If you’re following a plant-based or vegan diet, you’re doing a great job at respecting your health, the environment, and other species – go you! However, if you are eating little or no animal products, there are some micronutrients to focus on in your diet and/or consider supplementing.
So what supplements do you need to consider on a plant-based diet?
1) Vitamin B12.
This one is the only non-negotiable supplement, as it’s critical for the normal functioning of our body and cannot be adequately sourced on a vegan diet. I recommend supplementing daily with a B12 Cyanocobalamin spray, with around 250mcg of B12. I make sure to place my spray in an easily visible place like my desk or kitchen to avoid forgetting to take it! However, if you don’t like the idea of having to take something every day or you fear you might forget to use your spray, you can choose between taking a weekly tablet or getting a periodic B12 injection. With the weekly tablet, you want to be taking around 2500mcg of B12, and you can either do the injections yourself after gathering the necessary equipment at your local chemist or have a doctor do it for you.
To make sure you’re staying on track, ensure you get periodical blood tests done. If you do so, keep in mind that the best markers for B12 sufficiency are MMA and/or homocysteine levels rather than serum B12 levels [1,2].
2) Next up is Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for increasing calcium absorption and supporting phosphorus absorption to help promote healthy bone mineral density, and has been shown to have an incredibly important role in the heart, brain, immune system, thyroid and muscles. Because few foods naturally contain vitamin D, vegans and omnivores alike are at risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. This can easily be avoided by getting around 20 minutes of sun exposure daily and by supplementing with vitamin D fortified foods.
However, during winter months or if you live somewhere that doesn’t get much sunshine, it is advisable to get your daily dose of Vitamin D from a supplement. In general, the recommended Vitamin D dosage is 1000 IU/day or 7,000 IU/week.
3) Omega 3.
Again, inadequate Omega 3 intake is akin to both vegans and omnivores, however, because vegans don’t eat fish, it is advisable to supplement either through diet or with a DHA/EPA Algae supplement. Fish actually get their omega 3’s from the algae anyway, so you’re just cutting out the middle-man and going direct to the source – the purest form.
For optimal intake from food, it is recommended you aim for 5g of ALA per day, which can be done by consuming 2 tbsp of ground flaxseed a day and 1 tbsp of chia seeds – I just sprinkle them on my oats or smoothies! Other foods rich in ALA are Hemp Seeds, Walnuts and Broccoli Sprouts. Alternatively, if you’d rather take an algae supplement, chose a DHA/EPA Algae supplement and take 250-500 mg daily. Easy as that!
Aside from those three, I recommend using blood tests to determine if you need to focus on particular food groups or add additional supplements to your regime. Of course, during particular life periods, such as being pregnant or breastfeeding, your nutrient requirements change and thus I always recommend you consult with your personal health practitioner to devise a specific food and supplement plan tailored to your circumstances.
And when it comes to your food, I cannot stress enough the importance of having a varied whole food plant-based diet – diversity in the plants you eat is key.
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 Bailey RL, Carmel R, Green R, Pfeiffer CM, Cogswell ME, Osterloh JD, et al. Monitoring of vitamin B-12 nutritional status in the United States by using plasma methylmalonic acid and serum vitamin B-12. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;94:552.