Are you feeling overwhelmed trying to find out what supplements vegans need to take? Then today is your lucky day, because this easy to understand list I’ve created is all you need!
Here is the list of the 8 essential supplements you need as a vegan:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Vitamin K2
But don’t stop yet, it is important that you keep reading to find out why your body requires of these supplements, how you can get them, and how much you need each day.
Before we continue, let me tell you a quick story about a friend of mine. You might just be in the same spot she was just a few weeks ago before I wrote this article for her in order to help her in her path to veganism.
A Story About My Friend Fenty Going Vegan
Fenty loved to eat all kinds of meat, especially oven BBQ chicken drumsticks. One time she even danced with two chicken drumsticks in her hands.
To her, animal products were too good to give up. However, things changed when she was diagnosed with prediabetes.
She was shocked and scared, so she decided to go on a spiritual retreat. There, she met a master who had been a vegan for over 60 years.
Fenty told the master about her health condition and that is when she began her whole-food, plant-based diet. Ever since the first day of her spiritual retreat, she has not eaten any animal products.
Her daily meals mostly consist of oatmeal with cinnamon, pasta made from lentils, chickpeas, or black beans, bean burritos, veggie burgers, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Fenty is glad that her blood sugar level is back to normal. One day she went to a local grocery store and overheard someone talking about what supplements vegan may want to take.
She got curious and walked straight to a section of all vitamins and supplements. She had no clue what supplements to buy, so she started juggling vitamin bottles in the air!
Let’s help Fenty figure out what supplements vegans need to take.
1. Vitamin B12
Important Functions: Vitamin B12 (also called cyanocobalamin, hydroxocobalamin, cobalamin or methylcobalamin) supports energy levels, benefits the central nervous system, helps maintain the health of nerve cells, protects the heart, aids in the production of red blood cells to prevent anemia, promotes digestion, boots mood, protects brain health, promotes healthy skin, hair and nails, may lower the risk of certain types of cancer such as cervical, prostate and colon cancers, and plays an important role in your bone health.
Why Vegans Need It? As a matter of fact, vitamin B12 is not really produced by either plants or animals; it is actually made by bacteria.
Animals have B12-producing bacteria in their digestive tracts, which help absorb the vitamin that ends up in animal food products and that is why animal products such as dairy foods, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, and organ meats are the main sources of vitamin B12.
According to The National Institute of Health’s, plant foods have no vitamin B12 unless they are synthetically fortified. Therefore, if vegans do not get enough vitamin B12, they will experience many negative symptoms.
Signs of a B12 deficiency can include loss of appetite, weight loss, constipation, poor digestion, poor memory, confusion, fatigue, shortness of breath, mood changes, depression, problems with balance, feeling lightheaded, palpitations, lack of focus, muscle aches, numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, and dental problems such as bleeding gums and mouth sores.
How To Get It? Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified vegan cereals, fortified grain products, fortified plant-based milk, fortified vegan snack bars, nutritional yeasts, white button mushrooms, and more.
In addition, there are so many vegan multivitamins, dietary supplements that contain only vitamin B12, vitamin B12 with nutrients like folic acid and other B vitamins, and even sprays that will give you exactly what you need throughout the day.
How Much Is Optimal? Pregnant women need 2.6 micrograms and women who are breastfeeding need 2.8 micrograms. A bottle-fed infant needs 0.4 microgram through age 6 months and 0.5 microgram from 7 to 12 months.
Toddlers need 0.9 microgram from age 1 to 3 years. Children need 1.2 microgram from age 4 to 8 years, and 1.8 microgram from 9 to 13 years.
Vitamin B12 is safe and not toxic. Although it is not dangerous to exceed the required amount, it is still best to stick to the recommended amount and not take large doses of any kind of supplement without consulting with your doctor in advance.
2. Vitamin D
Important Functions: Vitamin D maintains strong bones, prevents bone fractures, prevents falls and osteoporosis, facilitates immune system function, regulates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus.
It also boosts weight loss, may prevent cancer like colorectal cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer, improves your lung function, reduces depression, minimizes your risk of multiple sclerosis, protects against heart disease, and reduces the risk of diabetes.
Moreover, vitamin D also reduces the risk of respiratory infections such as colds and flu, prevents chronic headaches, helps ease fibromyalgia pain, reduces your risk of uterine fibroids, and much more.
Why Vegans Need It?
The majority of people have difficulty getting enough vitamin D whether they are vegan or not.
Low vitamin D levels can actually wreak havoc on your everyday life and cause a host of negative side effects. For instance, if you are vitamin D deficient, you may feel fatigue, depressed, anxious, irritable, weak, and more.
What is worse, many studies have shown that low vitamin D has been linked to a number of chronic health diseases, such as osteoporosis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and even cancer.
