So you’ve gone vegan, but now you’re worried about what supplements you need to be taking. If you believe the meat industry, then you need to supplement everything from protein to B12 and everything in between. On the other hand, the purist Whole Foods Plant Based vegans are telling you that you can get everything you need from plants, and that’s all you need.
I’m a vegan nutritionist, and I’m here to tell you the truth is somewhere in the middle….
Do Vegans Need to Supplement B12
Yes. You do need to supplement B12. If you get nothing else out of this article, please know that you do need to supplement B12. B12 deficiency can lead to permanent, irreversible nerve damage and paralysis. So you most definitely do need to supplement B12.
While many vegan foods are fortified with B12 these days, you can’t guarantee the quality of B12 in them. So my suggestion for vegans is to supplement each day. It is not possible to overdose on B12, as your body will just get rid of any excess in your urine, so don’t worry about getting too much.
So how much do you need to supplement? The table below gives you amounts to supplement each day. The best form of B12 to supplement is Cobalamin (rather than methylcobalamin). You can use drops for young children who aren’t ready for tablets.
|Age||Amount of Cobalamin B12 to supplement daily|
|Babies||Will get B12 from breast milk or formula|
|4 – 10 years||25mcg/day|
|over 10 years||50mcg/day|
|over 60 years||1000mcg/day|
If you’re looking for more information on supplementing B12 supplements, check out my post here.
Do You Need to Supplement Vitamin D
Next up let’s talk about vitamin D. The main source of vitamin D is actually the sun, but it does come in some foods. To be honest, vitamin D isn’t really a vegan issue, but it’s an important vitamin for everyone, so I decided to include it.
Vitamin D comes from the sun, so it really does depend on where you live and how much sun you get as to whether you need to supplement. Vitamin D absorption also depends on your skin colour, and where in the world you live.
Your best option is to speak to your doctor or dietitian to see if you need to supplement vitamin D. If you live in colder climates without much sun, then you’ll probably need to supplement.
Do Vegans Need to Supplement Omega 3s?
Omega 3s are a little bit more complicated. It’s actually quite easy to get Omega 3s on a vegan diet. They come from nuts, seeds and oils (but not coconut!), which are obviously all vegan. The complicated bit is that our body converts omega 3s to EPA and DHA which are essential in our body. Without going into a full biochemistry lesson, the conversion from Omega 3s to EPA and DHA can be inefficient for vegans.
So, we don’t need to supplement Omega 3s, so much as we should supplement EPA and DHA.
Most DHA and EPA supplements come from fish oil, but there are quite a few vegan ones on the market these days that are made from algae (which happens to be where the fish get their EPA and DHA anyway!).
Adults can take the gel capsules (make sure the brand you get doesn’t have gelatin in their capsules). If you’re giving DHA and EPA to kids, you can just break the supplement to get the oil out.
So, how much should you supplement?
|Age||How Much Omega 3s (with EPA and DHA) to Supplement Daily|
|Up to 12 months||Should come from breast milk or formula|
|1 – 3 years||700mg|
|4 – 8 years||900mg|
|9 – 13 years||1000mg|
|14 and up||1100mg|
Should Vegans Supplement Iron, Zinc and Calcium?
I’ve lumped these three together for a reason. So many people say you can’t get enough iron, zinc and calcium on a vegan diet, so you should supplement.
While these are all essential nutrients, so you need to get enough, it’s important that you don’t supplement them without speaking to your doctor or dietitian first.
Why? Your body uses similar mechanisms to absorb each of these, so if you have too much of one, it will stop you absorbing the others. Our body can manage this pretty well when we’re getting the nutrients from food. It’s when we put concentrated amounts from supplements into the mix that it becomes harder.
So what do you do? Go to speak to your doctor or a dietitian before you start supplementing iron, zinc and calcium. They will be able to test your levels and look at your diet to see whether you need to supplement or not.
While these nutrients can be harder to get on a vegan diet, you can definitely get enough of all three on a healthy vegan diet.
Are You A New Vegan?
If you’re just starting out as a vegan, or looking for some new recipes, make sure you grab my free 7 Day Beginner Meal Plan. You can grab sign up for it below.