Being a vegan has its share of benefits, but there are also some drawbacks you should be aware of. Vegan diets are missing crucial nutrients, like vitamin B12 and even vitamin D, so supplementing should definitely be a priority. While plant foods do provide an assortment of nutrients, some of them may be on the low end. Here are six supplements you should consider taking if you’re following the vegan lifestyle:
- Vitamin B12: It’s extremely important that all vegans get enough vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system. Too little vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and nervous system damage, as well as infertility, bone disease and heart disease. The only reliable way to make sure you get enough is by eating fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
- Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps enhance the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your gut. This vitamin also influences many other bodily processes, including immune function, mood, memory and muscle recovery. The best way vegans can ensure they’re getting enough vitamin D is to have their blood levels tested. Those unable to get enough from fortified foods and sunshine should consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are not technically considered essential because your body can make them from ALA (found in flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts). However, studies report that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as low as 5%, whereas conversion to DHA may be near 0%. Vegans can however, reach their recommended intake through an omega 3 algae oil supplement.
- 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.
- Iron. Vegans not getting enough iron from their diets should consider fortified foods or a supplement. The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner.
- Zinc. Found in every cell in the body, zinc helps with everything from maintaining your immune system to aiding reproduction. And, while zinc can be found in vegetable sources, phytates in plants can actually bind to the mineral and weaken absorption. Taking additional zinc is highly recommended for vegetarians and vegans because of this.
Well-planned vegan diets can fulfill nutrition needs for all stages of life. That said, certain nutrient requirements may be difficult to achieve through diet and fortified foods alone. This is especially true for vitamin B12, vitamin D and Omega-3s. All vegans unable to meet their dietary recommendations through diet alone should consider taking supplements to support overall health, energy, and well being.