Improving your health requires some significant changes, and one crucial step you can take is switching to a plant-based diet. Even if you’re vegan or vegetarian –there are some foods supplements you need more than the others. A plant-based diet reduces your risk of chronic disease and impacts your nutrition significantly. Making this move can be very confusing, so seeking some advice on the matter is justified.
Is a vegan diet the same as a plant-based diet?
Similarities between the two exist, but being vegan is not interchangeable with a plant-based diet. Vegans keep away from all animal products –think food, shoes, clothes, or such exploitation in other aspects of life. A vegan diet will not include meat, eggs, or dairy. The focus is not on whole plant foods. Eating process or refined foods is common. However, not every individual is the same, and person to person differences exist.
Whereas a whole-food, plant-based diet centers on eliminating and minimizing animal products and foods which are highly refined. This would include oil as well.
However, you can be both a vegan and stick to a whole-food, plant-based diet. Many vegans choose to follow a plant-based diet since vegan diets can be low in certain essential nutrients, like B-12. Commonly, these nutrients are found in animal products. For this reason, many people choose to add supplements to their daily life.
Despite the switch, there are some essential supplements you need to be careful about.
9 supplements you need on a vegan diet
Vitamin B12 is one of the essential nutrients vegans have a risk of missing out on. Vegetarians and vegans both have a higher risk of developing a deficiency of vitamin B12. For vegans not taking any supplements, this becomes especially true. Unwashed organic produce, nori, chlorella, nutritional yeast, spirulina, and mushrooms, which have been grown in B-12 fertile soils, are some rich sources of B12.
Necessary for some essential bodily processes like protein metabolism, Vitamin B12 is a crucial element in maintaining the nervous system’s health. It’s responsible for the formation of the red blood cells which transport oxygen. The result of a deficiency in vitamin B12 can be anemia, heart and bone disease, and damage to the fertility and nervous system. In adults, it’s essential to follow the advice of taking 2.4 mcg every day. In the times of pregnancy, the recommended intake is 2.6 mcg.
To avoid developing a deficiency, vegans must take vitamin b12 supplements or consume foods that are B12-fortified. The latter would involve the consumption of plant milk, breakfast cereals, soy products, and nutritional yeast. Vitamin B12 tends to be best absorbed in small doses. Thus, you need to take more vitamin B12 if you’re ingesting it less frequently. Ultimately, for vegans to reach these recommended levels, it’s helpful to take a daily supplement of twenty-five to a hundred mcg of cyanocobalamin. Alternatively, you can opt for a weekly dosage of two thousand mcg as well.
Remember that supplements become important because unwashed organic produce cannot be considered reliable, and nutritional yeast provides vitamin B12 only when it’s fortified. Since vitamin B12 is also light-sensitive, it tends to degrade –so do not store or buy if in clear plastic bags.
It’s ideal for getting your vitamin B12 levels checked before taking any supplements. In fact, vegans should regularly check in with a doctor and test their vitamin b12 and iron levels.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that anybody can develop a risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, including meat-eaters. Since the ability to absorb the vitamin tends to decline with age, taking supplements and fortified foods can be beneficial for everyone past the age of fifty-one.
Another crucial aspect of maintaining health is making sure you have proper iron levels. Iron plays an essential role in building healthy cells and helps them in carrying oxygen through the entire body.
Iron has two forms – heme and nonheme. Heme iron can be used and absorbed more quickly and comes from animals. We find nonheme iron in plants.
Experts say that adequate iron levels can be achieved by eating iron-rich foods like nuts, seeds, whole-grains, legumes, dried fruits, leafy vegetables, and some fortified grains and cereals. Getting vitamin C in abundance can increase the intake of iron. Supplements are generally not required if one is taking enough iron-rich foods, but if one has low iron levels, it’s recommended to take supplements. Before moving on to adding supplements, one must get tested to check if they’re getting and storing enough iron. consulting a doctor is necessary before taking supplements is crucial, as iron in too high a quantity can be hazardous.
Vitamin D deficiency is found in both vegans and omnivores. It’s essential for regulating mood and improving the immune system function. It helps the body in absorbing other nutrients like calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is made by getting enough sunlight, and spending fifteen to twenty minutes getting afternoon sun exposure allows one to make sufficient vitamin D every day. But many problems arise in this method. For example, wearing sunscreen reduces vitamin D production, but it’s essential to wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. People living in colder regions are generally covered up, which is another obstacle.
Vitamin D can be found in dairy products like yogurt and milk, but vegans do not consume these. For them, Vitamin D sources are certain types of mushrooms and fortified cereals.
