9 Supplements Vegans Need to Thrive

At a Glance:

  • A vegan or vegetarian diet offers numerous health benefits, but also comes with a risk of developing a nutrient deficiency.
  • Consuming adequate levels of certain vitamins and minerals is more challenging on a plant-based diet plan.
  • Supplementing a vegan or vegetarian diet with micronutrients that are difficult to come by is the best option to ensure we're getting key vitamins and minerals.
  • Taking a vegan multivitamin is an efficient and effective way to fill in the nutritional gaps that can come with a plant-based diet.


With today's modern food processing and manufacturing practices, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t lacking in at least one of the key vitamins and minerals our bodies need to function optimally. But for those who follow a plant-based or vegan lifestyle, the chance of suffering from a nutrient deficiency tends to be much higher than the general population.

Many advocates of the vegan lifestyle claim that a plant-based, whole foods diet will adequately supply the necessary micronutrients we require for a balanced diet. However, with the potentially severe health risks associated with certain vitamin deficiencies, supplementing a vegan or vegetarian diet with specific supplements can provide a crucial safety net to combat possible complications. 

Leading a vegan or plant-based lifestyle involves relying solely on fruits, vegetables, and non-animal products as a fuel source. While this type of nutrition can offer numerous health benefits, including a lower risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol, there are some specific factors that can compromise a plant-based eaters well-being. For example, today's farming methods have stripped the topsoil of our farmlands of most of the minerals it once contained. Because of this, our produce no longer contains the same nutritional value as they once did in the past. When you consider our barren soil on top of the chemicals and pesticides used liberally on our foods, it’s no wonder that vegans and non-vegans alike struggle to meet their micronutrient minimums.

As research continues to reveal a trend linking plant-based diets to nutritional deficiencies, there is growing support that promotes supplementing a vegan or vegetarian diet with certain essential vitamins and minerals. Today, we will explore nine of those micronutrients and discuss why they are important additions to a plant-based lifestyle. 

Vitamin B12

Although the vitamin is only synthesized in living microorganisms, many in the plant-based community tout the vitamin B12 density of certain vegetarian options, including seaweed, spirulina, and unwashed produce. However, not only would it be challenging to meet the recommended daily intake for vitamin B12 with these foods alone, but research has revealed that these plant sources may not provide a bioavailable form of B12 for humans.[1] Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that consuming unwashed produce will provide enough of the nutrient to maintain healthy levels of B12.

Natural sources of vitamin B12 include foods you won’t find on a plant-based menu, including fish, poultry, dairy products, eggs, and meat. Because of this, deficiency in the micronutrient has become somewhat of an epidemic amongst vegans and vegetarians, with several studies indicating a B12 deficiency for more than 50% of all types of plant-based dieters. One particular study found that the longer an individual followed a vegetarian diet, the more severe their vitamin B12 deficiency was.[2] Additionally, the data revealed that both short and long term vegan dieters were at a greater risk for B12 deficiency than their vegetarian counterparts. In fact, one study revealed 86% of all vegan test subjects were deficient in the key nutrient.[3]

Prolonged vitamin B12 deficiency is extremely dangerous and poses serious health risks. These include brain-tissue atrophy, osteoporotic fractures, cognitive decline, depression, and heart health complications. In terms of general health, maintaining adequate levels of the vitamin plays a crucial role in many biological processes, like protein metabolism, the formation of red blood cells, and central nervous system function.[4] With such a significant role in our well-being, it’s important that plant-based eaters are proactive when monitoring their B12 intake. While current recommendations for B12 advise the general population to consume 2.4 mcg of the vitamin each day, many in the medical community agree that the number should be between 4 and 7 mcg for optimal health. 

To meet that lofty daily intake target from food alone, plant-based eaters would have to consume excessively high quantities of B12 fortified foods like soy products and breakfast cereal or take in large amounts of the few foods that naturally contain low levels of B12. Because neither option is very realistic, health professionals recommend supplementing a plant-based diet with a vitamin B12 supplement, particularly if you are over 50 years old or lead an active lifestyle. As we age, our ability to absorb B12 declines, making it even more important for older adults leading a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Additionally, because of its role in protein metabolism, supplementing vitamin B12 should be a top priority for active plant-based individuals.

Taking a vitamin B12 supplement as part of a vegan or vegetarian diet provides a safeguard for your health while posing no additional risks. Since B12 is a water-soluble vitamin, your body will flush out any excess nutrient, preventing any possibility of reaching toxic levels. Supplementing with a B12 vitamin will ensure that plant-based eaters maximize the benefits of their healthy lifestyles.

