In recent years, there has been a drastic increase of individuals taking up the vegan lifestyle and consuming plant-based diets. Supermarkets are catching on and cashing in on this growing lifestyle, with Sainsbury’s launching a 31 product vegan range at the end of last year, and fast food giants such as McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King introducing plant-based options.
Quadrupling from 150,000 people in 2014 up to 600,000 in 2019, the UK seen a dramatic rise of vegans. 42 per cent of the UK’s vegans made the dietary shift in 2018 and are forecasted to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025. Although this is a positive change, there are concerns that vegan diets don’t give the body all of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function healthily and in optimum performance. With veganism garnering more attention and a demand for education, Google Trends data reports that the term ‘vegan supplements’ is often searched for in the UK, with a particular spike in early January 2020, likely after the indulgence of the Christmas period.
Yes, a plant-based diet is extremely nutritional in many ways. However, there are some nutrients we may need to supplement that we can’t get solely from plants. With good planning, you can make sure you’re not missing out on anything important. If you find yourself wondering ‘what vegan supplements do I need?’, here, we’ll look at the most important additions you should be taking on a vegan diet.
The Vitality of Vitamin B12
It’s argued that one of the most important nutrients for vegans to consume is B12, which is derived from foods from animal sources. There’s a common misconception that vegans who eat the right kind of plants don’t need to be wary of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Unfortunately, there is no research to confirm this. Vegans are at higher risk of B12 deficiencies, so it’s important that adults consume around 1.5 micrograms of B12 every day.
Since Vitamin B12 plays a key role in the functioning of many bodily activities such as the health of the nervous system, protein metabolism, the development of oxygen-carrying red blood cells and normal brain functioning, it is a vital part of our diets. If not enough B12 is consumed, this can lead to anaemia, nervous system damage, infertility, and bone and heart disease. Humans used to get B12 from natural water in soil, however with declining soil quality from intensive farming and filtered water, this isn’t the case anymore. Taking supplements or fortified foods such as soymilk, nutritional yeast, meat substitutes, and breakfast cereals.
The Importance of Vitamin D
Helping to increase the absorption of phosphorus and calcium in our gut, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient. Not only that, it also promotes healthy bone, teeth, and muscle growth. Vitamin D is comprised of two forms — vitamin D3 is taken from animal products such as oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolk, and butter, whereas vitamin D2 comes from plants, like mushrooms, and fortified foods.
Most of us struggle to meet the recommended intake of 10 micrograms per day of Vitamin D since there are few foods that this includes. It is primarily derived from sun exposure, which is why the NHS recommend vitamin D supplements, even for carnivores, in the darker winter months. Although finding food sources that are rich with Vitamin D can be a struggle, there are many health supplements that can be taken to substitute the few food sources available.
The Necessity of Iron
Red blood cells, DNA development and the transportation of oxygen around the body is all enhanced by iron. Therefore, an iron deficiency can result in anaemia. Symptoms of anaemia include a decreased immune system functioning, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and difficult concentrating. Iron is derived from meat, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, cheese, and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and pak choi.
When it comes to iron, consuming too much of this can be harmful to your body since it prevents the absorption of vitamins and minerals, so don’t supplement unless you’ve been told to by your GP — but it’s worth being aware in case you start to feel the symptoms and aren’t sure why.
Why Iodine Is Important
To help maintain a healthy thyroid function, consuming enough iodine to do so is crucial. This is a regulator of your metabolism. Good sources of iodine include sea fish, shellfish, dairy, and some plants and grains depending on the level of iodine in the soil in which they grew. If not enough iodine is taken, you can experience low energy, dry skin, forgetfulness, depression, and weight gain — so it’s recommended that adults consume 0.14mg of iodine each day.
Vegans are thought to be more susceptible to iron deficiency than vegetarians since they have up to 50 per cent lower iodine levels, according to research.
To ensure you are consuming the correct amount of vitamins in nutrients whilst on a vegan diet, getting your blood taken at your GP to check this is advised to find out what you should do.
Watanabe, F. and Bito, T., 2018. Vitamin B12 sources and microbial interaction. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 243(2), pp.148-158.