In the world of plant-based nutrition, one of the most common questions asked by vegans is, “what supplements should vegans take?”
Whilst a vegan diet can provide a variety of health benefits, it’s important to be aware of potential nutrient deficiencies. Particularly since many essential nutrients are commonly found in animal-derived foods. That’s why it’s crucial to consider supplementing your plant-based diet with the right nutrients to ensure overall health and wellness.
In this blog, I will show you two ways in which vegans get the nutrients they need, I’ll then delve into the world of vegan supplements and discuss the most important ones to consider, including those for B12, iron, calcium, and more.
By exploring the key players in plant-based nutrition, I hope to provide a comprehensive guide to help you make an informed decision about supplementing your vegan diet.
I am going to take you through all of the nutrients that can be a little bit tricky for vegans to get in their diets without proper planning and a strict diet. Therefore, these are all nutrients that you may want to consider supplementing. I will cover what each is, where it is normally sourced from and where vegans can get it.
Essential vitamins & nutrients
Do I need to take any supplements as a vegan?
Technically, no one needs to take supplements because, in reality, we should be getting all of the essential vitamins and nutrients from the food we eat. However, most people’s diets aren’t as varied as they need to be and a lot of our natural food sources are no longer rich in nutrients like they used to be (like vitamin B12).
If you closely monitor your food consumption and ensure you are eating enough of the right types of food then you should be able to eliminate the need for most supplements. On the flip side, if you know you don’t eat enough of certain types of food then you should consider a supplement.
The supplements vegans may want to take
Depending on your diet, here are the 7 vital nutrients that you may want to supplement on a vegan diet. I go through each in detail and discuss why they are vital for our health. You will then find a link to my favourite supplement to fulfil that vitamin or nutrient.
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that plays a critical role in many bodily functions, including the formation of red blood cells, DNA synthesis, and the proper functioning of the nervous system. It is a water-soluble vitamin, meaning that it is not stored in the body and needs to be obtained regularly through the diet.
Interestingly, Vitamin B12 is actually produced by bacteria. This means that it is found in animal-derived foods such as meat, dairy, eggs, and fish since animals consume this bacteria throughout their lives. Mostly from food. But that being said, many farmers are now supplementing their livestock with B12.
This bacteria used to be present in our crops, meaning it was easy to get vitamin B12 from plant-based sources. But due to overfarming and pesticides, plant-based foods are no longer a reliable source.
As a result, vegans are at risk of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, anaemia, nerve damage, and cognitive decline. In fact, B12 deficiency is one of the most common within the vegan and vegetarian communities.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that play a crucial role in maintaining overall health, including heart, brain, and eye health. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA.
EPA and DHA are found in high amounts in algae, which is actually the source of omega-3 found in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines (often referred to as marine omega-3s). Since these fish eat the algae they then become carriers of EPA and DHA omega-3s. Despite fish being the most commonly used omega-3 source, it is best to go straight to the source (algae) to get purer less toxic forms of this fatty acid.
ALA is found in plant-based foods, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, and is considered an essential fatty acid as the body cannot produce it on its own.
While the body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, this conversion is limited and not all people are able to do it efficiently. Therefore, it is important that we also eat enough sources of EPA and DHA too.
If we don’t, we can develop an omega-3 deficiency which can lead to various health issues, such as inflammation, heart disease, and depression. These deficiencies can be quite common since fish is much more readily available and well-known than algae oil. Meaning when people choose to go vegan they may cut out their main source of omega-3.
See also: here are 8 vegan sources of omega-3
To avoid these health issues, vegans should consider incorporating more plant-based sources of ALA into their diets, such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, and should also definitely consider taking vegan omega-3 supplements derived from algae.
I take a vegan omega-3 supplement every day and I recommend getting this one for high-strength fatty acids:
Iron is a mineral that is essential for producing haemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the body’s tissues. There are two forms of iron: heme iron, which is found in animal products, and non-heme iron, which is found in both animal and plant-based foods.
Heme iron is more easily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron, which is why it can be more tricky to get the daily required intake from a vegan diet. Although, absorption is increased by eating iron-rich food alongside vitamin C. Good plant-based sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, tofu, soybeans, spinach, and fortified cereals.
To ensure maximum absorption from non-heme iron, vegans should focus on eating a variety of iron-rich plant-based foods along with vitamin C (from supplements or food) and may consider taking a vegan iron supplement, especially if they are pregnant or have a higher risk of iron deficiency.
Iodine is a micronutrient required for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which produces hormones that regulate metabolism and other important bodily functions.
