As a vegan, nutrition and supplementation can be a delicate subject.
There are a lot of conflicting opinions out there and frankly, a lot of fear-mongering too. We’re using Nutrition and Hydration Week as an opportunity to cut through the noise and deliver the simple facts on vegan supplementation, with the help of our in-house dietitians.
Nutrition and Hydration Week is an annual awareness week that has taken place every March since 2012. Its aim is “to highlight and educate people on the value of food and drink in maintaining health and wellbeing.” Simply, to raise awareness of the key role nutrition and hydration plays in maintaining good health. Often, veganism and nutrition go hand in hand. While the vast majority of people choose a vegan diet for the animals and/or environment, improved health is also a huge motivator behind plant-based living. But the big question that crops up time and time again is, do vegans need to supplement their diet?
We say yes. Appropriate supplementation is an important part of healthy vegan nutrition and it is recommended that vegan supplements are used to complement a balanced and varied plant-based diet. That said, those following a balanced vegan diet do not need a tonne of vegan supplements and the vast majority of nutritional needs can be met through food and dietary changes alone. There are just four essential nutrients that our in-house dietitians recommend every vegan pay close attention to: vitamin B12, vitamin D, iodine and selenium, all of which are included in our own vegan supplement VEG 1.
First up, B12
Vitamin B12 is often hitting the headlines and like most things, there is a lot of conflicting information out there. The simple truth is that people who do not consume animal products need to obtain vitamin B12 from fortified foods or vegan supplements. This is because B12 is not produced by plants, it is produced by microorganisms. B12 is important because it helps with the development of red blood cells and maintaining a healthy nervous system. To ensure you’re getting enough, we recommend eating at least 3mcg of fortified foods daily. Good fortified foods to include in your plant-based diet to increase vitamin B12 intake include: some alternatives to milk products, vegan spreads, nutritional yeast flakes, yeast extracts and fortified breakfast cereals. Vegan supplements designed to be taken daily should include at least 10mcg, and weekly vegan supplements at least 2000mcg. The Vegan Society’s own supplement, VEG 1, contains an adequate 25µg. It also contains the next key nutrients we go on to recommend.
An extra note: There is are no known toxic effects of B12, so there is no harm in exceeding recommended amounts or combining more than one option in your balanced vegan diet.
The sunshine vitamin: Vitamin D
Similarly to B12, vitamin D features frequently in the news, and for good reason! Vitamin D is important for healthy bones and muscle health. In the UK, it is recommended that everyone take a vitamin D supplement from October to March as a minimum, not only those following a vegan diet. For certain groups, such as people with darker skin and those who do not often expose their skin to sunlight, this recommendation is extended to year-round. During this period in the UK, the weather is grey and dull, and the sun is not strong enough for us to make vitamin D from sunlight. As it is difficult for anyone to get a daily vitamin D intake of 10mcg from food alone, supplements are recommended. Be wary when choosing a supplement: not all vitamin D is vegan and D3 is often derived from sheep’s wool! VEG 1 contains a vegan-friendly source of vitamin D3 to help you make sure you’re getting enough.
Iodine is another important nutrient for vegans to consider supplementing. This is because most plants do not require this mineral for growth, so contents vary and tend to be low. A moderate, steady iodine intake is ideal for thyroid health and so it’s important to ensure you’re getting enough. Vegan sources include fortified foods and supplements. Iodine-fortified dairy alternatives can be a good source, but while iodine fortification of milk and yoghurt alternatives is becoming more common, it is not yet standard practice. If you consume roughly 500ml of iodine-fortified plant milk daily, this can provide a good amount. Alternatively, you can take vegan vitamins that contains this nutrient, such as VEG 1, to ensure you’re reliably getting enough.
Lastly, we have selenium. Selenium is important as it helps our bodies fight infections and protects cells and tissues from damage, but similarly to iodine, plants do not require this nutrient for growth. This means contents tend to be low and are even lower when the plants are grown in soil that has a low selenium content, which is a common issue in areas such as Europe. Brazil nuts are often cited as a rich vegan source of selenium, and while contents are variable it does tend to be high. Eating just two Brazil nuts a day might meet your needs, but as contents vary the best way to guarantee a reliable, adequate intake is through vegan supplements.
VEG 1: The multivitamin designed for vegans, by vegans
As mentioned, The Vegan Society’s own supplement VEG 1 contains the four key nutrients discussed above. VEG 1 has been designed specifically for a vegan diet and conveniently combines these vitamins and minerals in a once-a-day chewable tablet. VEG 1 is available in two different flavours, orange and blackcurrant, and is priced affordably at just £6.60 for a three-month supply. The VEG 1 range also includes a strawberry flavoured liquid multivitamin, VEG 1 Baby and Toddler, that is suitable for children aged six-months to four years. Baby and Toddler includes the nutrients mentioned above plus vitamins A and C as these are recommended for all children of this age group. You can shop the VEG 1 range on our webshop, Etsy and eBay, or drop an email to sales[at]vegansociety[dot]com to find your local stockist.
If you’re concerned about your nutrient intakes, we recommend speaking with a health professional.
The views expressed by our bloggers are not necessarily the views of The Vegan Society.