Vegan Supplements Part I: The Essentials

Photo: erix! via Flickr

This week on the Vegan Cuts blog, we’re explaining all the essential supplements for vegans to explore. Come back next week to learn about other supplements that may be helpful in fueling your vegan machine (your body, that is!).

Even the most well-balanced vegan diet needs a little help from time to time. Maybe you’ve added some fresh juice to your diet, and that’s a good thing. But you can (and should) do more. You don’t need to pop a ton of pills in order to stay healthy on a vegan diet, but there are a few additions to your medicine cabinet that will keep you strong and healthy.

As with all changes to your diet and exercise, it’s wise to consult with a trusted medical professional before taking up new habits. We’re pretty smart here at Vegan Cuts, but we’re not doctors, so please don’t confuse our articles for medical advice.

B12
A B12 supplement is probably the single most important supplement for vegans, because it’s virtually impossible to get enough of it through a plant-based diet. Low B12 causes anemia and lack of energy, and virtually every vegan I know has experienced one or the other at some point in their lives. Vegans can opt to get their B12 from a supplement or from fortified foods (like some non-dairy beverages and cereals). B12 is best absorbed in small amounts, so a daily supplement of 10mcg per day might be your best bet.

Photo: Lori L. Stalteri via Flickr

Iron
There are plenty of iron-rich plants, including dried legumes and dark leafy greens. Most vegans have no trouble getting enough iron in their diet, but some people’s bodies have trouble absorbing iron properly. It’s important to note that vegans are not more likely to have an iron deficiency as non-vegans. This is a problem that affects everyone. Iron needs Vitamin C to be absorbed properly, so make sure you’re including both. For your best chances of iron absorption, reach for veggies that contain both iron and Vitamin C, like broccoli and bok choy.

Vitamin D
This advice probably goes for everyone who doesn’t live in Southern California or a tropical island which, let’s face it, is most of us. Your body makes its own Vitamin D, fueled by the sun, but if you’re not getting enough sunscreen-free sun explore, consider a supplement of 1,000 I.U.s in pill form.

Photo: Dahl-Face Photography via Flickr

Iodine
You probably don’t think of iodine as something your body needs, but it does. Iodine is essential to thryoid function, which controls hormones that regulate growth. When your thyroid malfunctions, you can experience fatigue and mood symptoms, and in pregnant women, a lack of iodine can cause developmental problems for the fetus. Sea vegetables, asparagus, mushrooms, and strawberries are good vegan sources of iodine, and there are plenty of other plant-based dietary sources available. If you’re looking at supplements, make sure your multivitamin contains at least the daily recommended intake for this mineral.

Calcium
We all need calcium to build healthy bones and teeth! We learned it in primary school, and it’s still true. Of course, vegans know that you don’t need to drink a glass of hormone-laden cow juice in order to get the proper dose of calcium each day. Lucky for us, leafy greens are loaded with calcium and there are plenty of vegan fortified options as well (like certain soymilks and juices). As if you needed another reason to eat more kale, right?

A note worth repeating: As with all changes to your diet and exercise, it’s wise to consult with a trusted medical professional before taking up new habits. We’re pretty smart here at Vegan Cuts, but we’re not doctors, so please don’t confuse our articles for medical advice.

Read Vegan Supplements Part II: The Extras

9 Comments

  1. Ah, what a great article! Yes, a vegan diet is efficient but it is also a great idea to seek elsewhere than leafy greens. I myself take B-12 supplements. I eat pretty strong but I won’t lie, sometimes I get lazy and decide to turn a bowl of tator tots into a meal [don’t do this at home] :p … Needless to say, vitamins, we all need them! Wether you’re a super doctor or newborn vegan, it is good to keep well balanced. I now take Deva MultiVitamins- one a day and it’s a wrap! Speaking of, I am almost out, hehe!
    P.s. I could surely use some California sunshine. Atlanta is currently cold but it’s nothing this Canadian can’t handle ;)

    I love this side of Vegan Cuts- Awesome blog contents!
    oxo,
    Holly

    • Cat

      Thanks, Holly! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a tater tot meal once in a while. After all, we have to feed our souls as well as our bodies, right? It’s great that you have a multi-vitamin you can rely on, and there’s certainly no substitute for actual sunshine! Keep warm!

  2. Stacy

    Thanks for the reminder. I popped my Deva multi after reading this. I am awful about taking pills daily. Luckily a daily multi is the only type of pill I need thanks to a plant-based diet!

    • Cat

      You’re welcome, Stacy! Daily habits can be difficult to build, especially if you don’t have a regular routine. I think if you remember to take your vitamin most days, you’re probably fine. If you’re a coffee or tea drinker though, consider putting your vitamin bottle next to your coffee/tea stash. You’ll be sure to remember it every day!

  3. Micah

    Broccoli and many dark leafy greens are also high in calcium, as you mentioned. Calcium inhibits iron absorption, therefore these are not good sources of iron. If you are concerned about iron and if you are in need of iron supplements, it is best to take iron and calcium at different times in the day. Preferable sources of iron for vegans include fortified cereals, blackstrap molasses, and some beans and seeds. Soy also contains iron-inhibitors in addition to the added calcium in tofu. Practices such as pairing iron-rich foods with Vitamin C, as you mentioned, are a good strategy for increasing iron absorption. Cooking with cast iron pans is another good way to achieve increased iron content.
    Iodine deficiencies are very uncommon in the U.S. because of salt fortification, and deficiencies are not at all unique to a plant-based diet (with an international review). Most people in the U.S. get enough iodine just by eating prepared foods.

  4. Micah

    This is a really great article! But, I also want to mention that this guidance changes very much based on age/life stage and sex. I recognize that that’s a point of this article, but raising children on a vegan diet and certain stages of preconception and pregnancy in women bring quite a variation to the micronutrient needs of an individual.

    Another important micronutrient that should be addressed in a vegan diet is zinc: http://www.theveganrd.com/2009/05/getting-enough-zinc-on-vegan-diets.html

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