There are so many proven benefits to going vegan: whether you’re focused on your own health or the health of the planet, cutting the animal products out of your daily diet can go a long way.
But following a strictly vegan diet doesn’t always come without its share of complications. You still need the same nutrients that others are getting from their meat, dairy, and other animal products, but your options are more limited. Since you’re cutting out whole food groups completely, this can present a bit of a challenge making sure you’re meeting your dietary needs.
Luckily, getting those major nutrients is not hard if you know where to look for them. You can get many of your essential vitamins and minerals with a little bit of planning, knowledge, and a couple of vegan-friendly supplements.
These are the 9 best vitamin supplements for vegans and how you can get them in your diet.
Top 9 Supplements For Vegans
1. Vitamin B-12
What it is: Vitamin B-12 is usually one of the first things that come to mind when discussing vitamin supplements for vegans. These vitamins are crucial building blocks for your DNA as well as your red blood cells. So a Vitamin B-12 deficiency can lead to red blood cells that are both too few and too large. This condition is called megaloblastic anemia and can leave you feeling weak and tired.
Unfortunately, animal products like meat, dairy, and seafood are the only natural food sources of Vitamin B-12. Because of this, anyone following a plant-based vegan diet will have to look elsewhere to get enough of this important vitamin from their diet.
Where to get Vitamin B-12
Because Vitamin B-12 can be hard to get from your diet alone without eating any meat or animal products, you can find Vitamin B-12 in certain vegan-friendly fortified foods like cereals and nutritional yeast.
But the best way to get enough Vitamin B-12 as a vegan is usually from dietary supplements. As a general rule, you should be getting at least 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B-12 every day, and perhaps even more. If you’re a vegan to ensure that your body absorbs enough of the vitamin for it to take effect.
2. Vitamin K-2
What it is: Vegans should also be keeping a close eye on their Vitamin K intake. There are actually two different kinds of Vitamin K, and both are equally important: K-1 and K-2.
While you can get plenty of the K-1 variety from different plant-based foods like leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and fruit, K-2 is a little harder to come by for vegans and vegetarians.
This is because Vitamin K-2, a nutrient used for maintaining bone health and protecting your body from the development of certain chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease, is found more commonly in animal products.
Where to get Vitamin K-2
Luckily, there are a couple of plant-based food products that could deliver your daily dose of K-2. The fermentation process that produces plant-based foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and kombucha can result in varying amounts of Vitamin K-2.
If you aren’t eating a regular amount of fermented foods, though, you’d probably do well to find a Vitamin K supplement. It’s important to note that Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it absorbs best when paired with a healthy fat serving like olive oil or walnuts.
What it is: Protein is another hot topic for vegans and vegetarians. This macronutrient is a critical part of any diet since proteins act as the “building blocks” for most of our bodies. Getting enough protein is important for maintaining muscle mass, building enzymes, formulating hormones, and more.
Many people automatically think of animal products for their protein sources. Fortunately for anyone subscribing to a plant-based diet, there are plenty of options for getting enough protein from food as well.
Where to get Protein
There are plenty of plant-based products that are protein-rich, like grains, nuts, and legumes. But it does require a little more planning than omnivores to ensure that you’re getting enough. This is because most plant-based proteins are incomplete - they don’t have all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to form complete proteins, so they have to be combined with other protein-rich sources for the best results. This can easily be mitigated by eating multiple protein sources per meal. For example, pairing corn and beans gives you all the necessary amino acids to build one complete protein.
There are also some complete protein sources for plant-based eaters like soy, though they may be harder to include consistently in your diet.
If you still aren’t getting enough protein from your diet alone, you might consider a vegan protein supplement to bridge the gap. Protein supplements for vegans are usually made from a variety of vegan-friendly sources like peas, soy, hemp, and chia seeds. These products could also be especially useful if you’re looking to build muscle.
What it is: The mineral zinc affects multiple systems in your body and is especially important for your immune system and metabolism. It’s implicated in everything from helping your wounds heal to boosting your immune system to fight off the common cold!
The conundrum with zinc and vegetarians is an interesting one. Even though plenty of vegan-friendly foods contain this important mineral, the plant-based providers of zinc can also contain chemicals like phytate that can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb it all.
Where to get Zinc
Zinc can be found in many plant-based dietary staples including seeds, nuts, legumes, and certain veggies like potatoes. But to ensure you’re meeting your daily recommended dosage (12 mcg/ day for women and 21 mcg/day for men), you could also include a daily zinc supplement. Luckily, many multivitamins already include zinc.