How To Get It? Getting regular sun exposure is without a doubt the most natural option for warding off vitamin D deficiency. As a matter of fact, getting about 15 to 20 minutes of direct sun on your face and arms every day is enough to produce a healthful dose of vitamin D.
Besides, you can also increase your intake of vitamin D-rich foods, such as mushrooms (shiitakes and chanterelles), fortified products like cereal, juice, almond milk, soy milk, and tofu to maintain your vitamin D status.
Taking a supplement is also a sure way to get a megadose of vitamin D and can help meet your needs in just one single serving. In fact, there are many vegetarian supplements in the market.
Just make sure to check the label on the bottle before you purchase any. VegLife, which is a very common supplement brand, offers plant-derived vitamin D at doses up to 2,000 IU, the maximal safe level per day (set by the U.S. government) for adults.
How Much Is Optimal? Vitamin D intake is recommended at 400–800 IU/day. However, some studies have shown that if you are not getting enough sunlight, then the daily intake needs must be higher than that.
In fact, many health authorities now recommend very high vitamin D intakes, up to 2,000 IU every day. Therefore, in order to take full advantage of the vitamin’s cancer-fighting properties, you will need to take a vitamin D supplement.
3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Important Functions: Omega-3 fatty acids help with cell function, slow aging, support healthy skin, improve sleep quality, alleviate menstrual pain, support joint and bone health, reduce fat in the liver.
This is also beneficial for infant and child development, may help prevent cancer including colon, prostate and breast cancer, fight age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease, improve mental disorders, reduce inflammation, fight autoimmune diseases, reduce symptoms of metabolic syndrome, fight depression and anxiety, and improve eye health.
Why Vegans Need It? Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is the only essential omega-3 found in plant sources.
As long as vegans get enough ALA, there is no need to worry about two other types of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are found in non-vegan sources.
If you are a healthy vegan, your body is able to convert high amounts of plant-sourced ALA into EPA and DHA.
A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids can result in negative health consequences such as liver and kidney abnormalities, decreased immune function, inflammation and arthritis, weight gain, dry skin, memory loss, eyesight problems, depression, fatigue, heart problems, and poor circulation.
How To Get It? Edamame, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, mustard seeds, black beans, soybeans, and kidney beans, tofu, winter squash, canola, walnut and soybean oils, green leafy vegetables, brassica vegetables, berries, and wild rice are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
The fat most plants contain are in the perfect amounts to allow ALA to convert into EPA and DHA. The key is to eat an overall low-fat, nutrient dense plant-based diet. Therefore, there is no need to take any supplements.
How Much Is Optimal? There is no official recommendation for a minimum amount of omega-3 fatty acids at the moment, but according to Dr. Neal Barnard, the adequate intake of omega-3s for women is 1.1g per day and 1.6g per day for men.
Important Functions: Calcium helps build and maintain strong bones, improves dental health, relieves PMS symptoms like bloating and breast tenderness, may prevent osteoporosis, regulates heart rhythm, aids in muscle function, regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels, enables our blood to clot, carries messages between the brain and every body part for nerves, and is needed to control levels of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium in the blood.
In addition, several studies have shown that calcium, in combination of vitamin D, can help fight cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Why Vegans Need It? We actually lose calcium through the skin, hair, nails, sweat, urine, and stool every day, so it is very important to replenish the body’s supply. Since our bodies can not produce its very own calcium, we must get it from the food we eat.
The good news is that we can easily get enough from plant foods. According to Dr. Axe, a calcium deficiency can lead to brittle and weak bones, bone fractures, osteoporosis, problems with proper blood clotting, fatigue and weakness, delays in children’s growth and development, and heart problems.
Moreover, if you have a serious calcium deficiency, you may experience numbness and tingling in the fingers, convulsions, and abnormal heart rhythms. These symptoms often occur in people with severe health problems or those that are undergoing certain medical treatments.
How To Get It? Calcium can be found in green leafy vegetables, such as collard greens and kale, firm tofu, tempeh, a variety of beans, sunflower seeds, baby carrots, figs, broccoli, sweet potatoes, oranges, almonds, almond butter, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, kelp, sesame seeds, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, edamame, fortified soy milk and almond milk, fortified cereals, blackstrap molasses, and much more.
Calcium is better absorbed when taken with food. There are plenty of plant foods that actually contain enough calcium in just a few servings to reach the recommended daily value. So, if you get enough calcium from healthy plant foods, then you will not need to take a supplement.
If you really need to take calcium supplements, aim to only take 500 milligrams at one time because your body is not able to absorb more than this at once.
How Much Is Optimal? The World Health Organization’s recommendation for calcium is 500 mg per day, while other research suggests that the average adult consume 500-700 mg a day of calcium, along with 800-1,000 IU of vitamin D to help absorption.
