A few supplements are very useful for most vegans (simply due to modern lifestyles and poor quality soil that does not contain vitamin B12), but most supplements are not that good. Many are also wrapped in gelatin capsules (made from animal bones) and are very expensive. So what supplements do you really need?
If you are on blood-thinning medication, eating more fruits and vegetables can thin blood even more, so check medication before consuming green leafy veggies or grapefruit: or any of the following supplements. Also speak to your doctor before taking supplements if you have a medical condition and/or are pregnant or breastfeeding. Also see the post on plant-based omega 3 supplements.
Most vitamins and minerals can be got from a healthy wholefood diet, vegan or not. The problem is that we are living in a western society that often sells refined foods and fast foods, and busy lifestyles (combined with stress and concerns about skin cancer – leading to not being out in the sun as much) leads to deficiencies. The NHS recommends that only a few supplements are really necessary (even for vegans: namely folic acid for conception and pregnancy, vitamin B12 and vitamin D).
The rest are mostly just expensive urine. The profit margin on most supplements sold in stores is huge, due to inferior ingredients and high mark-up. So just eat well, and only spend money on a few good quality vegan supplements, if required.
A Multivitamin/Multimineral is a good idea, to cover your bases. You should be able to get most vitamins and minerals from food, the key is variety. But just one supplement daily may help: If you are on medication, check with your doctor before taking supplements as some can interact with medicine.
A Quick Guide to Vitamins
- Vitamin A is found in animal foods, but Beta-Carotene (found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables) converts to vitamin A, so offers the benefit without risk of toxic vitamin A overdose. Good for your immune system, your vision and your nose! Good sources are carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, papaya and apricots.
- B Vitamins are all good to release energy from food, and nerve health (alcoholics usually have B vitamin deficiencies). Working together, they are found in fruits, veggies and wholefoods: B1, B2, B3, Panthothenic acid, B6 and B7. The two to be careful with are Folate (this is needed before conception and during pregnancy to prevent spinal tube defects: doctors recommend supplementation) and B12 (this is only found on organic soil and supplemented foods, as we no longer dig up carrots with our hands and eat the soil along with them). In fact, absorption decreases as we age, so everyone benefits from B12 (those most at risk are older women, no matter what their diet).
- Vitamin C helps to keep your cells healthy and wounds to heal. It’s found in fresh fruits and vegetables and a deficiency causes scurvy (which is why sailors would take lemons and limes to sea). You should be fine if you eat lots of fresh food (smoking decreases absorption). Too much in a supplement will give you tummy ache.
- Vitamin D helps to keeps your bones, muscles and teeth strong. Our bodies make it from sunshine, but you need to spend 20 minutes every day with bare skin (no sunscreen), which is why many people are deficient (doctors often recommend supplements for children and those who cover their faces and bodies due to religious reasons). The only vegan version is D3, usually from lichen (most D2 is from sheep lanolin).
- Vitamin E is good for your immune system, skin and eyes. It’s found in most wholegrains, nuts, seeds and plant oils (like olive oil). If you eat wholefoods, you should be fine.
- Vitamin K is to clot your blood, heal your bones and help wounds heal properly. It’s found in green leafy veggies, wholegrain cereals and vegetable oils. Some people can’t take this, due to medication contraindications.
A Quick Guide to Minerals
- Calcium helps to keep your bones and teeth strong, clots your blood and regulates muscles. It’s found in dark green leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, tofu and fortified foods (also do weight-bearing exercise, for strong bones). Dairy just acidifies the blood, and your bones release calcium to neutralise the PH (this is why Japanese women who drink no dairy have better bones than western women, who guzzle down milk).
- Iron carries oxygen around your body, to give you energy. Find it in legumes, dark green leafy veggies, nuts, seeds, fortified breakfast cereals and tofu. Too much iron causes tummy pain (and possible ‘rusting’ around the heart). The only way to get rid of too much is through menstruation or blood donation.
- Zinc helps to heal wounds and make new cells. Again, it’s mostly found in animal foods so ensure you eat wholegrain cereals and breads, nuts and seeds.
- Iodine is good for your metabolism. As it’s mostly found in fish, ensure you eat a little sea salt or seaweed, or take a kelp supplement. If you have thyroid problems, speak to your doctor as you may not be allowed to do this, as too much iodine can cause serious medical problems.
- Other minerals like chromium, phosphorus and magnesium should all be fine if you eat a healthy diet. Selenium is a little more tricky, as it’s only found in a few plant foods. But as long as you can eat them, 2 Brazil nuts a day are fine (or drink Brazil nut milk). If not, take it in a multi-supplement.
- Salt is needed in small amounts, but is found naturally in most plant foods. If you want to add a little salt to food or cooking water, use sea salt as it contains natural iodine (speak to your doctor if you are on thyroid medication).
Some Good Brands of Vegan Supplements
- FutureKind (US) offers doctor-recommended vegan supplements, sold in recycled packaging with profits helping animal sanctuaries. This company was founded by two brothers, and offers free domestic shipping. Contains 100% of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin B12, vegan vitamin D3 (made from Vitashine – a plant lichen) and omega 3 fatty acids. Use code BEKIND10 for 10% discount.
- My Vegan (UK) offers quality multi-vitamin supplements with 22 vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12 and iron. Due to having its own world-class in-house manufacturing facilities, it can offer top quality affordable supplements.
- Vivo Life (global) sells all the vegan supplements you would likely need, including vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acid supplements.
- Vegetology (UK) sells a multi-vitamin formula, vitamin B12, vitamin D (including in spray form) and omega supplements. You can also buy supplements for pregnancy and joints. The bottles are made from bio-plastic.
- Together Health (UK) was founded by two brothers and offers quality multi-vitamins, seaweed calcium, pregnancy, beauty, women, omega 3, and supplements for immunity, eye and bone health.
- Pranin Organic (US) makes organic wholefood supplements in jars. The A to Z powder can be mixed into juice or smoothies (keep it in the fridge).
- Vegums (UK) make vegan gummy supplements (flavored with strawberry and sugar) packed in cardboard (or a tin for the trial pack). Sent in plastic-free packaging, take 2 a day for adults (or 1 a day for kids age 3 to 12). Keep away from pets and children, as they look and taste like sweets (could cause vitamin D overdose).