Thursday, September 18, 2008

Supplements for Vegans

While a vegan diet can provide you with just about all the nutrients you need, sometimes we all need to take a supplement, to well, supplement what we get in our diet. A vegan diet is just about the healthiest out there compared to the standards of many other diets, but if you aren't the healthiest eater, you should consider taking a pill. It is recommended for most people (which includes omnivores) to take supplements. However, before deciding to take anything, you should have a good idea what you are already getting. If you are already getting what you need for a certain nutrient, do not exceed your DV. It can be harmful to have too much of certain vitamins and minerals. Now, here are some nutrients that vegans should consider supplementing if they are not getting them already.

Iodine: In the United States, China, and India (and other countries), table salt is already fortified for iodine. Iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, fatigue, skin problems, tingling sensations and elevated cholesterol. In Britain and Ireland, iodine is usually consumed in milk from iodine-fortified cattle feed. If you live outside the US, check to see if your salt has iodine in it. If not, try a kelp supplement or iodine supplement, or try kelp tablets, which are a source of iodine.

Calcium:Calcium is often consumed in milk, but the animal protein in milk is known to cause some calcium to be leached from the bones. Minerals like calcium help to make strong teeth and bones, but also work with the nervous system and muscular system. Most soy milks have calcium, and dark green vegetables do as well. However, if you don't think you are getting enough, try a supplement (perhaps only taking a half or third of a dose.) If you are an athlete, minerals help prevent cramps, so make sure you are getting enough. Many calcium pills come with magnesium, and a magnesium deficiency causes the worst cramps (the ones where your calf muscles tighten into a ball, often in the middle of the night.)

Iron: Iron is most commonly found in red meat. It is also in many fortified foods and in chocolate, grains, and greens. Iron from plant sources (non-heme) is less easily absorbed than meat sources (heme). However, it is easy to fulfill your iron requirement without a supplement by eating the aforementioned foods. On the other hand, if you are not getting enough (females also need more than men, for once, because of menstruation) a supplement is a responsible option. Truth be told, in many studies, vegans have had iron levels and hemoglobin levels similar to those in non-vegans, so its not just us who need the supplements. Iron absorption is aided by a healthy Vitamin C intake (something vegans usually get A LOT of, that non-vegans don't.) Iron supplements are easy to find in the grocery store, and you can always take just half a dose if you already get some from your food intake.

Vitamin B12: B12 is necessary for proper neurological functions. It is a byproduct of bacteria, and is not found reliably in plant sources. This is the ONLY nutrient that cannot be naturally consumed in a vegan diet. Long ago, before we washed every thing we ate, we took in enough by eating the dirt on the food (you need only a few micrograms.) Now, that is not the case since we wash everything thoroughly. Some seaweeds and other foods have been thought of to have B12, but since nobody is positive, it is best to take a supplement. Many fortified foods (soy milk, cereal, other supplements, and even Vitamin Water) have plenty of B12 in them, but if you aren't getting any, take a supplement or switch another supplement to one that also has this essential vitamin.

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is often found in dairy products, but can be easily found in many fortified foods. It also can synthesized with sun exposure (10 to 15 minutes daily on just the hands and arms.) Many people get this on just their morning commute to work. However, if you have dark skin and live up North where the winters are very dark, you may not synthesize enough during the winter months. If you aren't eating fortified foods then, consider a supplement. There are two main forms of Vitamin D, D2 and D3. D2 is found in mushrooms and fungi, whereas D3 is only made from animal products (fish oil or lanolin [wool fat.]) Some orange juice has D3 in it, so check labels. The body produces both forms from sunlight.

All of that may seem like a lot, but it really isn't. Chances are, as a vegan, you are getting most of that already, and may be only lacking one or two things if any. However, I put all the major things up there just to cover most people. If any meat-eaters are reading this and think vegans are unhealthy because I'm recommending supplements, you probably need a whole slew of things vegans get PLENTY of. Very few people eat 100% of everything unless they make a point to, so it is common sense for EVERYONE to at least consider a supplement to aid their bodies (the government recommends it in the US.)

