In the UK, there were 600,000 vegans recorded in 2019, which quadrupled from 150,000 in 2014. 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.
That’s not saying that vegan diets aren’t healthy — yes, a plant-based diet is extremely nutritious. 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 four of the most important supplements for a vegan diet.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient that helps increase the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from our guts as well as promote 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.
As there are few foods that vitamin D can be derived from, most of us struggle to meet the recommended daily intake of 10 micrograms a day. It is primarily derived from sun exposure, which is why the NHS recommend vitamin D supplements, even for carnivores, in the darker winter months.
Consuming enough iodine is particularly important to maintain a healthy thyroid function. 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.
According to research, vegans have up to 50 per cent lower iodine levels in their blood than vegetarians, making them more susceptible to risk of iodine deficiency.
Arguably one of the most important nutrients for vegans to take, B12 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.
Vitamin B12 is important for a variety of bodily functions, including the health of the nervous system, normal brain function, protein metabolism, and the development of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. 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.
Transporting oxygen around the body and red blood cell and DNA development and is 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.
However with iron it’s important to note than unnecessary uptake of supplements can actually be harmful and block other vitamins and minerals from absorbing, 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.
If you want to make sure you’re getting the correct levels of vitamins in nutrients during your vegan diet, we suggest getting your blood taken at your GP 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.