The success of veganism and supplementation are closely related. In order to stick with the lifestyle long-term you need to be aware of how to maintain a good level of health. No one wants to follow a lifestyle that leaves them feeling ill and tired constantly.
This is one of the most common complaints from new vegans. More often than not, this is due to malnourishment and an inadequately balanced diet. Supplementation refers to pills or drinks containing substances people usually get from food that they cannot get enough of in their diet.
Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist, dietician, or scientist. The content of this article is a compilation of information that I have found through my own research. Please consult a doctor or dietician and do your own research before drastically altering your diet.
Vitamin B12 is one of the first things most vegans will tell you to supplement. It is used in your body to make red blood cells and maintain the health of your nervous system. It also helps your body use folate and release energy from food.
B12 is commonly found in meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and some cereals that have been fortified. This means that omnivores will often get enough through their diet. As vegans do not consume any of these things, they often struggle to get enough holistically.
UK adults are advised by the NHS to have 1.5 μg (micrograms) of B12 daily. This applies to people aged 19-64. They state that having 2 μg of B12 supplementation daily is unlikely to cause harm.
Long-term deficiency leads to the development of Vitamin B12 deficiency anaemia. This can have serious implications if left untreated. For more information visit the NHS page here.
Good vegan sources of B12
- Fortified milk replacements
- Nutritional yeast
Vitamin D is used in your body to regulate your calcium and phosphate levels. These are used to maintain teeth, muscle tissue, and bones in good condition.
Vitamin D is found mainly in sunlight. Between the months of April and September you are able to get sufficient quantities from being outdoors. In October through March the NHS advises a daily supplementation of 10 μg for people living in the UK.
The NHS states that 10 μg may not be sufficient for everyone, and some people may need to supplement year round. They advise not to exceed a daily supplementation quantity of 100 micrograms, as this could lead to hypercalcaemia.
If you are deficient in Vitamin D as a child this can cause rickets. In adults it is more likely to lead to the development of osteomalacia.
Calcium is one of the minerals even little kids know is important. It plays a key role in the formation of strong bones and teeth. It also ensures your blood clots correctly and helps to regulate muscle contractions (including the beating of your heart!)
Calcium is found in dairy products, fortified bread and milk replacements, and green leafy vegetables. The recommended daily intake of calcium according to the NHS is 700mg (milligrams). You need Vitamin D to absorb calcium, so keep an eye on both.
You should be able to get sufficient calcium from your diet without supplementation if you are eating well. Do not supplement in excess of 1,500 mg daily as this could cause gastric upset.
Similarly to Vitamin D deficiency, you could develop osteomalacia or osteoporosis if you have a long-term calcium deficiency.
Good vegan sources of calcium
- Leafy green vegetables (kale, cavolo nero, etc.)
- Fortified milk replacements
- Tahini and sesame seeds
Iron helps to produce red blood cells which are used to transport oxygen to all the cells around your body. The amount that you need varies according to age and sex. The NHS advice apparently only covers cisgender people, so please consult your doctor for your suggested iron intake.
Iron is commonly found in red meat, beans, nuts, fortified cereals, dried apricots, and soy bean flour. Many people believe that vegans are iron deficient however the NHS says provided you are eating a well-balanced diet, you should not need to supplement iron.
Women aged 19-50 are advised to consume 14.8 mg iron daily, dropping to 8.7 mg after the age of 50. Men aged 18 and over should aim for 8.7 mg daily. Women who suffer from heavy periods are likely to need a higher iron intake.
If you are deficient this can lead to the development of iron deficiency anaemia. This can cause you to become very tired and pale and can lead to serious consequences if left untreated. For more information visit the NHS page here.
Good vegan sources of iron
- Pulses (lentils, peas, beans)
- Dark green vegetables (spring greens, broccoli)
- Wholegrains (brown bread, brown rice)
- Fortified cereals
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 is a class of essential fatty acids used to build longer fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). These cannot be made by your body and so you must have a source in your diet.
Other omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (ELA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Your body can make these using ALA, which is why they are not essential fatty acids. This is not a very efficient conversion, so it is advised to supplement these on a vegan diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids are used in the formation of cell membranes and help with the function of the receptors. EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish. ALA can be found in nuts, vegetable oils, and leafy vegetables.
Omega-3 fats help to protect you from heart disease and lower blood pressure. Omega-3 deficiency can cause skin, nail and hair issues. Your hormone levels would be impacted which causes issues with mood and sleep. There would also be issues with your cardiovascular health.
According to a Saunders et al., 2013 paper, vegetarians should double their ALA intake if they do not consume whole sources of EPA and DHA. It is agreed that supplementation of up to 300 mg per day of DHA and EPA will likely be beneficial.
Good vegan sources of ALA
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Soy beans
Iodine is one of the less commonly discussed supplementation options in the vegan community. I only really realised last year that it was important!
Iodine is used in the body to make thyroid hormones. These, in turn, are used to keep your cells and your metabolic rate healthy.
Iodine is only really found naturally in fish and shellfish. Some plant foods contain iodine, but the levels vary according to the soil they were grown in. Seaweed is what some vegans consume to increase their iodine levels.
The NHS says that vegans should consider supplementing their iodine. The recommended daily intake is 140 μg. Provided you take 0.5 mg or less a day, you are unlikely to experience any adverse effects.
An iodine deficiency can cause your thyroid gland to become swollen and can cause developmental delays in children. For more information, see the 2011 study here.
Zinc is used in the body to help heal wounds and make new cells and enzymes. It also helps to process proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in foods we eat.
Zinc is commonly found in meat, shellfish, dairy, bread, and wheatgerm. This means that omnivores will often get enough through their diet. As vegans do not consume any of these things, they often struggle to get enough holistically.
UK males are advised by the NHS to have 9.5 mg of zinc daily, whereas women only need 7 mg. This applies to people aged 19-64. They state that having 25 mg or less of zinc supplementation daily is unlikely to cause harm.
If you are deficient this can lead to the development of many general symptoms. Read more about these here.
Good vegan sources of zinc
- Pulses (lentils, chickpeas, beans)
- Pumpkin and other seeds
Where to look for more information
Please do not believe everything that you read on the internet and be sure to check your information is genuine. There is a lot of misinformation and fear mongering on the internet so take it all with a pinch of salt. Again if you are unsure, or wish to alter your diet, consult a qualified medical professional.
I have referenced the NHS website many times throughout this piece as I believe it to be one of the most reputable sources of information on this topic. It is also frequently updated with the most relevant information and advice.
The Vegan Society is another source that I would trust. The NHS referenced this site on their vegan page, and so it seems like a credible source of information.
MyProtein is a sports and supplementation website designed for athletes. They have recently brought out a whole vegan range called MyVegan. They have a lot of information about vegan supplements on their website.