Taking supplements can be beneficial because the intake of vitamin D tends to be lower than recommended levels. Both omnivores and carnivores can take these supplements.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids prove to be an excellent source of healthful fats. They are beneficial for neurodevelopment in children and infants, preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, lowering the threat of heart diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis. Some omega-3 fatty acids are present in plant-based vegan diets, but the rest are generally low. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with the treatment of conditions like ADHD, IBD, depression, allergies, and cystic fibrosis.
Since the body cannot make some omega-3 fatty acids like the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), diet becomes the primary source. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids include DHA and EPA, which can be made by the body using ALA. But the human body can convert ALA into DHA or EPA up to a limited capacity only.
Flax seeds, chia seeds, soy products, and canola oil have high ALA content, but EPA and DHA are found only in fish, microalgae, and fish oils. Vegans and vegetarians generally have lower EPA and DHA. They may benefit by taking supplements for reaching recommended levels. Intake of algae oil supplements and concentrates can be a valuable source.
Calcium is a necessity for maintaining good teeth and bone health. It plays a vital role in muscle function, heart health, and nerve signaling. This essential nutrient is found to be the lowest among vegans. If one is not getting sufficient calcium from the diet, supplementation can be necessary. Foods rich in calcium include kale, mustard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, watercress, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, fortified plant milks, fortified juices, and broccoli.
Having calcium also increases the risk of bone fracture among the vegan community. With little dietary calcium consumption, vegans should consider daily supplementation. The RDA is 1000 mg in a day for adults. The RDA increases for people past the age of fifty to 1200 mg each day. Aiming for the RDA is advised for all vegans. Consuming a minimum of 525 mg of calcium each day is recommended. In case the consumption is less than that, getting supplements becomes essential.
Iodine is crucial for a healthy thyroid gland. The thyroid function also controls your metabolism. The consequence of iodine deficiency at the time of pregnancy can be as severe as an irreversible intellectual disability.
Hypothyroidism can be another result of insufficient intake of iodine. Symptoms that follow would include dry skin, tingling in feet and hands, depression, low energy levels, weight gain, and forgetfulness.
Depending on the soil they grew in, small amounts of iodine are present in plants. Seaweed is another source of iodine. Vegans can get enough iodine intake if they’re consuming edible seaweed a couple of times in a week. The availability of iodized salt is also common to many regions, so people get sufficient iodine from home-cooked meals. However, research shows that vegans have blood iodine levels lower to almost fifty percent compared to vegetarians. The risk of iron deficiency is higher in people who follow a vegan diet. The RDA for iodine in adults is 150 mcg per day. The aim should be higher for pregnant women, around 220 mcg, and for breastfeeding women, the intake should be increased up to 290 mcg.
Iodized salt, dairy products, seafood, and seaweed are the only sources of consistently high levels of iodine. For vegans not consuming any of these, supplements of iodine should be considered.
Vitamin K aids in healing wounds and blood clotting. Vitamin K has two types –vitamin K-1 and vitamin K-2.
Vitamin K-1 is found to be a naturally occurring vitamin in plants, particularly dark, leafy greens. Vitamin K-2 comes from dairy products and egg yolk. For vegans, the source of vitamin K-2 includes fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, unpasteurized kombucha, natto, vegan kimchi, and plant-based kefir. The gut bacteria can turn vitamin K into K-2, so a vitamin K deficiency is not a risk for vegans. In case someone does wish to take supplements, vegan probiotics may be beneficial for the gut to process vitamin K.
A crucial mineral, Zinc, aids in metabolism, immune function, and body cell repair. Problems like hair loss, delayed wound healing, and diarrhea can be caused by insufficient intake of Zinc. It’s recommended for adults to take eight to eleven mg of Zinc per day. For pregnant women, the RDA is fixed at 11-12 mg, and for lactating women, it increases to 12-13 mg.
High zinc content is found in a few plant foods. Vegetarians and vegans have slightly lower blood levels of Zinc. Eating a variety of zinc-rich foods can help. Such foods would include whole grains, tofu, wheat germ, sprouted bread, legumes, seeds, and nuts. A daily supplement can help avoid a zinc deficiency for vegans who’re concerned about their zinc intake.
Protein is essential for strengthening the muscles and other critical bodily processes. Lentils, legumes, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and their butter, tofu, and chickpeas are sources for vegans to increase their protein intake. However, a plant-based, vegan diet can be challenging if you’re already concerned about your protein intake. In such situations, taking daily supplements of protein intake may be beneficial.