Vegan Supplements: Please, May I Have Some More?

Vegan Supplements: Please, May I Have Some More?

Vegan Supplements: Please, May I Have Some More?

One of the most important elements of a healthy vegan diet is balance.

Some writers would say you first need to ensure that you have a thorough knowledge of nutrition, and apply that knowledge to well-sourced, locally grown (if possible) selections of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein sources.

Then find out the latest culinary trends so that you can ensure that you are preparing those ingredients in the most bioavailable and flavorful form possible.

Finally, enjoy the glowing health and wellness that results.

But for those of us who live in the real world, we know that life sometimes gets in the way of our best intentions. Not all of us live near a certified organic farm or have vegan chefs showing us the ropes. Some of us don’t cook at all.

Still others are on the go from early morning to late nights studying, working, taking care of families, and cooking perfectly sourced vegan food in perfect nutritional proportions is just not in the cards most days.

Because it is important to ensure you are getting all of the nutritional benefits of your plant-based diet, supplements may be necessary in order to ensure optimal nutrient levels.

Here, then, are some supplements you may want to include to ensure your vegan diet is as healthy as possible.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is the only nutritional element that cannot normally be derived from plant-based sources.

Some bacteria in the small intestine produce Vitamin B12 but do not appear to do so in large enough quantities to prevent deficiency of this vitamin.

Therefore, it is vital to supplement B12 either through a nutritional supplement like nutritional yeast or through fortified products like soymilk or cereals.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is needed for cell division and blood formation, therefore any deficiency of Vitamin B12 is very serious indeed.

Inadequate supplies of Vitamin B12 can lead to nerve damage which is irreversible. However, it appears that once there are adequate stores of Vitamin B12, depletion is rare.

Supplementation several times a week is generally more than adequate to ensure sufficient amounts of this vitamin.

Recommended Levels

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin B12 is 2.4 micrograms (mcg) daily. This amount includes a safety allowance to ensure sufficient levels are maintained.

This small amount of B12 can be found in a little less than 1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast like Red Star T6635+.

This yeast is grown on molasses and is often used in vegan recipes to ensure adequate consumption levels.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an important element of a healthy diet. Because it is tied to the absorption of calcium, vitamin D is necessary for bone health.

Because it is primarily found in oily fish, eggs, and other non-vegan sources, many vegans worry about obtaining enough Vitamin D from their diet alone.

However, the body is able to produce sufficient quantities of Vitamin D on its own with adequate exposure to sunlight. As little as 5-30 minutes of direct sunlight twice per week should be sufficient for Vitamin D production.

The difficulty for many vegans arises from an inability to ensure adequate sunlight. Whether living in an area where sunlight exposure is inadequate, or out of a concern for the effects of unprotected sun exposure, especially in children, many vegans prefer to supplement Vitamin D to ensure sufficient levels.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Besides the need for Vitamin D in order to ensure adequate uptake of Calcium for bone health, shortages of Vitamin D have been associated with increased risk for some cancer and for heart disease.

In addition, Vitamin D insufficiencies have been linked to diseases like multiple sclerosis and depression.

Recommended Levels

The RDA for Vitamin D is 600 IU for individuals up to age 70 and 800 IU for those 71 and over, since there has been posited a link between inadequate Vitamin D uptake and increased risk for some age-related dementia.

Adequate blood stores of the Vitamin can be maintained through sun exposure alone, though supplementation from mushrooms exposed to sunlight, lichen-based supplements, or fortified soy- or nut-based milks or cereals are recommended for those who do not obtain or do not wish to obtain sufficient sun exposure.

Iodine

Iodine is vital for brain health, thyroid health, and many other preventable diseases and disorders, yet fully one-third of people worldwide do not take in this mineral in sufficient quantities.

Supplementation is especially important for vegans since a plant-based diet may contain inadequate amounts of iodine.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Iodine deficiency is the number one cause of preventable intellectual disability, and deficiencies in childhood can cause lifelong negative learning and IQ outcomes.

In addition, iodine is essential to the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, and people without adequate intake of iodine can develop goiters and hypothyroidism.

RECOMMENDED LEVELS

The RDA for iodine varies according to a variety of factors, including age and pregnancy.

For children ages 1 to 8 the RDA is 90 micrograms per day, for 9 to 13 year olds it is 120 micrograms per day. Most teens and adults need 150 micrograms per day, pregnant women need 220 mcg, and breastfeeding women need 290 mcg.

It is important to note that while supplementation is readily available through iodized salt, the increasing popularity of kosher and sea salts, which are often not fortified with iodine, means that some people may be getting less iodine than they need.

It is important to use at least some iodized salt each day, and for pregnant and lactating women it is recommended that they take a prenatal supplement containing at least 150 mcg of additional iodine daily.

Iodine - Recommended Daily Entry

90 micrograms/day

Ages 1 - 8

220 mcg/day

Pregnant women

120 micrograms/day

Ages 9 - 13

290 mcg/day

Breastfeeding women

Calcium

Although Calcium is primarily thought of as related to strong bones and teeth, it serves a number of functions in the body.

Muscle contraction, heartbeat maintenance, and nerve impulse transmission are all impacted by insufficient levels of calcium.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Insufficient quantities of calcium can result in osteoporosis, a disease in which the body makes too little bone, retains too little bone, or both.

This can result in disfigurement and disability, especially in the elderly. Women appear to have a higher risk of calcium malabsorption and, thus, of osteoporosis.

Recommended Levels

The RDA for calcium is 1000 milligrams for adults and children over the age of 4.

Fortunately, there are many abundant sources of calcium in a balanced vegan diet. Many fruits and vegetables contain calcium, as well as plant-based protein sources like soy.

In addition, many juices, cereals, breads, and other convenience foods are fortified with calcium.

