So, you've decided to honour your body with only plants or are opting to eat a vegan diet. Whilst this way of eating can do absolute wonders for your health and your body, there are certain nutrients that may be more challenging to obtain solely from plant sources. In this blog post, we'll explore the essential supplements that can complement a vegan or whole food plant-based diet, supporting overall well-being.
B12 - The Vital Nutrient: Found predominantly in animal products is why it is essential for those following a vegan lifestyle to supplement with B12. Vitamin B12 is crucial for nerve function, the production of red blood cells and protein metabolism. Opt for a quality B12 supplement or include B12-fortified foods like plant-based milk or nutritional yeast in your diet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids - Nourishing the Brain and Heart: While omega-3s are abundant in fish, plant-based sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts offer a vegan-friendly alternative but at lower concentrations. For optimal health, consider supplementing with algae oil, a rich source of DHA and EPA—the crucial omega-3 fatty acids. Did you know that fish absorb the omega-3 from the algae, so you are cutting out the middle man by opting for the algae source.
Iron - Fortifying Your Blood: Plant-based iron is non-heme iron, which may be less easily absorbed than heme iron found in animal products. To support iron levels, pair iron-rich plant foods (like lentils and spinach) with sources of vitamin C. If needed, a plant-based iron supplement can be beneficial, although testing serum iron levels before supplementing is preferable as too much iron in the body can be very damaging.
Calcium - Beyond Dairy: Meeting calcium needs without dairy is achievable through fortified plant milks, tofu, and leafy greens (broccoli and kale are great sources) and blackstrap molasses; 1 tablespoon is up to 18% of calcium needs and around 15% of your daily iron, selenium, vitamin B6, magnesium, and manganese requirements. Blackstrap molasses is sugar cane which has been boiled 3 times, and so should be eaten in moderation.
Vitamin D - Sunshine in a Bottle: Vitamin D is often synthesized through sun exposure, although here in the UK it is in very short supply particularly in our winter month's from October to March. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, cell growth and immune function. Researchers have also observed that those with depression have low vitamin D levels. For those with limited sun exposure and infact most individuals who live in the UK, would benefit from a vegan vitamin D3 supplement to provide the necessary support. If you are someone who is suseptible to SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder then I would advise getting levels of vitamin D tested to know the correct supplement levels for you. Supplements of vitamin D3+k2 move calcium out of the blood stream and direct it into the bones where it is needed, unlike supplementing with only vitamin D which allows calcium to circulate freely in the arteries which may cause potential health issues if excessive.
Zinc - Boosting Immunity: While zinc is present in plant foods, the absorption may be hindered by phytates. To ensure adequate intake, include zinc-rich foods like beans and seeds in your diet or opt for a plant-based zinc supplement.
Iodine - Thyroid hero: Iodine is an essential trace element and crucial for the production of thyroid hormones which play a key role in metabolism regulation and temperature control in the body. Found in seaweed and sea vegetables, many vegans forget to consider their consumption of iodine rich foods. A deficiency in iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, however over consumption of iodine can lead to hyperthyroidism so it is essential to get the balance right. Using dulse flakes as a salt substitute is one way of ensuring iodine is making its way into your diet. Iodine should only be supplemented under the supervison of your healthcare provider to avoid the adverse effects of excessive intake on thyroid function.
Essential supplements for vegans and those eating a whole food plant based diet:
Vitamin D3 + K2
Other dietary intake of vital nutrients to be considered: