Vegan Supplements: A Definitive Guide

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A female is holding a vegan supplement bottle while standing in a kitchen. Vegetables like mushroom, cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce are placed on the shelf in front of her.

Vegan supplements | Important supplements | Alternatives to supplements | Brands | Benefits | Factors to consider

Vegan supplements are an effective way to fill nutritional gaps that vegan diets may not otherwise provide.

There is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of vegan supplements compared to traditional animal-derived ones. However, there is no denying that these vegan supplements have many benefits.

This article will provide a comprehensive guide on vegan supplements, their benefits, and how to choose the right supplement based on your needs.

What exactly are vegan supplements?

Vegan supplements are dietary products that contain only plant-based ingredients. 

These supplements are typically formulated with a vegan diet in mind. They provide  a convenient way to get specific nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, that may be difficult to obtain through plant-based food alone. 

Vegan supplements can also help to bridge the nutritional gap that may occur when transitioning from an omnivorous diet to a vegan one.

The most important nutrient supplements for vegans

The most common concern for vegans is an inadequate intake of some essential nutrients. 

A vegan diet is indeed low in certain nutrients. However, a balanced-diet and vegan supplements can help to bridge the gap.

Here is the list of common vegan supplements:

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, immunity, and general health. 

Although vegans can get vitamin D from sunlight, it is not always reliable. This is because sun-induced vitamin D [1]National Library of Medicine: Sunlight and Vitamin D is influenced by factors such as time of the day, season, latitude, and altitude. 

Generally, vitamin D is found in animal sources such as eggs, fatty fish, and fortified milk. Thus, vegan supplements are recommended for vegans to ensure adequate vitamin D intake. 

How much vitamin D should you consume?

According to National Institutes of Health (NIH) guidelines, [2]National Institutes of Health: Vitamin D the optimal daily vitamin D intake is as follows:

Life stageRecommended intake 
Birth (6-12 months)10 mcg 
Children (1-13 years)15 mcg
Teens (14-18 years)15 mcg
Adults (19-70)15 mcg
Senior adults (71+) 20 mcg
Pregnant and lactating women15 mcg

2. Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient for the development of the central nervous system.

According to a study, [3]PubMed: How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians? people on plant-based diets are at risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Although some believe that certain plant foods, such as mushrooms, can provide enough B12, the available evidence is not strong enough to support this claim.

Therefore, vegan supplements are the best source of vitamin B12 for vegans.

How much vitamin B12 should you consume?

According to NIH, [4]National Institutes of Health: Vitamin B12 recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 is as follows:

Life stageRecommended intake 
0 to 6 months0.4 mcg 
7 to 12 months0.5 mcg
1 to 3 years0.9 mcg
4 to 8 years1.2 mcg
9 to 13 years1.8 mcg
14+ years2.4 mcg
Pregnant women2.6 mcg
Lactating women2.8 mcg

3. Omega 3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are classified into two categories, essential omega-3 fatty acids, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid and can be derived only from your diet. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are long-chain fatty acids and can be derived in the body from ALA.

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in fish and fish oil products, which are not vegan-friendly. Thus, vegan supplements are the best source of omega-3 fatty acids for vegans.

How much omega-3s should you consume?

According to NIH, [5]National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids recommended daily allowance of omega-3s is as follows:

Life stageRecommended intake 
0 to 6 months0.5 g  
7 to 12 months0.5 g
1 to 3 years0.7 g
4 to 8 years0.9 g
9 to 13 years1.0 g (female) and 1.2 g (male)
14+ years1.1 g (female) and 1.6 g (male)
Pregnant women1.4 g
Lactating women1.3 g

4. Calcium

Calcium is a crucial nutrient for bone health and muscle contraction.

According to a study, [6]National Library of Medicine: Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet vegan diets are usually lower in calcium than non-vegan diets. This is because calcium absorption from plant-based sources is inefficient due to the presence of oxalates, phytates, and other anti-nutrients.

Therefore, vegan supplements are advised for vegans to ensure adequate intake of calcium.

How much calcium should you consume?

Here is the recommended dietary allowance of calcium [7]National Institutes of Health: Calcium based on the life stage:

Life stageRecommended intake 
0 to 6 months200 mg  
7 to 12 months260 mg
1 to 3 years700 mg
4 to 8 years1000 mg
9 to 18 years1300 mg
19 to 50 years1000 mg
51 to 70 years1000 mg (male) and 1200 mg (female)
70+ years1200 mg
Pregnant and lactating women1300 mg

5. Iron

Iron in the body is responsible for the formation of hemoglobin in red blood cells. 

Plant-based iron is non-heme iron that is not easily absorbed by the body. As a result, vegan diets are generally low in iron. This can lead to anemia and other health concerns among vegans. 

Therefore, an iron supplement will help in raising blood levels and maintaining health.

How much iron should you consume?

Here is the recommended dietary allowance of iron [8]National Institutes of Health: Iron as follows:

Life stageRecommended intake 
0 to 6 months0.27 mg  
7 to 12 months11 mg
1 to 3 years7 mg
4 to 8 years10 mg
9 to 13 years8 mg
14 to 18 years11 mg (male) and 15 mg (female)
19 to 50 years8 mg (male) and 18 mg (female)
51+ years8 mg
Pregnant women27 mg
Lactating women9-10 mg

6. Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral for body cell repair and development, immune function, and metabolism. Animal products such as meat, poultry, and seafood are rich in zinc. This means that vegan diets are usually low in zinc. 

Zinc deficiency can lead to poor immunity, hair loss, delayed wound healing, and reproductive problems.