Important Functions: Eating food rich in iodine regulates metabolic rate, optimizes energy, forms healthy hair and skin, boosts immune system, removes toxic chemicals, prevents enlarged thyroid gland (swelling or tightness in the neck), prevents impaired development and growth in children, and treats fibrocystic breast disease (lumpy breasts).
What is more, iodine has anti-carcinogenic properties, destroys mutated cells, and prevents certain types of cancer such as breast cancer.
Why Vegans Need It? According to Dr. Michael Greger, Vegans, particularly pregnant vegans, are at risk for iodine deficiency and should definitely consult with their doctors about taking supplements or consuming iodine rich foods in their diets. In fact, there are also non-vegan people suffering from this preventable condition.
Also, be aware of overconsumption of raw cruciferous vegetables because they may block the thyroid’s absorption of iodine.
Moreover, muscle weakness and joint stiffness, thinning hair, brain fog, shortness of breath, recurrent infections, impaired kidney function, dry mouth, and hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat particles in the blood) are also symptoms of iodine deficiency.
How To Get It? Seaweed, cranberries, baked potatoes, navy beans, dried prunes, lima beans, corn, green peas, bananas, sea vegetables (nori, dulse, alaria, and wakame), organic strawberries, are excellent sources of iodine.
If you are not a big fan of any of iodine foods listed above, then you may want to take an iodine supplement.
However, again, it is very important to always talk to your doctor before you take any supplements because you do not want to overdose on iodine. Getting too much iodine can cause some of the same symptoms as iodine deficiency.
How Much Is Optimal? The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iodine is 150 micrograms every day for everyone over the age of 14. The RDA for children ages 1-8 is 90 micrograms every day, and ages 9-13 is 120 micrograms every day.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is highly recommended that you get 290 micrograms every day.
Important Functions: Iron improves muscle function, improves the cognitive function, treats anemia, treats restless leg syndrome (irresistible urge to move the legs), regulates body temperature, boosts immunity, supports ongoing energy by helping oxygen reach cells, circulates oxygen, and makes your metabolism work faster, which also aids in weight loss.
Why Vegans Need It? Everyone needs iron in their diets. Iron is a key part of hemoglobin, a protein your red blood cells use to carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body.
A lot of people grew up with the idea that red meat like beef is rich in iron, which is true. However it is also packed with cholesterol, animal fat, and other undesirables.
Vegans can easily get all the iron they need from a healthful plant-based diet. Additionally, eating smaller amounts of plant-based food throughout the day is a great way to increase absorption.
The iron is also better absorbed when combined with the vitamin-C found in fruits and vegetables.
If you are low on iron, you may have symptoms, such as lightheadedness, fatigue, dizziness, palpitations, pale skin, shortness of breath, a tingling feeling in the legs, tongue swelling or soreness, cold hands and feet, brittle nails, poor concentration, poor immune system, strange cravings to eat things that are not foods like clay or dirt, and dry and damaged hair and skin.
How To Get It? Whole grains, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, nuts and seeds are excellent sources of iron found naturally in abundance. In addition, organic dark chocolate, fortified cereals, blackstrap molasses, and prune juice are also great sources of iron.
If you really need to increase your iron intake, simply fill up on greens and beans, as well as vitamin C-rich foods, like fruit and fruit juices that boost iron absorption.
If you think you may be low in iron, just get tested. Your doctor can easily and quickly test your blood for anemia and iron stores and then let you know whether you should take any iron supplement or not. In fact, only in rare cases is an iron supplement necessary.
How Much Is Optimal? Infants and toddlers require more iron than adults because their bodies are growing rapidly. Boys and girls need the same amount of iron — 10 milligrams daily from ages 4 to 8, and 8 milligrams daily from ages 9 to 13.
Women generally need more iron because they lose blood every month during their period. Therefore, women from ages 19 to 50 need to obtain 18 milligrams of iron every day, while men the same age just need 8 milligrams.
Once a woman starts menopause, both men and women need the same amount of iron — 8 milligrams every day.
Important Functions: Zinc is a powerful antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent, which can help prevent cancer, fight free-radical damage, slow the aging process, and even reverse heart disease.
Zinc is best known for its immunity-boosting and wound-healing qualities.
Zinc also improves athletic performance and strength, helps with muscle growth and repair, supports liver health, boosts immune function and fights colds, helps with nutrient absorption and digestion, increases fertility, prevents diarrhea, fights diabetes, prevents Alzheimer’s and promotes brain health, balances hormones, elevates mood, fights depression, increases energy, improves sleep, enhances skin and nails, protects against vision loss, and enhances your sense of smell.