Vitamin D

Plant-based eaters are not the only ones at risk of suffering from a deficiency in the sunshine vitamin, with mounting research to suggest a growing epidemic of vitamin D deficiency amongst the adult population.[5] However, because most natural sources of vitamin D come from certain fatty fish species, most Americans rely on fortified dairy products for the majority of their vitamin D intake. Unfortunately, neither food source serves a plant-based diet plan, putting vegans and vegetarians at a greater risk for developing a deficiency.

In the past, our ancestors relied on exposure to natural sunlight to meet their vitamin D needs. When bare skin is exposed to ultraviolet B rays, the body naturally generates vitamin D3. But in today’s society, most of us spend most of our time covered by clothing, working indoors, and generally practicing good sun protection to avoid the risks associated with frequent exposure to damaging UV rays. This leaves diet and supplementation as the only reliable means to meet our daily vitamin D requirement.

Research has shown that nearly every cell and tissue of the human body has receptors for vitamin D, which explains the critical role the vitamin plays in health and disease prevention. Our immune system cells, for example, are particularly responsive to vitamin D, becoming more efficient and effective at fighting disease when the micronutrient is present.[6] On top of keeping us healthy, the sunshine vitamin is also involved in lifting our spirits, with a direct effect on our mood and energy levels. Several studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D is linked to depression and feelings of fatigue.[7,8] Finally, because vitamin D partners with calcium to support bone health by increasing the absorption of the mineral, low levels of the nutrient increases the risk of accelerated bone loss-a health condition particularly problematic for post-menopausal women.[9]

With such few dietary sources of vitamin D in addition to less daily exposure to sunlight, it’s recommended that most of the population supplement with vitamin D. Since vegans and vegetarians are more susceptible to vitamin D deficiency with even fewer food sources to choose from, it’s especially important that this population considers adding a regular vitamin D supplement to their health regimen, particularly since almost all sources of vitamin D3 are derived from animal byproducts. Since vitamin D3 is believed to play a more significant role in both bone and general health than D2 (found in mushrooms), it's clear that supplementing with the vitamin will provide plant-based eaters the peace of mind knowing to know their nutritional needs will be met.

Zinc

As the second most abundant trace mineral found in the human body, zinc plays a significant role in many important biological processes. The mineral plays an important role in metabolism, immune system function, and cell growth and repair. In fact, the nutrient has even been shown to affect our sense of taste and smell, which can impact our satiety and satisfaction after a meal. With its many health benefits, zinc intake should be a top priority for plant-based dieters, who are at a greater risk of suffering from a deficiency.[10]

Vegan and vegetarian sources of zinc include plant foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds, and oats. Unfortunately, while these items may make up a good portion of a plant-based nutrition plan, they don’t provide an optimal form of the mineral. These plant sources of zinc often contain high levels of phytates, which is a chemical compound that binds to the mineral and inhibits its absorption, limiting its bioavailability during digestion.[11]

With the obstacles involved with dietary zinc intake for plant-based eaters, it’s no wonder why zinc deficiency is more prevalent for those who follow a vegan and vegetarian diet. Chronic low levels of zinc can lead to a host of health complications, including reduced immune system response, increased oxidative stress, and a greater risk for developing certain serious diseases like Alzheimer's disease, depression, heart disease, and diabetes.[12] With such serious health consequences on the line, the safest option for plant-based individuals is to supplement their diets with zinc to meet the recommended daily intake of 9 to 11 mg per day.

Calcium

Calcium is a mineral well known for its support of healthy bone and teeth development. But the role of this nutrient in our general health expands beyond the bones, contributing to many important biological functions. Some of these include muscle function, nerve impulse transmission, and heart health. Considering its role in our well-being, there has been a significant focus on calcium intake for the general population, with the recommended daily intake set at 1000 mg per day for most adults, and 1200 mg for adults over the age of 50, when bone loss becomes more prevalent. While the lofty intake goal should be prioritized by herbivores and carnivores alike, studies have shown that plant-based eaters run a higher risk of suffering from a calcium deficiency, particularly if they follow a strict vegan diet.[13]

There is a commonly held belief within the vegan community that claims that plant-based eaters have a lower calcium requirement than carnivores because they do not need to rely on the mineral to neutralize the acidity in the body that results from consuming meat. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this assumption, which can put an already vulnerable population at an even greater risk. Some of the more serious consequences linked to calcium deficiency include an increase in bone-related diseases like osteoporosis and osteopenia, memory loss, muscle spasms, depression, and increased risk of suffering from a fracture. Women over 50 and of menopause age are already run a higher risk for bone loss due to a decrease in estrogen levels, making plant-based dieters within this category particularly vulnerable.

