The Only Supplements You Need as a Vegan


There will always be those who believe any diet that requires supplementation is inadequate. The truth is, vegans aren't the only ones I see taking multivitamins, and they're definitely not the driving consumers of the supplement market – that would be hard to achieve, being such a small fraction of the population.

No matter your diet, very few supplements are essential for your health and wellbeing, but they can be very convenient. It's no easy task to plan out your meals to meet your RDA for every micronutrient under the sun; it's something that most people simply don't do. Even so, there are a few key nutrients to consider for optimal health on a vegan diet, or any diet for that matter.

The best place to start is considering what you normally eat in a day. If you don't plan your meals, or your meals tend to be vastly different from one day to the next, this can be hard to do. The easiest strategy is to first make sure you're eating several servings of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, and a few nuts and seeds every day.

Even when making sure to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods every day, you'll often find one or two micronutrients being left out. This is where a vegan supplement can come in handy. In most cases, you could simply make some changes to your eating habits to make sure you're including the one or two nutrients you were missing – calcium or iron, for example – but this can be a huge hassle, especially when you've gotten used to cooking certain foods, and preparing certain meals. It's much easier, and it's usually not too expensive to add a supplement to your diet.

The purpose of this post is not to tell you which vegan supplements you should be taking; everyone's eating habits are different, and there's no way for me to know which nutrients you may be lacking. So instead I will go through the supplements that I take every week, and explain why I'm deciding to take each supplement rather than alter my diet.

Personally, I eat very similar food groups from day to day, so my macros and micros always break down fairly similarly. Knowing this, I created a spreadsheet of what I normally eat (this could also be done with Cronometer, or a similar service), and took note of which nutrients were still lacking. Whenever considering a nutritional supplement, I always do my research to make sure I can trust that the brand will supply the advertised potency in their ingredients, and I suggest you do the same.

Vitamin B12

This one is a no-brainer. B12 is just about the only vitamin that can't be found naturally in the vegan diet – that is, unless you make a habit of eating tasty, nutritious soil ... only kidding. Thankfully, there are a huge variety of vegan B12 supplements available, mainly because people over 65 are often recommended to supplement regardless of diet. Some vegans will tell you that you can get B12 in your diet naturally by including a healthy helping of nutritional yeast – and this is almost true.

B12 found in nutritional yeast comes from a bacteria introduced during production, and not all brands of nutritional yeast have this bacteria introduced. This means nutritional yeast is not a natural source of vitamin B12, and so it would be just as well to take a supplement. Furthermore, it's unclear what form of B12 may be in the yeast when you buy it, which could lead to unreliable absorption rates if effectively absorbed at all.

B12 is essential to your health, there's no way around it. I chose a bottle of Nature's Bounty Vitamin B12, because I trust them more than other supplement companies and they provided it in the dosage I wanted. Some people claim they absorb the methylcobalamin form of B12 better than cyanocobalamin, but, except for rare cases, cyanocobalamin is absorbed just as well (if not better) and is often far cheaper. I'm sticking with 1000 mcg of cyanocobalamin taken twice a week.

Zinc

Zinc is a mineral that can be found fairly easily in the vegan diet, but it is not so common as other minerals. I found that I would normally get 10 mg or less of zinc from my food every day. This would be pretty close to what I need, but there is evidence that zinc is not absorbed quite as well from plant foods, and so the RDA for an adult vegan could be as high as 16.5 mg a day. This can be achieved through careful meal planning, but it's simply not convenient.

That's why I've opted for a daily zinc supplement from Now Foods, another company I've looked into and trust. Their supplement is in the form of gluconate, which is one of the few forms of zinc in which you don't have to worry about cadmium contamination. This just makes my day easier because I don't have to think about which foods I should be eating more to meet my zinc needs – supposedly it helps prevent catching colds.

One thing to note: the tolerable upper intake for adults is 40 mg a day, including supplemental zinc. Many zinc supplements are intended for short-term use to increase zinc levels, and thus it can be harder to find supplements with smaller doses of zinc. I just buy 50 mg tablets and cut them in half, taking one of the halves a day.

Iodine

Iodine is essential for thyroid health, but is one of those trickier nutrients because getting too much can be just as bad as getting too little. Some people can get iodine from sea foods, and many vegans choose dulse flakes as a natural and tasty source, but the amount of iodine contained in these foods can be so variable that it makes it difficult to control your iodine levels.

It's generally perfectly safe to eat seaweeds two to three times a week, but if that's not a usual part of your diet, then it's not a bad idea to consider a supplement. I chose Kelp Tablets from Now Foods as a cheap option and a natural source of iodine – much the same as I would with seaweed, I take one 150 mcg tablet every three to four days. Another way to get iodine is through iodized sea salt, but if you don't already add salt to your food, then there's no sense starting now just to meet your iodine needs.

Vitamin D3

It used to be that you could only get vitamin D2 as a vegan source. While this was adequate for raising vitamin D levels in the bloodstream, it just didn't have as high of an absorption rate as vitamin D3. Recently, sources of vegan vitamin D3 have been popping up, derived from lichen of all things. Of course it's always best to go outside and get some sunshine, but if you live up north there's no avoiding a long, cold winter.

