Starting a new plant-based diet or a fully vegan lifestyle can be very rewarding for human health, body, mind and spirit. As you focus away from animal products and move towards filling your plate with more plant foods, you feel physically healthier and better knowing you’re making a better choice for the planet, too. Our vegan vitamins should help you reach your goals.
There is a rewarding feeling that comes along with embracing veganism, but remember that while you’ll feel better, you also need to check in with yourself and make sure you’re getting all of the adequate nutrition you need. While going vegan and getting all of the nutrition we require can be a challenge for some people, it’s definitely possible and can actually become easy.
First start with learning the basics of how to get your vegan sources for B12, calcium, Vitamin D, iron and omega 3s. Here is a breakdown of the major vitamins you need to consider, how to obtain them from nature and how to get them from vitamins and supplements.
B12 is a necessary vitamin, as deficiency can cause anemia or nerve system damage. Most nutritionists recommend that vegans and vegetarians take a daily vitamin B12 supplement. The Vegan Society says that vegans using adequate amounts of fortified foods or B12 supplements are much less likely to suffer from B12 deficiency than the typical meat eater.
Don’t be fooled by people who say the vegan diet is unhealthy. It’s definitely possible to get all of the nutrition you need on a vegan diet.
But it can be difficult to obtain enough B12 from plant foods alone, so you do need to look for fortified foods and supplements. You can find vegan protein bars, protein powders and other foods that are fortified with vegan B12. These can be great options for getting a boost of protein and other vitamins, too.
You can easily find vegan protein bars with B12 at most grocery stores. For vegan protein powders, you can quickly order and have some shipped to your door, or some grocery stores like Whole Foods have vegan protein powder in stock.
For B12-rich food that isn’t a protein bar or protein powder, you have to try nutritional yeast, affectionately known to vegans as nooch. Nutritional yeast might seem weird at first to newbies, but those little golden flakes are almost like gold for vegan cooks.
As the name suggests, nutritional yeast is first and foremost very nutritious. It’s a great source of vitamin B12, plus its cheesy flavor and texture makes it one of the most loved ingredients for dairy-free cooking. Try sprinkling nutritional yeast atop anything you’d eat with cheese, like pasta, pizza, popcorn, soups and sandwiches.
Some people use their nooch container like a parmesan cheese shaker because it can complement many meals. You can also cook some deliciously cheesy dishes with nutritional yeast like mac n’ cheese, casseroles, pizza, breakfast burrito and more.
Aside from cooking with nutritional yeast and fortified foods, vegans should seriously consider taking a B12 supplement every day. Not all of the B12 pills you see for sale online and in grocery stores are vegan, so be sure to read the label when shopping to ensure you aren’t getting an animal-derived source of B12. There are many companies that sell vegan B-12 pills like DEVA and Veglife. It’s also possible to receive B12 shots. Consult your Doctor and consider getting your B12 levels tested regularly if following a vegan diet.
SUMMARY: It’s super important that vegans adequate levels of vitamin B12. The only reliable way to achieve this is by eating fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Calcium is necessary for bone and joint health. Most people associate dairy products as being good sources of calcium, but did you know that most of those products are actually fortified with calcium? It’s not like you have to milk a cow in order to obtain calcium. The Earth provides plenty of plant-based options of calcium without humans having to harm any cows.
Blackstrap molasses is a good source of plant calcium. Did you know that just two tablespoons of Blackstrap molasses can provide 400 mg of calcium? Believe it or not, that’s actually more than the amount of calcium in one serving of milk or cheese! Other plant-based sources of calcium include tofu, tempeh, white beans, navy beans, figs, hemp milk, tahini and fennel. You can also find foods that are fortified with vegan calcium such as vegan yogurt, vegan orange juice and soy milk.
SUMMARY: Vegans consuming too little dietary calcium should consider taking a daily supplement. This is especially important for those getting less than 525 mg per day.
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is necessary for building healthy bones and maintaining bone strength. When you take your calcium pills or eat a calcium-rich meal, be sure to include a nice source of Vitamin D, too. The presence of Vitamin D while eating calcium actually helps increase your body’s ability to absorb the calcium. You can get your Vitamin D from the sun, which many experts say is the best source. You can also shop for Vitamin D-fortified food sources such as vegan yogurt and some cereals, protein bars and protein powders. Vegan Vitamin D supplements are also an option, but it’s best to first get as much as you can from the sun or food sources first.
