What Vegan Supplements Do You Really Need?
Right now, veganism is pretty trendy. There are more than 850,000 vegans in Canada and about 2.3 million vegetarians. One in every five Canadians wish to reduce their meat consumption, and there’s been a striking 113% increase in plant-based and vegan-related search content. So, it’s likely that the trendiness is only going to pick up.
This is one trend we can certainly get behind for various reasons, as veganism is awesome for people’s health and the planet’s wellbeing. However, an annoying piece of the trendy puzzle (even when the trend itself isn’t annoying) is the barrage of new products marketed to the new population. Everywhere you look, advertisements are saying you need this vegan supplement, and don’t forget that vegan vitamin! It can be challenging to determine what you truly can benefit from and what is just marketing madness.
For vegans, marketing plays on one of the most common hesitations for leaving the omnivore lifestyle behind—where will you get all the necessary vitamins and minerals? Not to worry, this vegan supplement is here to save the day! While some supplementation with vegan vitamins might be necessary, especially while transitioning, it’s usually widely exaggerated for the sake of making a buck.
Let’s break down the vitamins and minerals you truly should consider supplementing with a vegan vitamin and the ones that are purely marketing hype. We’ll also mention vegan food sources for these same vitamins to ensure you’re educated on all the different ways that vegans can get their nutrients.
What are Vitamins, Anyway?
Each vitamin and mineral plays a vital role in various bodily functions. Think of it this way; macronutrients are needed in large quantities (macro) to fuel your body and provide the energy to move and function day-to-day. The macronutrients are listed below.
Micronutrients make up the macros, and the body utilizes them in much smaller quantities (micro). “Micro” might make you think these nutrients are less critical, but the fact is that the micronutrients are responsible for all the body functions on a cellular level. Therefore, deficiencies in certain nutrients can cause major health problems. Micronutrients come from vitamins and minerals. The known vitamins and minerals, which provide the necessary micronutrients are listed below.
Vitamins and Minerals Known to Provide Necessary Micronutrients
- vitamin A
- vitamin Bs (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, biotin, and folate or folic acid)
- vitamin C
- vitamin D
- vitamin E
- vitamin K
Why is Everyone Concerned About Vegan Vitamins?
Dieticians recommend a varied diet because various foods provide different vitamins and minerals. By eating many different foods, you can ensure that, over the course of a couple of days, your body will have all the micronutrients it needs.
Some people get very concerned about vegan vitamins and minerals (and protein, but that’s an article for another day) when they cut out large food groups, like dairy and meat. These people fail to realize that just about every vitamin and mineral can be found in plant-based food sources without the use of vegan vitamins. As with any diet, vegans need to eat varied diets to ensure they get all the necessary nutrients.
There are plenty of vegan supplements and vegan vitamins from which to choose to support your lifestyle for those vitamins and minerals that are hard to come by, whether it’s because of your personal taste or a true rarity.
The Vegan Vitamin With the Most Hype: Vitamin B12
All vitamins are important, and vitamin B12 plays a role in various processes in the body. B12 helps form red blood cells, supports nerve function, assists in the production of DNA, and helps with cellular metabolism. Unfortunately, it is estimated that up to 92% of vegans may be deficient. You can see why ensuring you consume enough B12 is important—so why do we say this is hype?
The importance of vitamin B12 is not hype, and the seriousness of ensuring your vegan diet provides enough B12 is not hype. The hype comes from the idea that it’s impossible to get enough without a vegan supplement. The reason for lots of B12 hype is because the main food sources of vitamin B12 are dairy products and meats. However, many vegan foods are fortified with B12, making eating enough without a vegan vitamin supplement relatively easy. The following foods are great sources of Vitamin B12.
Vegan Food Sources of Vitamin B12
- nutritional yeast
- yeast spreads
- soy or almond milk fortified with B12
- plant-based meats
- cereals fortified with B12
- tofu and tempeh
- nori seaweed
- cremini mushrooms
How Much B12 You Need, and How to Spot a Deficiency
The good news is that vitamin B12 is only required in very small amounts. Adults need between 1 and 24 mcg per day.
Vitamin B12 is unique because it is stored longer than water-soluble vitamins in the body but not as long as fat-soluble vitamins. This is relevant because it means you can meet your B12 requirements in one of three ways.
Ways to Get Enough B12
- consume B12 containing or fortified foods two to three times a day
- take a small-dosed B12 vegan vitamin daily
- take a large-dosed B12 vegan vitamin weekly
It’s worth noting that vitamin B12 seems to be best absorbed when consumed in small doses.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency
- pale or yellowing skin
- weakness and fatigue
- pins and needles or numbing
- noticeable differences in mobility, balance, and coordination
- mood changes
Do you Need a Vegan Vitamin?
Because there are various ways to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin B12, whether or not you need a vegan vitamin depends on your preference. If you don’t enjoy the vegan foods that naturally contain the vitamin or you don’t eat them often enough, you should use a vegan supplement.
Iron—Another Hyped Vegan Supplement
Iron is a vital mineral required to produce hemoglobin and myoglobin to carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body through the blood. Iron is also required for healthy growth and development and the production of some hormones.