Whenever the sun don't shine, I make sure to take a vitamin D3 supplement to keep my mood on the up and up. This isn't as important in the summer, even if there are a few days of clouds and rain, because vitamin D can be stored in the body for a decent amount of time depending on the length of your sun exposure.

In the winter, the angle of the sun's rays are not sufficient to supply UV radiation for several months in a row – depending on where you live. This means no sunburns, but it also means no vitamin D. That's why it's a good idea to grab a bottle of what I can only assume is pure, condensed sunshine and happiness. Avoid those winter blues!

These are just the supplements that I take to, well, supplement the foods that I eat. What one person needs may be completely different from the next. Some people may find themselves lacking in other minerals, such as calcium, iron, or magnesium – I happen to eat several servings of beans, soy foods and oats throughout the day, so these aren't things I worry about – in which case it may be time to consider planning your diet accordingly, or buying the appropriate vegan supplements.

UPDATE (05/23/2019):
Check the comments below for a note on Omega-3 supplementation.

Comments

  1. What about Omega-3? There are three versions of Omega-3 - DHA, EPA, and ALA. I take one tablespoon daily of flaxseeds, but that only addresses ALA. Yes, it is true that the body converts ALA to DHA and EPA, and EPA and DHA are also converted into each other, but the amounts of the latter two are apparently too small if starting from that original 1 tablespoon of ALA, so apparently it is better to simply also include supplements of DHA and EPA as well, not just ALA. So far I have taken care of ALA, but haven't figured out what to do about EPA and DHA yet. I haven't determined how much I should take of EPA and DHA or which brands to buy to get enough of them both.

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    1. I hadn't been taking DHA at the time of writing, so it wasn't included. I'm just now going through to make updates, so I may add DHA/EPA to the list -- I still don't take it regularly because it's among the more expensive supplements, but I do wonder if It'd be worth the expense.

      It's still unclear what the healthy levels of DHA are, but omnivores typically have 2% DHA in their fatty acid composition -- vegans tend to hover just below 1%. Something around 300mg of DHA taken daily should bring most vegans to 2%. I tend to look to Jack Norris as one of the best sources of vegan nutritional information, and this is what he recommends.

      The cheapest source I've been able to find is Vegetology Opti3 Omega-3 EPA & DHA. It ships out of the UK and you can currently get a three-pack for just over $14 USD per 60 capsules (each capsule has 250mg DHA and 150mg EPA, so it's probably reasonable to take one a day, even though the bottle recommends two). Just make sure to keep them in the fridge if you get a bundle of them.

      That'd be just under $90 / year for one person, which is expensive for a single nutrient. I'm hoping the prices come down as the market gets a little more saturated -- the algae form of DHA supplementation is still relatively new.

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  2. Hello again, I'm the same anonymous person who posted the question above.

    Try Vegan Omega-3 Supplement, $24.67 USD (as of June 10, 2019) for 120 softgels, from Zenwise Health, 300mg DHA and 125mg EPA, as ordered by subscription through Amazon (from the U.S. version of Amazon's website, not the UK). 120 softgels = 6 months. That means one year equals $24.67 x 2 = $49.34 (before sales tax).

    You said, "Something around 300mg of DHA taken daily should bring most vegans to 2%." This Zenwise Health product has 300mg DHA, as opposed to the 250mg DHA for the Vegetology product that you found.

    If you subscribe to this item on Amazon, rather than just buy this item one time only, you get a 5% discount. The amount above includes the 5% discount. One time only is $25.97.

    If you order 5 separate items in a given month on Amazon, and this item is included, you get a 15% discount on the price for this item, not 5% discount. I haven't calculated what the price would be then.

    If this is ordered through wikibuy instead of Amazon, then it's $2.00 less per each $24.67, or for a one year order of two bottles it's $45.34 (before sales tax). Wikibuy is a Chrome browser extension that looks at the Amazon product you're looking at and then automatically checks to see if the same product is sold anywhere else online for even less money. I don't know if wikibuy only works in the U.S., if you're in the UK and wikibuy doesn't work in the UK, there may be another web browser extension that does the same thing from UK's end. (I've used wikibuy once so far and got my order successfully in the mail, so they appear to be legit.)

    See the Amazon page for this product at the following URL: https://tinyurl.com/y4yywxpa

    This brand is rated 4.5 stars out of 5 on Amazon. I am thinking at this point that this is probably the brand that I will likely go with.

    $49.34 Amazon (or $45.34 wikibuy) from Zenwise Health seems much cheaper than the one you found that was just under $90 from Vegetology.

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    1. You had me excited for a moment there :) but alas, look at the serving suggestion. It's a 120 capsule bottle, but you have to take two to get 300mg of DHA. Still, 50mg more DHA for about the same price is nothing to sneeze at, so thanks for the thrifty advice! It's about a 15% difference in value, at which point I think it mostly comes down to whichever brand you prefer. Vegetology also has some lichen-derived D3, which is nice.

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