Also, please note; I am not a dietitian nor a doctor, so it is best to check with you health care professional before starting any new habits. Of course, nobody pays attention to these warnings, have you every done a 48-hr test for new cosmetics or hair dye? But I'm saying this to cover my ass, even though I did get my information from reliable sources. Always be careful when adding supplements if you take prescribed or even OTC medications, as bad reactions can occur.




I agree with you that supplements are very useful to supply us with vitamins and minerals. They are good for everyone, but indeed more needed if one's diet is vegan or vegetarian.
Besides the ones you mentioned I also recommend Garlic, which makes the blood flow easier, and Omega 3 (also known as "Cod liver oil"), which is important for the brain.
I take one capsule of each every morning.

Emme Vee said...

I beg to differ regarding your info about B12.
B12 is produced by yourself as long as you have healthy intestines. The B12 myth is another of the many myths created by the meat industry. As long as you eat organically grown whole foods you are fine. Just google around a little and you' ll find ample information. It never made sense to me that one vital Vitamin should not be available through plant based diet anyways.
Robert Gray also writes about this in one of his books about colonic health.

Peace & best,
visit my blog:

Allie B said...

This comes as news to me. PETA and other vegan-advocating groups have repeatedly said that b12 needs to be supplemented in some way. I would think that these groups would do everything possible to make the vegan diet sound as healthy and complete as it can. It would appear to me that these groups would openly state what you are saying if it was legit (though I am not denying what you are saying, it could be true.)

It is proven, however, that B12 can be stored in the body for up to 3 years before any supplementation is needed. Also, many processed foods contain b12 (sports and energy drinks, cereals, soymilks, breads, etc.)

There have been claims that some foods, e.g. seaweed, contain b12, but there are not enough positive studies to prove this completely.

Anonymous said...

Marmite (brewer's yeast) is an excellent source of vitamin B12. It is vegan! Its taste is very strong and most people don't like it until they acquire the taste, but it's worth it. It's best spread thinly! on a slice of toast with some vegan margarine.

Anonymous said...

Taking a capsule of cod liver oil is VERY un-vegan, by the way!

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Anonymous said...

This is a lot of great information. Thanks!

I'm considering going vegan not because of animal rights issues but because of the cost of feeding humans with animal products and now as I learned from you the amount of water that is wasted in the production of animal-based foods.


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viagra online said...

Supplements can be very useful for people who is doing a vegan diet, however it depends of the organism of any person. In some cases use this could be catastrophic.

Anonymous said...

How about just eating a balanced diet. Part of being a vegan is caring about yourself, as part of nature, enough to know your body and take in what it needs and nothing else ( i.e. empty calories). There are plenty of vegan sources out there. B12 s the only vitamin that causes some concern, though there are still several vegan options and I think if you eat enough of the possibly adequate sources and diversify your diet, it should be enough.

xlpharmacy said...

Eating right can really have health benefits so take everything in moderation.

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one has to take supplement if required mostly we will get all the nutrients from our diet if diet is

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Vinod Manickam said...

From what i understand, you are turning raw vegan. Meaning that you will eat raw foods. If i am right, then please consider one experience my friend had very recently.
he wanted to be a raw vegan himself and so he started eating only raw vegetables. after some time he started developing stomach flu. When consulted, doctors advised us to eat food which is at-least half boiled.
The reason being that most vegetables have microbes in dormant form. Eating them raw will sometimes activate them in the stomach.

This does not happen always. But if we get to be the unluckly one, we are in deep trouble. So it is always advisable to half boil anything before taking it in.

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Johan said...

I agree with you that Iron supplementis essential mineral for human body. I am getting lots of iron.

Anonymous said...

Marmite is made by Proctor and Gamble who conduct horrific animal tests in labs- whilst the product itself is vegan it is made by animal torturers- best have vegemite- similar product with the B12 but not the same company.

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