The most important vitamins that vegans have to supplement are D and B12. They are completely non-existent in plants, though vegetarians can get them from dairy and eggs. Anything beyond that completely depends on one’s needs and medical history.
There are a few nutrients that you can find yourself lacking based on your diet and food preferences, but with those, you have a few solutions that you can try before you reach for the pill bottle.
An adult should have a daily intake of 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12, with pregnant women needing 2.4 and the ones who are breastfeeding 2.8 micrograms. The only natural sources of this vitamin are meat, eggs, and dairy. There is not even a trace of it in plants.
Next to being vegan, several autoimmune and gastric issues may cause vitamin B12 deficiency. Some of the symptoms you may experience are tiredness, muscle weakness, memory loss and depression, a smooth tongue, diarrhea, gas, etc.
The easiest way to supplement for it is through fortified foods like fortified soy, oat or almond milk, or cereals or other products you can pick up in the health food aisle of your grocery store.
There’s also an option to take take a pill – the best choice being either as part of a B-vitamin complex or bundled with vitamin D.
There are two ways to get some vitamin D – either through eating animal products or catching some rays. You don’t need more than 10 to 15 minutes in the Sun daily (or 30 minutes 3 times a week), but you will have to expose large patches of skin, ie your legs and back.
If the local climate (or HOA) doesn’t allow for regular sunbathing, you will have to supplement. The same foods that are fortified with B12 will also include vitamin D, or you can pick up a pill, capsule, drops, etc. Mushrooms have plenty of vitamin D2, but that’s the kind that is not absorbed well into the human body.
Depending on your age, you will need anything between 10 and 20 micrograms a day. People who don’t get enough of it can develop brittle bones or autoimmune diseases, while the most common symptoms are hair loss, slow wound healing, fatigue, depression, etc.
Collagen. Vegan collagen
The easiest way for an omnivore to get extra collagen in their diet is by eating Jell-o, bone broth, fish skin, chicken wings, and feet (the last one very popular in beauty-obsessed South Korea). And vegans? Well, together with vegetarians, they need some extra help.
That being said, I have some excellent news – plant-based collagen products have are cheaper to produce than the non-vegan ones. Scientists have discovered that when they introduce Pepsin, a digestive enzyme, to the P. pastoris bacteria, they create almost the replica of human collagen. Therefore, that type of collagen absorbs a lot easier than the one that comes from pigs or beef (the type that is most common in early collagen supplements).
But, a quick rude awakening in case you want to take collagen to erase wrinkles – it’s not going to work. First, it would be one thing if you started taking collagen in your late teens or early twenties. In that case, when you reach your 50s, you will notice less collagen depletion.
Second, no matter when you start taking not only collagen supplements but all the other as well, it’s the inside of the body that will grab it first, and your skin will get it last. This means that the collagen is going to your joints before it starts doing that bare minimum to your skin.
There’s plenty of the omegas in nuts and seeds, but those are all of the short-chain types. The one vegans don’t get is called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) since it’s very rare in plants or exists in very small amounts. This is bad news since this essential fatty acid is a crucial component of the brain, cerebral cortex, retina, and skin.
DHA deficiency can lead to mental health and central nervous system issues, and it will hit pregnant women and children particularly hard.
Now, nuts and seeds contain plenty of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) that can convert into DHA in the human body. But that process can be very insufficient. If you eat plenty of walnuts and flaxseeds but still experience skin issues, mood swings, poor sleep, joint discomfort, etc, it may be time to supplement.
The best way to do so is with algae oil. Sealife is abundant in DHA but it’s not as rich in algae, so you’ll have to pick up an “algae concentrate”.
Calcium is not only important for healthy teeth and bones but also heart health, nerve and muscle function. An average woman should get 1,000 and an average man 1,200 milligrams a day.
There are no distinct early symptoms that can alert you that you’re not getting enough calcium, but more severe ones could be constant tooth issues, heart palpitations, and irritability. Long term, it can all lead to serious dental problems, osteoporosis, cataracts, and brain problems as well.
All you have to do is to eat a lot of calcium-rich foods: nuts, beans, lentils, dark leafy greens, tofu, and fortified food products. Unless you have food allergies and intolerances that restrict your diet or a serious medical issue, you probably may not need to rely on pills and capsules.
Not only for pregnant women, but also an essential nutrient that promotes a healthy thyroid. This translates to the healthy cell growth, cell repair and overall healthy metabolism.
Deficiancy can lead to hypothyroidism, of which early symptoms may be neck swelling, weight gain and cognitive issues. Pregnant women who lack iodine can experience severe issues in their pregnancy and the baby’s development. Other things to be on the lookout for are feeling colder than usual, dry skin and hair, tiredness, irregular periods and changes in heart rhytm.
If you’re pregnant, your doctor will prescribe a supplement that you should take in your fist trimester at least. Outside of that, you can add more seaweed (almost like a seasoning) and iodized salt to your everyday diet.
Iron deficiency can result in a severe case of anemia since without it the body can’t produce enough red blood cells that carry oxygen and nutrients all across the body. Next to all of the symptoms that are associated with anemia, also be on the lookout for heart palpitations, swelling and soreness of mouth and tongue, dry hair and skin, brittle misshapen nails, and restless legs.
Adults need about 20 milligrams of iron a day, and omnivores can get it easily through red meat and seafood. There’s a lot of iron in plants, but the absorption is not as efficient in comparison.
Still, make sure to eat plenty of lentils, beans, peas, leafy greens, dried fruit, and fortified cereals. You can boost iron absorption with vitamin C, so make some space on your plate for broccoli, cabbage, tomatoes, and citrus.
The food source with the highest concentration of zinc are the oyster? Next best thing? Red meat. It takes a few more places on the list before we reach plants and by that time, number have fallen down by a lot. Plus, add that our bodies are far more efficient in absorbing this mineral from animals as well.
Think of zinc as your body’s personal paramedic team (or better yet whatever doughnut equivalent is for paramedics). It goes a long way to support your immune system and help healing of wounds. To prove the point – next time you are experiencing skin irritation or an injury pick up some diaper rash cream (zinc oxide).
Still, before you reach for a pill or soluble tablets, try to add more mushrooms, wheat germ, lentils, split peas, and black eyed peas to your diet.
To Multivitamin or not to Multivitamin
Multivitamins sound convenient because there’s just one pill to think about. However, you have two things to think about.
One, multivitamins (the kind that is supposed to include all essential micronutrients) don’t absorb as well into your body as the products that have only one or a small handful of ingredients. And two, you have to be extra careful with what you pick because some might include secret animal ingredients.
It’s fine if you want to take one as an insurance policy, but it’s a lot better to concentrate on getting everything you need from plants, and just supplement what you don’t.
But, if you want to take a multivitamin anyway and if you would like to know if it works (at least to see if it’s addressing your deficiencies properly), you will have to go and get some bloodwork done. Go through a full course after picking a product (approximately one month supply) and then take a look at what’s going on in your body.
Yes, it’s going to cost a bit, but it will be a lot cheaper and less painful than out of nowhere being smacked in the head with a bad case of malnutrition.
You can meet your daily protein intake requirements on a vegan diet without any problems. However, if you’re doing manual labor, or are an athlete, pregnant, or simply going through a stressful period, you may need some help.