Iodine is found naturally in certain foods, including seaweed, seafood, dairy products, and eggs.
Vegans may struggle to get enough iodine in their diets because many of the food sources that are high in iodine are animal-based, such as dairy and seafood. An iodine deficiency can be very dangerous, particularly in pregnant mothers and children.
There are plant-based foods, such as seaweed and iodised salt, that do contain iodine, but the amounts can be inconsistent and may not always be sufficient to meet daily requirements. It is really difficult to measure iodine in seaweed for instance, so even if you eat it everyday you won’t necessarily know how much you are getting and whether it is the right amount.
As a result, vegans may need to rely on fortified foods or iodine supplements to ensure they get enough iodine.
5. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a crucial role in maintaining strong bones and teeth and supporting the immune system. It is sometimes referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because it can be produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin D is found naturally in very few foods, including fatty fish, egg yolks, and mushrooms. It is also added to some foods, such as plant-based milk, and is available as a dietary supplement.
All people no matter their diet may struggle to get enough Vitamin D because they may live in areas with limited sun or because they cover their skin for cultural or religious reasons. For vegans in particular, many food sources that are naturally high in Vitamin D are animal-based, such as fatty fish and egg yolks. While some plant-based foods are fortified with Vitamin D, the amounts can be inconsistent and may not always be sufficient to meet daily requirements.
As a result, vegans may need to rely on supplements to ensure they get enough Vitamin D. Unless they are fortunate enough to live in lovely sunny countries and they are happy to expose their skin to the sun for a short time every day.
Calcium is a mineral that is essential for many bodily functions, including building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, regulating heart rhythm, transmitting nerve impulses, and helping muscles contract and relax.
It is important to maintain adequate calcium intake to support overall health and prevent osteoporosis, a condition characterized by weak bones that can lead to fractures.
Calcium is found in a variety of foods, including dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and fortified foods like plant-based milk and tofu.
Vegans may struggle to get enough calcium in their diets because many of the popular foods that are naturally high in calcium, such as dairy products, are not included in a vegan diet. But just because these are the popular sources of calcium doesn’t mean they are the best!
Some plant-based foods, such as leafy greens and fortified foods, do contain calcium, but the body may not absorb it as effectively if it isn’t complemented with supporting vitamin consumption, like Vitamin D.
To be safe, vegans may want to rely on calcium-fortified foods or supplements to ensure they get enough calcium.
Vegan multivitamin options
If you want to make your life simpler, then most of the following nutrients will be included in a vegan multivitamin. Not only is a multivitamin a lot less hassle since there are fewer pills for you to remember to take, but they are often also a lot more affordable.
You can check out my favourite ones here: try these vegan multivitamins
Or take a look at my favourite vegan multivitamin from Ethical Nutrition – a fully vegan supplement brand with the most eco-friendly packaging:
Some other vegan supplements to consider
Whilst the above nutrients are vital for all people, there may be some other supplements that you specifically require for your vegan diet. This could be because you are looking to enhance your performance or because you have a particular health condition or potential strain on your health.
Here are some additional supplements that may be useful for your vegan diet.
For vegan athletes
If you are looking to enhance your vegan diet, say if you regularly exercise, then you may want to look into supplementing with nootropics (like these by London Nootropics) as well as consuming extra protein.
There are plenty of great sources of vegan-friendly protein, including tofu, tempeh, fake meats, beans and legumes.
Alternatively, you can opt for more direct sources of protein like soy protein, pea protein, and hemp protein. These are all very popular sources that are used in vegan protein powders.
For gut health
Some people may find that a vegan diet has negative effects on their gut in the beginning. This is normally because your body is reacting to a change in your diet.
There are also many people out there who suffer from gut issues, like myself. You may want to consider eating plenty of probiotic-rich vegan food or some probiotic supplements to help balance everything out!
For a vegan pregnancy
Pregnant women need a variety of nutrients to support their own health and the health of their developing fetus. On top of the required nutrients for vegans, pregnant women should look to include folic acid in their list of supplements.
Folic acid is a B vitamin that helps prevent birth defects in the baby’s brain and spinal cord. Folate can be found in leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fortified foods.
It’s important for pregnant women to talk to their healthcare provider about their individual nutrient needs and how to meet them through diet and supplements as necessary.
My favourite vegan supplement brands
As a long-term vegan and regular supplement taker, I definitely have a few firm favourite brands which I love to recommend!
Here are some reviews I have written for my favourite nutrition companies.