Why Vegans Need It? Animal proteins, such as high-quality meat, certain types of seafood and dairy contain high levels of zinc. However, many studies have shown that diets rich in animal protein can cause early death, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and other serious conditions.
The truth is that you do not need to rely on animal proteins to get zinc because there are plenty of great sources of zinc in a plant-based diet and we will discuss more about it later on in the following section.
Zinc deficiencies can lead to low energy, chronic fatigue, infertility, poor memory, poor concentration, diarrhea, weight gain or loss, hormonal problems, nerve dysfunction, ringing in the ears, slow wound healing, hair loss, more susceptibility to colds and the flu, poor growth and delayed sexual maturation in children, and cravings for salty and sweet foods.
How To Get It? Zinc is found abundant in whole plant foods like whole grains, beans, and legumes(dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, and whole soy products), but is not readily absorbed because it is bound to “antinutrients” like phytates that inhibit zinc absorption.
What you can do is simply soak your beans and legumes first, then cook them thoroughly till they are very soft. These easy steps help reduce the phytates, which makes them so much easier to digest.
Protein actually increases zinc absorption, so foods rich in protein and zinc, such as legumes and nuts, are great choices. The leavening of bread and fermenting of soyfoods like tempeh and miso also boosts zinc absorption.
Cacao, raw cacao, and coffee beans are also excellent sources of zinc and they do not need any special preparation. In addition, fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, tofu, mushrooms, wheat germ, nuts, and seeds are high zinc food as well.
How Much Is Optimal? Women from ages 14 to 18 require 9 milligrams of zinc per day, and 8 milligrams/day for women over the age of 19. Men over the age of 14 need 11 milligrams/day. Infants from ages 0 to 6 months need 2 milligrams/day, and 7 to 12 months need 3 milligrams/day. Children from ages 1 to 3 need 3 milligrams/day, 4 to 8 years need 5 milligrams/day, and 9 to 13 years need 8 milligrams/day.
If you are not able to get adequate amount of zinc through your diet, you may consider taking some zinc supplement.
Zinc is available in so many different forms, such as lozenges, syrups, gels and capsules and also found in most multivitamin and mineral supplements as well. Most importantly, it is best to talk to your doctor first before you take any supplements.
In a nutshell, it is very important to focus on a balanced diet rich in whole, plant-based foods in order to optimize your health.
8. Vitamin K2
Important Functions: Vitamin K2 prevents wrinkles, reverses aging, increases exercise performance, helps regulate use of calcium, helps with nutrient assimilation, supports growth and development in infants and children, prevents kidney stones, improves hormonal balance, reduces varicose veins, improves bone and dental health, prevents heart disease, decreases inflammation, improves your brain health, and more.
In addition, several studies have also shown that K2 has anti-inflammatory properties and offer some protection against cancer.
Why Vegans Need It? There are 2 forms of vitamin K, K1 and K2. Vitamin K1 is found naturally in plants, especially dark green leafy vegetables. Vitamin K2 is produced by microorganisms and low in plant foods, but the good news is that either K1 or k2 is fine for maintaining human vitamin K status.
The human body can convert K1 to K2, but it is uncertain how much is being converted. Therefore, it is good to supplement with K2.
Here are some common symptoms of vitamin K2 deficiency:
- Dental issues like cavities
- Poor blood sugar balance and higher risk for diabetes
- Heart-related problems like high blood pressure
- Varicose veins
- Memory problems
- Metabolic problems
- Much higher chance of having morning sickness in pregnant women
- bloody stool, indigestion and diarrhea
How To Get It? Vitamin K2 is found mostly in animal, dairy products, and fermented food, such as dark meat poultry, grass-fed butter, and fermented cheeses. However, dark green leafy vegetables, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and natto (the slimy fermented soybeans) are all great sources of Vitamin K2.
You can also supplement with K2. Several studies have shown that vitamin K2 supplementation can help reduce the risk of fracture, reduce bone loss, and increase bone mineral density in women with osteoporosis.
In this day and age, K2 supplements are widely recommended, and they are beneficial for people who lead a vegan lifestyle.
How Much Is Optimal? The recommended intake is about 100 mcg of K2 per day. A half cup of kale is more than 500 mcg. Dark green leafies are packed with vitamin K, so eat your greens, and you will be strong and healthy.
Bonus: Check out the video below for further information on how to prevent deficiencies on a Vegan diet!
A diet based on nutrient dense whole plant foods is able to give you an abundance of nutrition needs that help you thrive! However, specific nutrient requirements may be hard to achieve through diet and fortified foods.
With that being said, you may need to consider supplementing with a few essential nutrients.
Eating a plant-based diet and taking important supplements can help you optimize your quality of life and live longer.
Which supplements are you taking now? Is there another essential supplement for vegans that you think I’m missing in this blog post? Let me know on the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article in your favorite social media platform!