Therefore, vegan supplements are recommended for vegans to ensure adequate zinc intake.

How much zinc should you consume?

The recommended daily allowance of zinc [9]National Institutes of Health: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Elements Food and Nutrition Board, National Academies is as follows:

Life stageRecommended intake 
0 to 6 months2 mg
7 to 12 months3 mg
1 to 3 years3 mg
4 to 8 years5 mg
9 to 13 years8 mg
14 to 18 years11 mg (male) and 9 mg (female)
19+ years11 mg (male) and 8 mg (female)
Pregnant women11 mg
Lactating women12- 13 mg

7. Iodine 

Iodine is an essential mineral for thyroid hormone production. Vegans are at risk for iodine deficiency because animal-based foods such as dairy products, seafood, and eggs are the major sources of iodine. 

Therefore, vegans should be mindful of their iodine intake and consider taking a vegan vitamin supplement to ensure adequate levels of this important nutrient.

How much iodine should you consume?

The recommended daily allowance of iodine [10]National Institutes of Health: Iodine is as follows:

Life stageRecommended intake 
0 to 6 months110 mcg  
7 to 12 months130 mcg
1 to 3 years90 mcg
4 to 8 years90 mcg
9 to 13 years120 mcg
14 to 18 years150 mcg
19+ years150 mcg
Pregnant women220 mcg
Lactating women290 mcg

Vegan alternatives to common nutritional supplements

A vegan diet does not need to be deficient in any nutrient if supplemented properly. Fortified vegan foods and plant-based supplements can provide vegans with all the essential vitamins and minerals they need.

Here are some vegan alternatives to common nutritional supplements.

Alternative sources of vitamin D

  • Fortified plant-based milk such as unsweetened almond milk, oat milk, or soy milk
  • Fortified cereals
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified orange juice

Alternative sources of Vitamin B12

  • Nutritional yeast
  • Fortified plant-based milk
  • Cereals, tempeh, tofu.

Alternative sources of Omega-3s 

  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Hemp seeds
  • Plant-based oils such as flax seed oil, olive oil, and canola oil

Alternative sources of Calcium 

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Fortified tofu 
  • Fortified plant-based milk
  • Fortified fruit juices
  • Fortified cereals and grains

Alternative sources of Iron 

  • Tofu
  • Beans and lentils
  • Spinach
  • Potatoes
  • Nuts
  • Fortified cereals

Alternative sources of Zinc

  • Mushrooms
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

Alternative sources of Iodine 

  • Iodized salt
  • Seaweed

Multivitamin and supplement brands to consider on plant-based diet

With increasing awareness of the health benefits of a plant-based diet, many vegan supplement brands are now available on the market.

Here is the list of popular vegan supplement brands to consider:

  • Now Foods
  • VegLife
  • Mary Ruth’s multivitamins
  • Ora Organic
  • Garden of Life
  • Deva’s multivitamins
  • HTC Health

Benefits of vegan supplements

The comparison of vegan supplements to regular supplements depends on the individual needs of people. However, there are several benefits to taking vegan supplements:

1. Natural ingredients

Vegan supplements are made with natural and plant-based ingredients, without synthetic chemicals or added preservatives. This makes them a more natural and healthier option compared to regular supplements.

2. Less risk of allergies

Due to the absence of animal-derived ingredients in vegan supplements, the chances of consuming allergenic substances are reduced significantly. 

Animal products, such as dairy and eggs, are common causes of allergies in humans. Therefore, removing them from the equation can reduce the risk of an allergic reaction to a supplement.

3. Meets nutritional needs

Vegan supplements are designed to meet the nutritional needs of vegans, so they can ensure their dietary intake is complete and balanced. 

Factors to keep in mind while choosing vegan nutrient supplements

If you are considering taking vegan supplements, here are a few factors to keep in mind.

Do your research 

There are countless vegan supplements on the market, and they are not all created equal. Some vegan supplements are made with poor-quality ingredients, while others do not contain enough of the active nutrient to be effective. Thus, it is important to do your research and find a reputable brand before taking any kind of supplement.

Know your nutrient deficiencies 

Before taking any kind of supplement, it is important to understand your own nutritional needs and deficiencies. Talk to your personal nutritionist or healthcare provider to see what nutrients you may be lacking and determine which supplements are best for you.

Know how the supplements interact with medications 

It is also important to be aware of how vegan supplements can interact with any medications you may be taking. Certain supplements can reduce or increase the effectiveness of certain medications.

Don’t overconsume vegan supplements 

Vegan supplements should not be used as a substitute for food. Supplements are designed to supplement your diet, not replace it. Vegan supplements should be taken in moderation, as consuming too much can lead to unwanted side effects.

Conclusion

A healthy and varied diet is the best source of essential nutrients, but vegan supplements can be a great way to fill the nutritional gap in a vegan diet. Alternatively, fortified foods can also be a great option. 

Although vegan supplements are considered safe, it is advised to consult your personal doctor to understand your individual needs and potential drug interactions.

References

References
1 National Library of Medicine: Sunlight and Vitamin D
2 National Institutes of Health: Vitamin D
3 PubMed: How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians?
4 National Institutes of Health: Vitamin B12
5 National Institutes of Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
6 National Library of Medicine: Comparison of Nutritional Quality of the Vegan, Vegetarian, Semi-Vegetarian, Pesco-Vegetarian and Omnivorous Diet
7 National Institutes of Health: Calcium
8 National Institutes of Health: Iron
9 National Institutes of Health: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs): Recommended Dietary Allowances and Adequate Intakes, Elements Food and Nutrition Board, National Academies
10 National Institutes of Health: Iodine

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