Supplements for Vegans


More and more people are choosing a plant-based diet and cite one or more of three key motives for going vegan – animal welfare, environmental concerns and personal health. But just because a person opts for a particular type of diet, it doesn’t follow that it’s a healthy one. There are unhealthy versions of vegan diets, just as there are unhealthy ones containing animal products.

Nutrient deficiencies can be found in all diets for a variety of reasons, and many plant-based eaters aren’t getting specific nutrients from plant foods. Failure to include these nutrients in the diet can have health consequences.

There are certain nutrients that somebody following a plant-based diet needs to consider as a supplement.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is an essential nutrient for human health, but it’s mainly found in animal products. It has been found that individuals following vegan diets are at risk for developing vitamin B12 deficiency as it is commonly not present in the diet [1].

B12 supports the normal function of nerve cells and is needed for red blood cell formation and DNA synthesis. Individuals deficient in this vitamin often complain about fatigue and lethargy [2].

The main food sources of vitamin B12 include meat, especially offal, fish, dairy products and eggs, but some cereals are fortified  with it.

The official recommended daily amount of vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg, however vitamin B12 can be poorly absorbed and so an optimal daily intake of vitamin B12 would be 500mcg per day [3].

Vitamin D

 Getting enough vitamin D is important, no matter which diet a person follows. It is estimated that up to 50% of the general population are deficient in vitamin D [4], which:

  • Helps the body absorb calcium,
  • Is critical for the healthy functioning of muscles, the heart, the brain and thyroid,
  • Plays a crucial role in the immune system.

Few foods contain vitamin D; the best sources are salmon and eggs. But the body synthesises vitamin D from the skin’s exposure to the sun. With limited sunshine especially during the winter months, a daily supplement of 2000 IUs of vitamin D can help achieve optimum levels in the body [5].

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are essential to health. DHA is found concentrated in the brain and the retina in the eyes.

Omega-3 fatty acids support the regulation of inflammation in the body [6] and are important for:

  • Healthy memory and cognition
  • Emotional well-being
  • Lowering triglycerides in the blood
  • Healthy functioning of the heart

EPA and DHA are found mainly in oily fish and certain algae. The body can convert plant derived omega-3 fatty acids to DHA and EPA, though the efficiency of conversion varies from person to person, with an average of around 5% converted [7].

There is no official recommendation for how much EPA and DHA is needed a day, but most studies recommend a minimum of 500mg combined EPA and DHA per day for healthy adults.

Vitamin K2

Vitamin K2 differs from vitamin K1, which is found in dark green leafy vegetables, as it is hard to obtain through diet, but has a positive impact on health. The main dietary sources of vitamin K2 include a fermented soy product, called natto, and some fermented cheeses.

Studies have shown that vitamin K2 directs calcium in the body into the bone. This has a positive impact for cardiovascular health as less calcium is deposited in the arteries, maintaining vascular health [8].

The studies recommend that adults should supplement 100 mcg of vitamin K2 per day.

Zinc

Zinc is an important mineral obtained from the diet to maintain health and perform important functions in the body. Zinc’s benefits include:

  • Facilitating hormone production
  • Body growth and repair
  • Improving immunity
  • Aiding digestion

Although plant foods, such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are good sources of zinc, the body has difficulty absorbing it from these plant foods [9] compared to animal sources such as meat and fish.

Absorption of zinc typically decreases with age, therefore supplementing around 15mg per day is generally considered an optimal dose.

Picking the right multivitamin

Not all diets are nutrient dense, but a vegan diet does run the risk of being deficient in certain vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Not all multivitamin supplements are formulated in the same way using the same ingredients.

Therefore, to ensure that a vegan diet is not lacking in the nutrients highlighted, it is best to choose one that has been formulated to include the suggested levels of nutrients in a form that is easy for the body to absorbed. The Inessa Advanced Multivitamin contains optimal amounts of vitamins and minerals in a form that is bioavailable and convenient to take.

[1] Pawlak, R. Lester, S. & Babatunde, T. (2014) ‘The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature’ European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 68:541-548.

[2] Dharmarajan, T. Adiga, G. & Norkus, E. (2003) ‘Vitamin B12 deficiency. Recognising subtle symptoms in older adults’ Geriatrics 58(3):30-34.

[3] Dhonukshe-Rutten, R. de Vries, J. de Bree, A. et al. (2009) ‘Dietary intake and status of folate and vitamin B12 and their association with homocysteine and cardiovascular disease in European populations’ European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 63:18-30.

[4] Tangpricha, V. Pearce, E. Chen, T. et al. (2002) ‘Vitamin D insufficiency among free-living healthy young adults’ American Journal of Medicine 112:659-662.

[5] Dawson-Hughes, B. Heaney, R. Holick, M. et al. (2005) ‘Estimates of optimal vitamin D status’ Osteoporosis International 16(7):713-716.

[6] Allaire, J. Couture, P. Leclerc, M. et al. (2016) ‘A randomised, crossover, head-to-head comparison of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid supplementation to reduce inflammation markers in men and women: the comparing EPA to DHA (ComparED) study’ American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 104(2):280-287.

[7]  Plourde, M. & Cunnane, S. (2007) ‘Extremely limited synthesis of long chain polyunsaturates in adults: implications for their dietary essentiality and use as supplements’ Applied Physiology Nutrition and Metabolism 32(4):619-634.

[8] Geleijnse, J. Vermeer, C. Grobbee, D. et al. (2004) ‘Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: The Rotterdam Study’ Journal of Nutrition 134(11):3100-3105.

[9] Lonnerdal, B. (2000) ‘Dietary factors influencing zinc absorption’ Journal of Nutrition 130(5):1378S-1383S.