What it is: Getting enough iron is crucial for having healthy blood cells. This mineral is used to make hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen throughout your body. An iron deficiency can lead to anemia, which manifests itself with symptoms like fatigue, weakness, and hands/feet that are always cold.
There are two different kinds of iron that you can get from food products: heme, which is found only in animal products, and non-heme, which can be found in certain plant-based foods.
Where to get Iron
You can get non-heme iron from sources like spinach, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds, as well as in some fortified foods. Unfortunately, non-heme iron is absorbed less efficiently than heme iron, which is why vegetarians and vegans are more at risk for an iron deficiency.
So you may have to double up on your iron-rich foods in order to get enough of this nutrient for your red blood cells. You can also take an iron supplement to meet your recommended daily intake.
What it is: Omega-3s are a group of essential fatty acids that are used in some of the most integral systems in the human body including the brain and cardiovascular system. Getting enough omega-3s from your diet has been linked to a wide range of potential health benefits including heart health support and brain development, likely due to its potential anti-inflammatory effects.*
Because your body can’t make these fatty acids on its own, you can only get them from the foods you eat. There are three main kinds of omega-3s: EPA, DHA, and ALA. EPA and DHA can be thought of as the “active” form of omega-3 in the body, but they can be harder to get in a vegan diet since they are most notably found in oily fish.
Where to get Omega-3s
As a vegan, you can get the ALA form of omega-3s from high-fat, plant-based foods like chia seeds, walnuts, flax, and hemp. Unfortunately, your body has to convert ALA to EPA/DHA to reap any benefits, which isn’t always efficient.
The best sources for vegan omega-3s are microalgae supplements. These vegan omega-3 supplements are made from algae, which have a high amount of EPA and DHA per serving compared to other plant-based options.
What it is: The mineral iodine is a crucial component of your thyroid hormones, which are some of the most major influencers of your metabolism. An iodine deficiency can lead to a goiter, which is an uncomfortable swelling of your thyroid gland.
Iodine is already a hard ingredient to come across naturally, with some of the most notable sources being eggs, seafood, and milk. Plants (like fruits and vegetables) are not good sources of this nutrient. So for vegans and vegetarians, the issue is even more complicated.
Where to get Iodine
Plant-based seafood is a good option here. For example, seaweed is one of the best vegan-friendly sources of iodine. In addition, because it can be so hard to get enough iodine from natural sources, many of our dietary staples are now fortified with iodine. Salt is a great example of this - many commercial salts are fortified with iodine to help you meet your daily needs.
What it is: Having enough calcium is crucial for a healthy skeleton. Calcium makes up the structure of your teeth and your bones - in fact, up to 98% of your body’s calcium is stored there! A deficiency of calcium, also known as hypocalcemia, is particularly dangerous because it can lead to weak, brittle bones that put you at a higher risk for injury, especially as you get older.
Where to get Calcium
A glass of cow’s milk might initially come to mind when you’re thinking about calcium sources. Many vegan-friendly alternatives like almond milk are fortified with calcium to mimic these bone-health benefits. You can also find calcium in other plant-based foods like leafy greens and soy. Calcium supplements and multivitamins are also excellent choices here.
9. Vitamin D
What it is: Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” plays a ton of major roles in your body. It works with calcium to strengthen your bones, supports your muscle health, and is even implicated as a major factor in your mental health!
Vitamin D is also interesting because your body can make it on its own. When your bare skin is exposed to sunlight, the UV rays can help convert cholesterol in your body to this essential vitamin. Unfortunately, many people can’t get all of their Vitamin D from sunlight alone, and few vegan-friendly foods can bridge that gap.
Where to get Vitamin D
Animal products are the best natural source for Vitamin D, but you can get your fill with plant-based supplements that use lichen or mushrooms. Many multivitamins also contain Vitamin D. You can also spend more time outside and in the sunshine to make Vitamin D naturally - just be sure to stay safe and prevent overexposure!
It’s a little more complicated to ensure that you’re meeting your daily nutrition needs as a vegan, but it is by no means impossible. Starting with these 9 essential vitamin supplements for vegans, a thorough dietary supplement regimen can easily help you bridge the gap between the foods you eat and the nutrients you need. Don’t forget to consult with your physician before taking any dietary supplements.