Wondering about the best supplements for a vegan diet? If you’re eating a plant-based, vegetarian, or vegan diet, check out these recommendations for the best supplements in order to meet your nutrient needs for optimal health.
Can a healthy, balanced plant-based, vegan diet provide all of the nutrients you need? What are the best supplements you should be taking if you eat a completely plant-based vegan diet? Do you need vitamin B12, D, zinc, or calcium supplements? What about iodine and omega 3s? These are all common questions I receive from people who want to live a healthy vegan lifestyle and meet their nutritional needs. That’s why I am sharing my top vegan supplement advice, as well as tips on my own supplement regimen that I follow on my completely plant-based diet, as an experienced plant-based registered dietitian nutritionist. Please note that you should discuss all dietary supplements with your medical practitioner, and this blog does not take the place of individualized nutrition advice that you should receive from your medical practitioner. I recommend that all people sit down with an experienced plant-based dietitian to help you plan a nutritionally balanced plant-based meal plan that meets your individual needs. You can schedule an appointment for a personalized nutrition plan with my team here.
It used to be that plant-based diets were considered risky—it was all about nutrient deficiencies when I first studied nutrition years ago. Well, now we know that plant-based and vegan diets are linked with myriad health benefits, if they are planned well. Yet, some new studies have shown that vegetarian—especially vegan—diets may fall short in some nutrients for many reasons. When you’re eating a well-planned, balanced plant-based diet, you really score on several nutrients. Studies show that plant-based diets tend to be richer in vitamins A, C, and E; thiamin, riboflavin, folate, and magnesium than non-vegetarian and non-vegan diets. Yet, even if you’re eating a diet rich in these plant foods, you can still fall short on a few nutrients of concern: omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, and iodine. This can be even a greater concern if you are unable to eat a balanced diet for a variety of reasons; for example, if you are restricting your calories due to weight loss or maintenance, have a poor appetite, or suffer from various medical conditions that increase your nutrient needs, it may be important for you to get everything you need from foods alone. And all vegans (even vegetarians) should get regular B12 supplementation. For more information, check out this blog on meeting your nutrient needs on a plant-based diet. And when you shop for supplements, make sure you purchase from reputable brands that conduct third-party validation programs to ensure that products meet product safety and quality testing to avoid contaminants and ensure you are getting the nutrients you really want. I’m providing product recommendations below.
Omega-3 fats serve many body functions, such as brain and heart health. Adults should try to aim for at least 2 grams of the short chain omega-3 fat ALA (plant omegas) every day via whole food sources, such as walnuts, flax, hemp, chia, and soy. The body is able to convert these short chain omega-3s to long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, but at low conversion rates. So, I think it’s also important to get a source of EPA+DHA in your diet—the suggestion is about 250-500 mg per day for adults. While these long chain omegas are mostly found in fish, vegans and vegetarians can receive EPA and DHA from algae oil, which is where fish get omega-3s in to begin with. Aim for taking about 500 mg vegan/vegetarian EPA+DHA every 1-2 days.
This is the most important micronutrient vegans (and even vegetarians) need to pay attention to. There is no unfortified plant food that provides significant levels of vitamin B12. The recommendation is to take 250 mcg/day for adults, because of poor absorption of supplements. You can take 1000 mcg/twice per week to meet this recommendation. Alternatively, you can take a vegan multi-vitamin supplement that has this micronutrient (see below).
Calcium is needed for bone and muscle function at levels of about 1000 mg/day, depending on your age and gender. You can find calcium in plant-based sources, such as tofu, cruciferous vegetables, and fortified plant milks. Vitamin D serves many functions, including immune function, but it also helps bones absorb calcium. That’s why you’ll often find calcium supplements paired with Vitamin D. Vitamin D is the sunshine vitamin, so regular modest sun exposure can help, but some regions and seasons makes it difficult to get enough vitamin D. The average adult needs 15 mcg/day. In addition, vitamin D is found in fortified plant milks, cereals, and even mushrooms exposed to light. If your intake falls short, it’s a good idea to supplement. For example, you can take a daily supplement of about 800 mg calcium and 25 mcg vitamin D (vegan) to supplement your intake.
Increasing evidence suggests that it may be a bit challenging to meet your choline needs on a vegan diet, in particular if you are limiting your food intake. Choline, which may be found in legumes, tofu, and green vegetables, is important for healthy brain and nervous system function. Read more about choline here. The average recommendation for choline is 450 mg/day for adults. If you feel you might be falling short, you can supplement your diet intake. However, research shows that too much choline intake may be a problem too. So, don’t overdo choline supplements. Consider taking a low-dose supplement (about 250 mg) a few times per week.
Other micronutrients that you may fall short on include the minerals iron, zinc, and iodine. If you are not eating a plentiful diet for various reasons, such as weight control, poor appetite, or medical conditions, it can be tough to get enough of all of these nutrients in your diet. Plus, a multi can provide B12 and Vitamin D in your diet. However, most multis do not contain sufficient calcium, as that is difficult to include in a multi tablet. You can take a multivitamin and mineral preparation as “insurance” to make sure you meet your nutrient needs for these marginal nutrients. BUT, most common multivitamins—even those marked “vegan” throw in the whole kitchen sink for micronutrients like vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate that vegans typically get tons of. So, there’s no need to supplement for everything. That’s why I’m a big fan of the new vegan multi vitamin and mineral supplements that only provide the nutrients vegans typically fall short on. There are a few brands available, including Wholier, Ritual, Hippo, and Complement. Please make sure that the supplement you chose has third party validation for safety, such as Complement. If you do decide to take a vegan multi, check out how much B12 you are receiving from it so you can adjust your supplement intake accordingly.
Here are a few other words of advice for vegan supplementation:
To learn more about planning healthful plant-based diets, check out the following:
Getting Choline on a Vegetarian and Vegan Meal Plan
How to Get Vitamin B12 on a Vegan Diet
Meeting Your Nutrient Needs on a Vegan Diet
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