What is a vegan?
The term vegan refers to the complete avoidance of products from animal sources. This way of living excludes all forms of animal cruelty and exploitation for the purpose of acquiring food, clothing, and other needs. Instead, it focuses on using only plant-derived products. This may be due to a variety of reasons such as environmental, ethical, or personal health benefits.
Do you eat a strict plant-based diet? If so, it’s important to make sure you have your nutritional needs covered. There are specific nutrients required for good health that are found abundantly in animal products which occur less (or not at all) in plant-based foods. In this case, the following supplements for vegans can be necessary to ensure you feel your best day to day.
Vegan Supplements: Which Ones Do You Need?
Though we are big advocates of obtaining most of your nutrients from your diet, there are certain essential nutrients that are trickier to obtain from plant-based foods.
This is where supplementation can come into play in order to rectify any possible imbalances and reduce the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
This mineral is crucial to the immune system. Zinc is found mostly in shellfish, beef and egg yolks. While plant-based sources of zinc include spinach, legumes and pumpkin seeds, it doesn’t hurt to supplement with zinc as an “insurance policy” if you aren’t eating these foods each day. Zinc deficiency symptoms can manifest as hair loss, frequent illness, acne and other skin disorders. If you're looking for more vegan options, Vega has an entire line of plant-based products. Read our blog to learn more about their Vega Sport line.
DHA and EPA (The Other Omega-3's)
The Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning we must consume them in our diet, our bodies do not manufacture them. These fatty acids include docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Oily fish is usually the first source of omega 3 that most people think of because fish oils are a highly potent source of these fatty acids.
Essential omega 3 fatty acids from plants can be found in food sources like flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. However, these are typically poorly converted in the body.
Most plant-based sources of omega-3 contain ALA, which must first be converted to DHA or EPA before it can be utilized. Only about 5 percent of ALA is converted into EPA and a mere 0.5 perfect into DHA (1).
Fortunately, you can supplement with a vegan source of omega 3 from algae oil supplements and obtain the active forms EPA and DHA directly for maximum benefits.
There is a higher prevalence of iodine deficiency among vegan populations due to iodine content being lower in plant-based foods compared to animal products (2).
Sources of iodine in plants may include sea vegetables like kelp, wakame, and dulse while some of the best sources come from seafood, eggs, and milk products.
A good quality iodine supplement can help you to avoid deficiency but make sure you don't take too much to avoid the risk of toxicity.
Known as the blood-clotting vitamin, this nutrient has a variety of vital functions in the body. Vitamin K-2 is especially important for bone and cardiovascular health as it works to improve the absorption and utilization of calcium, preventing buildup in the arteries and instead allowing it to be absorbed into the bone (3)(4).
Vitamin D and vitamin K2 also work synergistically together as K2 helps to move the vitamin D to areas of the body that need it such as the bones (5).
Without adequate amounts of vitamin K2 this can increase the risk for heart disease but also osteoporosis.
The majority of vitamin K2 is found in animal sources particularly dairy products, organ meats, beef, pork, eggs, chicken, and fish. The highest sources of plant-based vitamin K2 come from fermented foods such as natto, kombucha, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
Contrary to popular belief, it's totally possible to get enough protein on a vegan diet. However, for some individuals, especially the more active types, a protein powder may be a beneficial addition to a varied diet in order to meet your protein requirements on a daily basis.
Plant-based protein powders are rich phytonutrients and also provide plenty of fiber, supporting a healthy microbiome.
Vegan protein powders may include a variety of ingredients such as soy, quinoa, hemp, pea, rice, and pumpkin seeds. Some of our favourite quality protein powders at Vitasave.ca include Iron Vegan, Kaizen, Natreve, and Purica.
Let's face it, it's mighty difficult to get all of the nutrients we need just from food, and this can be more of a challenge on a vegan diet. A multivitamin is meant to cover your nutritional bases to ensure you are not missing any of the important nutrients for your health. They will include especially important nutrients that are difficult to obtain from plants and that are commonly deficient in the population such as vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D3, and zinc. A quality multivitamin supplement is a great insurance policy in addition to a healthy diet to bring you everything you need to thrive.