In general, most meat consuming Americans meet their calcium needs through various dairy products as well as fortified foods such as cereals and juice. While plant-based eaters can consume these fortified foods and beverages, there is some question on the bioavailability of the calcium supplied by these products.[14] This leaves vegan dieters very few plant-based options to meet their calcium needs, having to rely mostly on dark leafy greens as a source of the mineral. However, these produce items contain phytates and oxalates, two compounds that bind to calcium to form a salt-like complex, which inhibits the absorption of the mineral. Based on the limited dietary options for those who follow a vegan lifestyle and the questionable effectiveness of fortified foods, it’s within the best interest of the plant-based population to supplement with calcium to guarantee that they are meeting their nutrient needs.

Other Supplements Vegans Need

In addition to B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, and Calcium; Five other supplements vegans need most are: vegan omega 3-6-9 for a source of DHA and EPA, iron, iodine, choline, and specific amino acids (L-carnitine, L-carnosine, L-creatine, L-lysine, L-taurine.)

Vegan Essentials by Healthycell: The Perfect Way to Power a Plant-Based Diet

While a well-balanced plant-based diet can provide numerous health benefits, it can be challenging to meet all of the key nutrient demands required for optimal well-being. Because several essential vitamins and minerals are more difficult to come by with plant-based nutrition alone, taking a vegan multivitamin is a helpful way to ensure you’re meeting all of your micronutrient needs. However, it’s important to select a multivitamin that supplies these necessary nutrients in a highly absorbable form to maximize the uptake of the vitamins and minerals that are crucial to round out a vegan or vegetarian diet. 

Keeping the needs of the plant-based community at the forefront of their mission, Healthycell set out to design a vegan multivitamin that is as effective as it is efficient in supplying patrons with the highest quality nutrition. The Vegan Essential multivitamin relies on advanced microgel technology to provide a superior level of bioavailability of the key vitamins and minerals required for complete health. Using 100% vegan ingredients, Vegan Essentials by Healthycell is the final puzzle piece needed to complete any plant-based diet. If you follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, it’s time to fill in the nutritional gaps with the Vegan Essential by Healthycell, a MICROGEL™ supplement that will maximize your health.


References

[1] Dagnelie, P.C., van Staveren, W.A., & van den Berg, H. (1991). Vitamin B-12 from algae appears not to be bioavailable. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 53(3), 695-7.

[2] Pawlak, R., Parrott, S.J., Raj, S., Cullum-Dugan, D., & Lucus, D. (2013). How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians. Nutrition reviews, 71(2), 110-7.

[3] Pawlak, R., Lester, S.E., & Babatunde, T. (2014). The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature. European journal of clinical nutrition, 68(5), 541-8.

[4] Vitamin B12: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002403.htm

[5] Holick, M.F., & Chen, T.C. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 87(4), 1080S-6S.

[6] Schwalfenberg, G.K. (2011). A review of the critical role of vitamin D in the functioning of the immune system and the clinical implications of vitamin D deficiency. Molecular nutrition & food research, 55(1), 96-108.

[7] Shaffer, J.A., Edmondson, D., Wasson, L.T., Falzon, L., Homma, K., Ezeokoli, N., ... & Davidson, K.W. (2014). Vitamin D supplementation for depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.Psychosomatic medicine, 76(3), 190-6.

[8] Masoudi Alavi, N., Madani, M., Sadat, Z., Haddad Kashani, H., & Reza Sharif, M. (2015). Fatigue and Vitamin D Status in Iranian Female Nurses. Global journal of health science, 8(6), 196-202.

[9] Bener, A., & Saleh, N.M. (2015). Low vitamin D, and bone mineral density with depressive symptoms burden in menopausal and postmenopausal women. Journal of mid-life health, 6(3), 108-14.

[10] Freeland-Graves, J.H., Bodzy, P.W., & Eppright, M.A. (1980). Zinc status of vegetarians. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 77(6), 655-61.

[11] Lönnerdal, B. (2000). Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption. The Journal of nutrition, 130(5S Suppl), 1378S-83S.

[12] Goldberg, H.I., O'Kieffe, D., Jenis, E.H., & Boyce, H.W. (1973). Diffuse eosinophilic gastroenteritis. The American journal of roentgenology, radium therapy, and nuclear medicine, 119(2), 342-51.

[13] Appleby, P., Roddam, A., Allen, N., & Key, T. (2007). Comparative fracture risk in vegetarians and nonvegetarians in EPIC-Oxford. European journal of clinical nutrition, 61(12), 1400-6.

[14] Rafferty, K., Walters, G., & Heaney, R.P. (2007). Calcium fortificants: overview and strategies for improving calcium nutriture of the U.S. population. Journal of food science, 72(9), R152-8.