Vegan And Vegetarian Supplements

There is no argument when it comes to being healthy. Eating more plants is one of the best things you can do. A plant-rich diet is rich in nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, and low-calorie foods. It can also help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

Due to the health benefits of plants and the popularity of plant diets, it may seem that there is a growing interest in plant nutrition. Although plants are surprisingly healthy, they do not provide every nutrient you need.

Vegetarian vs Vegan
Vegan Supplements

First, let’s define what it means to be a vegetarian or vegan.

Vegetarian diet

A vegetarian is a pretty flexible term, as people define it differently. Some vegetarians eat eggs, dairy products, or even seafood. They mostly avoid chicken, beef, and pork. 

Vegan diet

The vegan diet takes a much stricter approach to eliminate animal products. It removes everything that comes from animal sources. This means that eggs, dairy products, seafood, and all meat are entirely excluded.

Vegans also avoid foods or supplements made from gelatin, and sometimes honey, as they are made from animals. Some vegans do not use leather products or other types of products made from animal skins.

Need for supplements

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (USA) states that vegetarian or vegan diets can be well balanced and nutritionally adequate for people of all ages. Those who follow plant diets tend to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. But supplements may be required to meet all nutritional conditions.

7 vegan and vegetarian supplements

If you decide to stick to (or are already following) a vegetarian or vegan diet, here are a few supplements that you might consider.

Protein

The word “protein” comes from the Greek, and its literal meaning is “primary.” It means that it is an essential nutrient for human health. The body can produce two other macronutrients, carbohydrates, and fats, but it cannot make nine essential amino acids found in protein. 

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) per day for protein is 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men. Animal products contain all nine amino acids. Plant foods, on the other hand, do not have all nine amino acids.

If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure you get all your amino acids by taking protein powder or supplements.

Iron

Iron is a nutrient necessary for the production of two essential proteins: hemoglobin and myoglobin. These proteins are responsible for the transfer of oxygen to the blood and muscles. Too little iron leads to anemia when blood cells cannot correctly transport oxygen. This leads to fatigue, shortness of breath, poor learning ability, and decreased immune function.

Plant foods contain iron, but the type of iron in plants called non-heme iron is poorly absorbed. The animal feed contains heme iron, which can easily be absorbed. 

The RDA for iron is 8mg for men and 18mg for women because they have higher iron needs due to monthly blood loss.  If you are on a vegetarian or vegan diet, you should first try to include more iron-rich foods in your diet before choosing a supplement. Iron supplements should not be taken without a blood test and doctor’s recommendation.

Unnecessary iron supplements can cause digestive upsets and block the absorption of other essential minerals. If you are taking iron supplements, do not use them with foods that are high in calcium, which can reduce digestibility.

Omega 3 Fats

Omega-3 fats are “essential” fats in the diet. There are three omega-3 fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found almost exclusively in fish. They are useful for brain and eye function and to reduce depression.

The RDA for omega-3s per day is 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men. Most omega-3 supplements range from 250-1000 mg per day. Depending on how strictly you follow your vegetarian diet, this will determine which type of omega-3 supplement you should choose.

Fish oil is made from fish, so those who follow a vegetarian diet avoid this type. The best choice for vegans is algae oil, which contains both EPA and DHA, but is made from algae instead of fish.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral, and the body needs it in minimal quantities. This does not mean that it is not essential for health. It is used for growth, proper wound healing, a healthy immune system, and to help the body consume carbohydrates from food. It is even necessary for the right smell and taste.

The RDA for zinc is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women. The absorption of zinc from plant foods is very poor. If you want to take supplements, zinc usually comes in several different forms, such as zinc picolinate, zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc citrate.

Each contains a different degree of zinc; there is no specific form that is recommended compared to the other. But be careful when taking a high dose of zinc for a long time, as this may interfere with the absorption of other minerals such as iron.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for strong bone and teeth. It also helps maintain a healthy heart, nervous system, and muscles. Most vegans do not get enough calcium because they do not consume dairy products.

The RDA for calcium is 1000mg per day for adults under 50. Studies have shown that those who consume less than 525mg of calcium per day have an increased risk of bone fractures. 

If you eliminate dairy products, you can find out which plant-based foods contain calcium. Plant sources of calcium include leafy greens, vegetable milk, and tofu. If you are not comfortable getting into leafy greens or drinking milk for plants, you might consider supplements.

Vitamin D Supplements

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that plays a role in hormone production, mood, immune function, and calcium absorption. It is important for maintaining healthy bones. It can also help in preventing Alzheimer’s, cancer, and heart disease.

A deficiency is quite common because most foods are poor sources of vitamin D. Between 40 and 60% of the population is believed to be deficient in vitamin D, even omnivores. Those who live in cold climates, who spend a lot of time indoors and people with dark skin are at risk of vitamin D deficiency. In addition, as we age, the body becomes less effective in making vitamin D from the sun, which is why older people are especially at risk.

Due to the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and the fact that most foods high in vitamin D are animal foods, vegans and vegetarians should consider a supplement. Strive to get between 600-1000 IU per day of vitamin D and spend at least 20-30 minutes in the sun to make sure your needs are met.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy DNA, red blood cell formation, and brain function. Vegetarian or vegan diets are usually deficient in B12 because they are found only in protein-related animal feeds.

It is estimated that between 20-40% of the world’s population is deficient in B12, as many people do not absorb it well, even if they eat enough. Following a vegan or vegetarian diet increases the risk of deficiency; 52% of vegans are deficient in this vitamin. The deficiency can cause nerve damage, anemia, infertility, and heart disease.

The RDA for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg per day for adults. The ability to absorb B12 decreases with age. For those on a vegan or vegetarian diet, a supplement is recommended. Some people prefer to do a “mega-dose” of B12 through injection.

Conclusion

There are a few arguments that eating more plants is healthy. But, as you can see, plants do not provide everything you need to thrive. Several essential nutrients are not found widely in plants. Vegetarian or vegan multivitamins can meet most of these nutrient needs.

Also, don’t forget that proper diet planning is still required on a plant-based diet.