Going vegan can be incredibly rewarding for your health, but it’s important to ensure adequate nutrition. Since plant-based diets restrict some foods, vegans have a higher risk of deficiencies without proper supplementation. Targeted vitamins and minerals derived from quality sources can fill those nutritional gaps. Here are seven supplements vegans should consider taking to maintain optimal well-being.
1. Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential for nerve function, red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and energy metabolism. It’s found almost exclusively in animal products, making deficiency common among vegans. Low vitamin B12 causes anemia, fatigue, neuropathy, cognitive problems, and pregnancy complications. Because vitamin B12 is not found in plant sources, supplementation is critical for vegans. Methylcobalamin is the most bioavailable form of vitamin B12. Look for a high-quality methylcobalamin supplement such as a sublingual tablet or lozenge that dissolves under the tongue for optimal absorption. Nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12 can also help vegans meet their needs. Vitamin B12 status should be monitored through regular bloodwork in vegans to ensure supplementation is adequate.
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA promote heart health, brain function, eye development in children, and healthy aging. Fish provide the most bioavailable source, but vegan omega-3s from algal oil offer similar benefits. Algal oil supplements made from marine microalgae supply the EPA and DHA vegans require without fish or contaminants. In addition, plant-based omega-3 ALA found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans can somewhat convert to EPA and DHA in the body. However, the conversion is inefficient, making direct sources of EPA and DHA crucial for vegans. Aim for 300-600 mg per day of combined DHA and EPA.
Iron enables oxygen transport in the blood and supports energy, immunity, and cognition. Iron deficiency is prevalent among vegans, causing anemia and fatigue. To maximize iron absorption, take vitamin C-rich iron supplements or eat iron-rich plant foods like lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals. Adding citrus, tomatoes, strawberries, or vitamin C supplements to meals further boosts iron utilization from plant sources. Liquid iron supplements on an empty stomach are another highly absorbable option. Pairing iron-rich foods with those high in vitamin C is an optimal way for vegans to meet iron needs.
Calcium builds strong bones and teeth, regulates muscle contraction, and supports nerve transmission. Low calcium intake is linked to increased fracture risk. Vegans must consume sufficient plant-based calcium sources like fortified plant milk and juices, kale, broccoli, almonds, edamame, figs, chia, and calcium-set tofu. Leafy greens contain calcium, but their oxalic acid binds some calcium, so relying on greens alone is not recommended. If dietary calcium seems inadequate, vegan-friendly organic supplements provide the needed amounts. Aim for 1000-1300 mg calcium daily from food and supplements. Have calcium status monitored by your doctor as well.
Iodine is crucial for thyroid hormone production, regulating metabolism, and preventing goiters. Most dietary iodine comes from seafood and dairy. Vegans should use iodized salt, sea vegetables like nori, and supplements containing iodine to meet recommended intakes. Multivitamins with iodine or dedicated iodine capsules are very beneficial for vegan iodine status. 150 mcg per day is the recommended iodine intake, which can easily be obtained through supplementation. Kelp tablets are another suitable vegan iodine source.
Found concentrated in meat, zinc enables immune function, wound healing, growth, taste perception, digestion, and reproduction. Vegans often fall short on zinc due to phytates in plants that inhibit absorption. Sprouting, fermenting, or soaking grains, seeds, beans, and legumes enhances zinc absorption. If dietary zinc seems low, a supplement provides the needed amounts. The RDA for zinc is 8-11 mg depending on gender. Pumpkin seeds, cashews, chickpeas, oats, and nutritional yeast provide some dietary zinc.
7. Vitamin D3
Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption for bone health, modulates immune function, and aids cellular processes. Sunlight exposure allows the body to produce vitamin D, but vegans may still fall short without dairy and eggs. Taking a vegan vitamin D3 supplement derived from lichen provides sufficient levels to maintain wellness and prevent deficiency. Monitor vitamin D levels through bloodwork and aim for blood levels between 50-80 ng/mL. Without testing, the Vitamin D Council suggests 2000-6000 IU of D3 daily.