Are you getting everything your body needs when following a plant based diet? Supplement advice for vegans
Guest Blog contributed by Yazmin Craig BSc ANutr
Veganism is a fast growing movement that is hitting the food world by storm. With good planning and educating yourself on what makes a healthy, balanced vegan diet you can get all the nutrients the body needs by eating this way. However, blindly cutting out animal produce and following a vegan diet can easily result in nutritional deficiencies. This is where it’s important to know how supplementation can help. Below are some of the main nutrients you should consider when embarking on a solely plant based diet.
Iron is used to make new DNA and red blood cells. Too little iron may lead to fatigue and anaemia. It can be found in two forms; heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available through animal produce whereas non-heme is found in plants, thus placing vegans at risk of low iron levels.
Iron rich plant foods include beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts and iron-fortified foods such as cereals. If a vegan does not regularly consume a wide variety of these plant foods they should consider an iron supplement.
Long-chain omega 3s
These fatty acids play a role in providing structure to the brain and eyes. It is vital for brain development and reducing the risk of depression and ADHD.
Plants sources of long chain omega 3s include flaxseed, hemp seed and soyabeans. However, vegans are at risk of deficiency of these as two types of long-chain omega 3s are mostly found in animal products such as salmon and fish oil. Thus, most health professionals agree that supplementing with 200-300mg daily should be sufficient.
Vitamin B12 is vital for bodily processes such as protein metabolism and formation of red blood cells. This vitamin is mainly found in animal produce, however some products such as plant milks and nutritional yeast are fortified with B12.
The only scientifically proven way for vegans to reach daily recommended intake levels is through eating these fortified foods or via supplementation of vitamin B12.
This mineral is necessary for good bone, teeth and heart health. Plant sources of calcium include kale, bok choy, chickpeas and fortified plant milks. However, despite these plentiful sources, studies tend to agree most vegans don’t get enough calcium through diet alone. Thus supplementation is typically required.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps to enhance absorption of calcium from the gut. It also influences immune function, hormone function and muscle recovery.
There are very few naturally occurring food sources of vitamin D, and foods which are fortified with the vitamin are considered insufficient in satisfying daily needs. This may partly explain global vitamin D deficiency among vegans, justifying the possible need for vitamin D supplementation.
Iodine is important for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism. A deficiency in iodine can result in hypothyroidism. This can cause various symptoms including low energy levels, dry skin and depression.
Iodine levels in plant foods depend on iodine content of the soil in which the plant was grown. The only plant foods considered to be high in iodine are seaweed and iodized salts. Therefore, vegans who don’t want to consume these several times a week should take an iodine supplement.