SUMMARY: Vitamin D deficiency is a problem among all Humans. Vegans unable to maintain normal blood levels through fortified foods and sun exposure should consider taking a supplement.
Iron is an essential mineral that we need to help transport oxygen throughout the body. Iron is an important part of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. According to The Vegan Society, iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. However, once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to find the iron you need throughout the day in a combination of plant foods that work well for lunch and dinner meals.
Plant-based sources of iron include cooked broccoli, cooked kale, tomato juice, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, oats, spelt, natural real dark chocolate, potatoes, prune juice, raisins, quinoa, leafly greens and dried apricots. Be sure to eat your iron-rich foods with something that contains vitamin C, since that helps speed up iron’s absorption. For natural Vitamin C, look for peppers, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kiwifruit, oranges, strawberries, pineapple, grapefruit and orange juice.
SUMMARY: Vegans not getting enough iron from their diets should consider fortified foods or a supplement. However, overly high levels can be harmful, and iron supplements are not recommended for everyone.
5. Long Chain Omega 3’s
Omega-3 fatty acids can be split into two categories:
Essential omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: This category includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not considered essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a 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).
SUMMARY: Vegans tend to have lower blood and tissue levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, they may benefit from supplementing with EPA and DHA.
Zinc is a mineral that’s crucial for metabolism, immune function, and the repair of body cells.
An insufficient intake of zinc can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea, and delayed wound healing.
The RDA for zinc is currently set at 8–11 mg per day for adults. It increases to 11–12 mg for pregnant women and 12–13 mg for lactating women.
Few plant foods contain high amounts of zinc. Moreover, zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited due to their phytate content. Thus, vegetarians are encouraged to aim for 1.5 times the RDA.
While not all vegans have low blood levels of zinc, a recent review of 26 studies showed that vegetarians — and especially vegans — have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood levels of zinc than omnivores.
To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day. These include whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Soaking nuts, seeds, and legumes overnight, eating enough protein, and consuming fermented foods, such as tempeh and miso, also seems to boost absorption.
Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement that provides 50–100% of the RDA.
SUMMARY: Vegans unable to reach the zinc RDA should first focus on adding zinc-rich foods to their diets. Those with low blood levels of zinc should consider taking a daily supplement.
Getting enough iodine is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism.
An iodine deficiency during pregnancy and early infancy can result in irreversible intellectual disability.
In adults, insufficient iodine intake can lead to hypothyroidism.
This can cause various symptoms, such as low energy levels, dry skin, tingling in your hands and feet, forgetfulness, depression, and weight gain.
Vegans are considered at risk of iodine deficiency, and studies report that vegans have up to 50% lower blood iodine levels than vegetarians.
The RDA for adults is 150 mcg of iodine per day. Pregnant women should aim for 220 mcg per day, while those who are breastfeeding are recommended to further increase their daily intake to 290 mcg per day.
Iodine levels in plant foods depend on the iodine content of the soil in which they were grown. For instance, food grown close to the ocean tends to be higher in iodine.
The only foods considered to have consistently high iodine levels are iodized salt, seafood, seaweed, and dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and farm equipment.
Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodized salt is sufficient to meet your daily needs.
Vegans who do not want to consume iodized salt or eat seaweed several times per week should consider taking an iodine supplement.
SUMMARY: Iodine plays an important role in your thyroid function and metabolism. Vegans not getting enough iodine from seaweed or iodized salt should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Vegan Vitamins summary
It’s possible to get all of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients you need from a plant-based diet, but it does require careful planning to make sure you’re checking all the nutritional boxes. Then, once you have the basics down and are accustomed to how to get the nutrients you need, soon you’ll be able to enjoy the benefits of being vegan instead of just planning about it.
There’s an amazing feeling that comes along with healthy fully going plant-based or vegan. You’ll feel more of a spring in your step, as well as a more lean and alert energy to power you through your day. If you are still struggling with your transitions check out our helpful guide.