The hype around vegan supplements for iron is derived from the misinformation that meat is the only source of iron. However, while red meat is a good source of iron, plenty of vegan food sources also offer a good amount of iron.
The vegan-iron-hype is even greater for iron than for the previous vitamin we mentioned. Still, vegans are no more likely to suffer from anemia (an iron deficiency) than anyone else. In fact, vegans may have an easier time absorbing enough iron, as their diets are typically higher in vitamin C, a key player in iron absorption. So, maybe non-vegans should take this vegan supplement!
Vegan Food Sources of Iron
- tofu and tempeh
- Swiss chard and kale
- hemp and chia seeds
- pumpkin seeds
- fortified cereals
How Much Iron You Need, and How to Spot a Deficiency
Adults require a minimum of 8.7 mg of iron per day. Menstruating individuals require more iron and could benefit from about 15 mg per day. The various sources make it easy to ensure you’re getting adequate amounts of iron in your diet.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
- headache and lightheadedness
- cold hands and feet
- brittle nails
Do you Need a Vegan Supplement?
If you don’t like to eat many of the various foods that have iron, you might find it more convenient to use a vegan supplement.
Vitamin D for Vegans and More
Vitamin D is one of those vitamins that’s been massively undercut by trendier vitamins. Vitamin C gets all the credit for supporting a robust immune system, and while it’s true that it plays a vital role, vitamin D is likely even more beneficial to supporting the immune system.
Vitamin D is, indeed, a valuable vitamin for not only vegans but for all people. Vitamin D plays vital roles in immune health, bone health, and mental health. While rickets (a condition that develops in children due to a prolonged vitamin D deficiency) is relatively rare, a slight vitamin D deficiency is widespread. It’s estimated that one-third of Canadians have less than the recommended vitamin D in their blood levels.
Vegan Food Sources of Vitamin D
The foods that are highest in vitamin D content, like eggs and shellfish, are obviously not vegan friendly, and even for those who do consume food sources like these, getting the recommended dose may be a challenge.
Best Vegan Vitamin D Food Sources
- soy milk
- fortified cereals
- fortified juices
How Much Vitamin D You Need, and How to Spot a Deficiency
Adults require a minimum of 600 IU of vitamin D per day. And many of you are likely experiencing a deficiency even as you read this, so keep an eye out for symptoms.
Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency
- weakened immune system, getting sick a lot
- weak bones and slow wound healing
- hair loss
Do you Need a Vegan Vitamin?
As we mentioned, vitamin D doesn’t get the credit it’s due, and it’s one of the rare vitamins that most people, including vegans, can benefit from supplementing. Unfortunately, vitamin D supplements are not always vegan supplements, so it’s important to find a brand that offers a vegan vitamin when you’re looking for this particular vegan supplement.
More Hype for Calcium
When you think of calcium, what food do you automatically think of? We bet it’s milk (thanks, dairy industry). Thanks to a huge marketing push that began during World War II, the general population has been led to believe that milk is the holy grail for calcium and other nutrients.
The fact is that while dairy is an excellent source of calcium, it is certainly not the end-all-be-all. There is a multitude of other calcium sources, many of which people don’t even consider.
Calcium is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. It’s also essential for muscles and nerves. So, while it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough, you don’t necessarily need milk, and you might not even need a vegan supplement.
Vegan Food Sources of Calcium
- green, leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, okra, and cabbage
- fortified rice and oat drinks
- sesame seeds and tahini sauce
- dried fruits
- soy foods
- beans, lentils, and peas
- almonds and brazil nuts
How Much Calcium You Need, and How to Spot a Deficiency
Adults require between 1,000 and 2,500 mg per day, which can be somewhat difficult to manage. If you regularly fail to meet these requirements, you might experience symptoms of a deficiency.
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency
- muscle aches, pains, and spasms,
- numbness or tingling
- dry skin
- brittle nails
- thinning hair or alopecia
- severe PMS
- brittle teeth and tooth decay
Do you Need a Vegan Supplement for Calcium?
If you have trouble meeting the daily recommendation through food alone, you might benefit from taking a calcium supplement. Most calcium supplements are made from carbonate and citrate and are, therefore, vegan supplements.
Vegan Vitamins: Necessity or Trend?
As with all things that gain popularity and become trendy, there are many vegan supplements and vegan vitamins marketed as a health staple that you must take “because it’s utterly impossible to consume all the necessary nutrients with a vegan diet.”
While vegan supplements are helpful to bridge nutritional gaps in your diet and provide peace of mind that you’re giving your body all that it needs, they are not totally necessary. You likely won’t drop dead (or even feel under the weather) without a vegan vitamin.
Several vegan vitamins and vegan supplements are pushed to the point that we’d consider them mostly hype—like vitamin B12 and iron. On the other hand, other vitamins, like vitamin D and calcium, are potentially more beneficial to take as vegan supplements, despite being overlooked by the media and many people. If you’re worried about your micronutrients, make sure to look for a multivitamin specifically designed for vegans.