Calcium plays some very important roles in the body, and it's not just about healthy bones!
This essential mineral is also involved in muscle function, blood pressure regulation, blood clotting and blood circulation, and nerve transmission.
When you think of calcium you may automatically think of dairy products, which tend to be quite high in this mineral. However, there are also many plant foods that are rich in calcium such as kale, watercress, okra, tahini, seaweed, spinach, broccoli, dried figs, chickpeas, beans, almonds, and fortified plant milks.
It's possible to get too much calcium, so to avoid toxicity opt for a multivitamin that contains calcium or check in with your health care provider for the best supplemental form of calcium if you are needing extra nutritional support. Don't forget to always take calcium alongside vitamin D and magnesium for best effects and to avoid complications.
Also known as methylcobalamin, vitamin B12 is one of the most important supplements for vegans. This is because it is found only in animal products with the exception of small amounts in fortified cereals, soy milk, nutritional yeast and energy bars. Vitamin B12 is required by the body for energy and metabolic function. With low levels of B12, it’s common to experience fatigue, depression and even numbness and tingling in the hands and feet. To prevent deficiency in a vegan diet, taking a high-quality vegan vitamin B12 supplement is necessary. Check in with a qualified healthcare practitioner to determine the proper dosage for your individual needs.
Vitamin D is best known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it’s synthesized from the sun and is a key nutrient for maintaining a happy mood. During the winter months in colder climates, vitamin D deficiency is a concern for everyone due to limited direct sun exposure. For non-vegans, vitamin D is found in food sources such as egg yolks, fatty fish and beef products. Unfortunately, there aren’t any plant based sources that contain adequate levels of vitamin D, putting vegans at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. As you can guess, a lack of vitamin D status can lead to mood disorders such as depression and may even result in a sluggish metabolism. If low levels of vitamin D are prolonged, it can lead to osteoporosis as calcium and vitamin D work together to keep bones strong and healthy.
Important note: Always read the label of your vitamin D supplement to be sure it contains no animal products as most vitamin D supplements have been sourced from sheepskin oil. If you are in search of a recommendation, AOR’s Vegan Vitamin D3 is sourced from lichen, making it one of Canada’s only vegan vitamin D supplements available.
There are two forms of iron supplements: non-heme iron and heme iron. Heme iron is found in animal products such as red meat, fish and poultry. Heme iron is the most bioavailable to the body. Non-heme iron is found in plantbased foods such as dark leafy greens, seeds and legumes. If you are consuming these food sources of iron on a regular basis, you may not require an iron supplement. However, because non-heme isn’t absorbed as well as heme iron, it’s something to keep on your radar especially if you’re feeling weak and tired.
Caution: Before choosing supplementation, be sure to get your iron levels checked. High levels of iron in your blood can be toxic. Our recommendation for a vegan iron supplement is Botanica’s Organic Iron.
L-carnitine is an amino acid that plays a critical role in cardiovascular health, energy levels and memory. L-carnitine is found in large quantities in red meat, though minimal amounts are present in dairy products such as cheese and yogurt. With very few vegetarian sources of l-carnitine, this is one of the best supplements for vegans to ensure their heart health and cognitive function are not impaired. If you’re looking for a 100% vegetarian source of L-carnitine, we recommend AOR LCarnitine Veggie Caps.
Why vegan supplements are important.
A well-planned vegan diet can help you to obtain a variety of essential nutrients in your diet, however supplementation will likely be needed in order to meet all of your daily requirements. This is especially important if you are following a vegan diet over a long period of time. If not planned properly, health issues can arise due to the lack of essential nutrients being obtained. If you are unsure if you are getting everything you need, check in with your health care provider or a nutritionist to make sure you are meeting your dietary requirements.