are important for brain development and reduce the risk of inflammation, depression, ADHD and breast cancer. It's important to take on enough ALA so that your body can convert it, as most long-chain omega-3s are found in animal products such as fatty fish and oil.
Flax seeds, chia seeds, soybeans, hemp seeds and walnuts are all great sources of omega-3, whilst algae oil can also supply considerable amounts to keep your vegan diet topped up with the recommended daily amounts.
Essential for muscle function, teeth health, heart health, bone development and nerve signalling, it's recommended that adults include 700mg of calcium in their daily diet. The good news is it's readily available in a plant-based diet. Leafy greens, including kale and bok choy, broccoli, chickpeas, watercress, mustard and turnip greens, calcium-set tofu and fortified juices.
If you're finding it difficult to hit your daily allowance of calcium, it can easily be supplemented in capsule form. Too much calcium can lead to stomach pain, so stay within the recommended daily amounts.
Iron deficiency can be a real concern for vegans. Used in creating DNA and red blood cells, it carries oxygen in the blood and is used for energy metabolism.
If you're concerned about your iron levels, it's always worth visiting your GP, who can support you with your intake if your body has low levels, as too much iron can also be problematic. Too little iron can lead to fatigue, decreased immune function and anaemia, so it is important to ensure you take on recommended daily amounts.
Vegans should look for iron-rich foods to supplement their diets, such as dark green leafy vegetables, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, chia and pumpkin seeds, quinoa and fortified breakfast cereals. Vitamin C can also aid the body in absorbing vitamin D, so keeping up vitamin C levels can also be useful.
Iodine is essential for a healthy thyroid and for controlling your metabolism. If your body lacks iodine, you can experience low energy levels, a tingling sensation in your hands and feet, dry skin, forgetfulness and sometimes depression and weight gain. Prolonged insufficient iodine can also lead to hypothyroidism, also known as an underactive thyroid. This can cause your body's natural functions and processes to slow down.
Adults need around 140 micrograms of iodine daily, which is readily available in cow's milk, dairy, eggs and fish, so it can be quite difficult to source in a vegan diet. Plant foods such as cereals and grains contain iodine, but the amount is determined by how much iodine was in the soil in which they grew.
Adding a half-teaspoon of iodised salt or seaweed to your diet can help you easily reach your daily levels of iodine, or consult your GP, who can advise on the best iodine supplement to suit your needs.
Important for the body's immune function, repairing cells, and processing carbohydrates, fat and protein, women require 7 milligrams of zinc per day, whereas men need around 9.5 mg.
A lack of zinc can lead to hair loss and delayed wound healing, but too much can reduce the amount of copper the bones can absorb, leading to weaknesses, so striking a balance is essential.
To best ensure that you're getting enough zinc from your vegan diet, it's recommended that you eat zinc-rich foods throughout the day, such as wheat germ, whole grains, tofu, nuts and seeds. A zinc supplement can help offer a percentage of your daily intake and can also be beneficial to aid repair if you readily take part in intense exercise.
Protein is essential for building and repairing muscles and bones and also aids in carrying oxygen around the body.
You should have a rough daily intake of 0.75g of protein per day for every kilogram you weigh, so it's an essential part of any healthy and balanced diet.
As with any of the body's essentials, it's best to source most of your intake from your food and tofu, non-dairy milk, lentils, beans, pulses and many vegetables are all great sources of natural protein.
If you regularly work out, the good news is that there are lots of great vegan protein powders and snacks on the market to help you replenish your body's protein levels post-workout. You may also want to consider supplementing your intake of amino acids after a heavy workout, as these are essential building blocks of protein.
Read our Vegan vs Whey Protein guide to learn more about vegan protein.
Are vegan supplements necessary?
A varied and well-researched whole food, plant-based diet should provide enough vitamins and minerals to live a healthy lifestyle.
Except for Vitamin B-12, there are ways to find all the essential nutrients you need to function from a vegan diet.
However, if certain vitamins and minerals are difficult to fit into your diet or tests have shown that you are deficient, supplements can help your body function and ensure that any deficiencies don't result in long-term health problems.
Always check the nutritional information before supplementing any areas of your diet to check that what you're supplementing with is vegan-friendly, as many supplements derive ingredients from animal sources. And, if you're adding supplements to your diet, consult a GP to ensure your body will benefit from them and for advice on the recommended daily amounts.
Discover our complete vegan supplement collection at Discount Supplements today. Whether you're looking for vegan protein to replenish your body post-workout or enhance your performance with our range of vegan pre-workout, you'll find everything you need. Then, browse our vitamins and minerals, with vegan-friendly options included. If in doubt, please feel free to contact us for advice.