One of the most important aspects of calcium uptake appears to be adequate activity levels, so an active lifestyle and consistent, moderate exercise should help to ensure adequate calcium levels.

Iron

Iron is essential in the production of both hemoglobin and myoglobin, therefore it is vital to both blood and muscle health.

Iron is especially important during childhood and during pregnancy, so vegans who are or may become pregnant or those with vegan children should be especially conscious of iron intake.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Inadequate intake of iron can lead to a condition called iron deficiency anemia. This can manifest in extreme fatigue, paleness, hair loss, and many other symptoms.

Anemia interferes with the production of blood and is especially dangerous during gestation and childhood. Anemia must be treated with iron supplementation until adequate levels of iron are restored.

Special care should be taken thereafter to ensure that adequate amounts of iron are consumed or that supplementation occurs on an ongoing basis.

Recommended Levels

Iron intake varies considerably according to age and gender. 

Children from the age 2 to 11 should take in 13.7-15.1 mg daily. Age 12-19 should take in 16.3 mg daily. Men should take in 19.3-20.5 mg per day. Women should take in 17-18.9 mg per day.​

Beans, dark leafy greens, and dried fruits are all abundant sources of iron. If iron maintenance is a concern, ingestion of blackstrap molasses on a regular basis can provide a boost of iron.

Added to baked goods along with some dried fruits, this can be a great way to ensure regular intake of iron, especially in children.

Iron - Recommended Daily Entry

13.7 - 15.5 mg/day

Children ages 2 - 11

19.3 - 20.5 mg/day

Men

16.3 mg/day

Age 12 - 19

17 - 18.9

Women

Protein

Protein is responsible for everything from cellular repair to hormonal health to muscle building, and is considered a building block of life.

Although fears of insufficient protein are often expressed regarding plant-based diets, a thoughtful vegan diet can easily meet daily nutritional requirements for protein.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Protein deficiency can cause many problems including increased inflammation, metabolic disorders which can lead to obesity and diabetes, extreme fatigue, loss of muscle mass, and mental confusion.

Because protein is so readily available, supplementation is rarely needed, but for those wishing to increase protein levels, for instance athletes or the elderly who may have trouble getting enough protein from diet alone, vegan supplements are available which use legumes, seeds, or other plant-based protein sources.

Recommended Levels

The RDA for protein is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

This is a relatively modest recommendation, and many people choose to eat more protein, especially in order to ensure sufficient amino acids like lysine.

However, a diet that is rich in legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains should provide ample levels of protein and amino acids.

For those vegans with a desire for the textures associated with protein rich foods, tofu, tempeh, and seitan are popular options.

Omega 3 And DHA

Omega 3 and DHA are “good” fats associated with many health benefits including cardiovascular, retinal, immune system, and neurological functions.

Many studies indicate that both healthy pregnancies and infancies and healthy aging are greatly benefited by adequate consumption of Omega 3 and DHA.

Therefore, it is safe to assume that these fats play a role literally from the beginning to the end of the life cycle in enhanced health and well-being across a variety of physical systems.

Problems Caused By Deficiency

Deficiencies in these fats have been associated with a variety of negative outcomes. Fetal development, especially brain development, has been closely associated with proper levels of Omega 3 and DHA.

Similarly, neurological outcomes in the elderly appear to be related to these levels as well, with dementia and other mental disorders tied to levels of “good” fat intake.

In addition, these fats are thought to play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, with supplementation often recommended for heart health.

Recommended Levels

The RDA for Omega 3 is 1.6 g/day for men and 1.1 g/day for women.

There are no established guidelines for DHA, though 1000 mg is thought to be sufficient.

However, it is difficult for the human body to convert Omega 3 intake to DHA, especially with large amounts of Omega 6 in the diet.

Therefore, some supplementation of DHA may be optimal. Good vegan sources of Omega 3 include flaxseed and chia.

One interesting source is mustard oil, which contains about 8 times the Omega 3 found in olive oil.

Supplements For Vegan Athletes

Vegan athletes wishing to supplement their diet with higher levels of some nutrients should consider the following options.

Protein

Since it is so vital to cell regeneration and muscle building, some athletes may choose to supplement with protein.

There are many excellent plant-based protein supplements on the market and protein powder can easily be added to smoothies for a quick post-workout protein boost.

Omega 3

Because it is linked to the body’s anti-inflammatory response, many athletes choose to supplement with Omega 3.

Like plant-based protein, there are many ways to easily incorporate more Omega 3 fats into the vegan diet.

One of the best options is flaxseed oil which can be added to smoothies or used as a salad oil.

It should not, however, be used for cooking preparations since its properties break down under heat.

Well balanced diet might be all you need but be mindful of your needs, activity level, and other elements of your lifestyle.

DHA

Because it is difficult to derive from foods, algae-derived DHA supplementation is probably a good idea for most people, but especially for vegan athletes. Because it is so important to proper brain function, it is especially vital for athletes whose sport involves strategy, memory, and quick responses.

Final Thoughts

A well-balanced vegan diet does not have to be as difficult as some would have you believe, but it does require mindful consideration of your needs, activity level, and other elements of your lifestyle.

Incorporating supplements or fortified foods into your diet can help reassure you that you are getting the appropriate quantities of the nutritional elements you need.

That will allow you to enjoy the optimal health and well-being that compels so many vegans choose this way of eating and of living.

Ashley Woodward
 

I'm currently 31 and based out of sunny Sacramento, CA. I’m a mother of 2 beautiful kids, a certified nutritionist and fitness buff that’s spent years dialing in the perfect diet. My goal here is to help as many people as possible learn about the benefits of eating vegan, and want to share my passion with other people who also have a love for cooking and trying new recipes.

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