These are my recommended supplements for vegans – or anyone else, for that matter. They’re the most important nutrients that most people should be taking as part of a long term healthy eating plan. And some that might be helpful for some people, either regularly or occasionally.
Now, the best source of all your daily needs for nutrients is from the foods that you eat, but getting nutrients from food is not as easy as it once was.
There are a few major barriers you might face in getting enough nutrients:
- Low nutrient levels in industrially-produced food
- Low nutrient levels in highly processed foods
- Low nutrient levels in areas with nutritionally-depleted soils
- Low nutrient intake because of calorie-restricted diet plans
- Low absorption and utilization rates because of weakened or age-related slow down of digestive function
Consequently, most of us are deficient in nutrients and it makes good sense to take a supplement as a backup source of nutrients.
Using these recommended supplements will give you a baseline of nutrients, but they should always go along with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Remember that supplements don’t make up for a poor diet, or for a stressful lifestyle. Think of them as your back up plan, not as your main source of nutrition.
Quality of Supplement
There is a big difference in quality of some supplements over others. There are synthetic and non-active forms of nutrients that are cheaper to produce, and low quality supplements tend to use those forms.
They might have a lower price tag, but in the end are a waste of money because your body won’t be able to use the nutrients. Even taking a lower dose of quality nutrients gives you more value than a cheap supplement.
Tablets can be difficult to absorb, so go with capsules, chewables, or liquid supplements with ingredients from natural (non-synthetic) sources.
Fortified foods, like non-dairy milk, cereals and nutritional yeast, are a great way to get nutrients into children or people who don’t like taking capsules. But there’s no benefit in terms of the nutrition compared to supplements. They are essentially supplements added to food, so it’s the same as taking a supplement on its own.
I prefer to have whole foods and choose my own high-quality source of supplement, but if fortified foods work better for you or your family, just be sure the food itself is fairly wholesome, not overly processed and not full of too much added salt, preservatives or sugars.
Vegetarians and Vegans
There are a few key nutrients that we need to pay attention to on a strictly plant-based diet. But one thing I want to make clear: taking a supplement is not some inherent weakness of a vegan diet!
The way animals are raised for food right now is a much more unnatural system than the process of making a vitamin. The impact on our planet, our bodies, and animals’ lives is lessened by getting a few nutrients from supplements rather than animals.
Not only that, but even those who eat lots of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy are still pretty likely to need the same supplements as vegans anyway. Most people will some type of nutritional or
digestive support – particularly when we’re very young and as we age.
A balanced vegan diet along with a few key supplements is a perfect way to be exceptionally healthy while avoiding the contamination, detrimental health effects, environmental impact and ethical concerns of animal foods.
Vegans and vegetarians need to be sure to supplement these nutrients (either in a multivitamin or on their own) as they are not available in plant foods:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12
And most people will need to take a small amount of calcium to supplement what they’re getting from food.
Something to watch for is that some components of supplements are sourced from animals . Some of the most common animal products used in supplements are:
- Gelatin capsules (made of animal bone). Cellulose (vegetable fiber) is used for vegetarian capsules.
- Magnesium stearate (can be made of animal oils or vegetable oils).
- Vitamin D3 (sourced from oil in sheep’s wool). D3 is listed as cholecalciferol. The vegan form is D2 (ergocalciferol) is plant-sourced.
- Omega-3 and DHA often come as fish oil, but there are sources using algae or flaxseed oil.
- Active (preformed) vitamin A is only found in animal food sources. Beta-carotene and mixed carotenoids are the vegetarian/vegan form of vitamin A. Healthy people will convert 3 units of carotenoids to active vitamin A.
The supplements listed below are, to the best of my knowledge and research, free of any animal products.
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Multivitamin Recommended Supplements
Taking a multivitamin doesn’t need to have your full daily levels of every vitamin and mineral – and it probably shouldn’t, since you should still be focusing on getting enough high-quality plant foods as your prime source of nutrients. But it should have a base level of nutrients in a high-quality and absorbable form. I usually try to find a multi that splits the daily dose into 2 or 3 capsules, and then only take 1 per day.
This is one of the highest quality vegan multivitamins I’ve seen. It has a cellulose capsule, which makes it easier to digest and absorb than a tablet, and uses high-quality forms of most nutrients, like B12 as methylcobalamin and calcium as citrate and bisglycinate. It also includes iodine and chromium, which tend to have low intake levels from food for vegans. It uses the vegan source of all nutrients, including vitamin D as D2 (ergocalciferol).
This is the same supplement as above, but it includes the full RDA of iron for women, so should not be taken if you haven’t had a blood test showing iron deficiency. Generally, it’s not needed for men, or women who are not menstruating (i.e. in or past menopause or who have an IUD that prevents menstruation). Be cautious with iron supplements, because it is possible to take too much and we should get the majority of our iron from food so I don’t think it’s necessary for a supplement to give the full RDA of this nutrient. It is, however, helpful for women who are on restricted diets and/or can’t absorb iron very well from food.
Vitamin D Recommended Supplements
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for your health, and the vast majority of people would test low if they were tested – vegans and meat eaters alike. It is used in so many different processes in your body, and I can’t stress enough how important it is to supplement with this – in addition to the multivitamin above. It’s also really inexpensive.
Multivitamins don’t usually have room for enough of your daily intake of vitamin D, and with no food source for vegans you should complement your multivitamin with extra D.
The 400 IU government recommendation is too low. Go for 1000-2000 IU each day. You may need more than 1000 IU daily if you aren’t converting D2 effectively to the form your body uses, so keep an eye on your vitamin D levels.
Get a blood test from your doctor, and watch for these symptoms: insomnia or restless sleep, muscle cramps or spasms, lower back pain, frequent bone fractures or osteoporosis, pain in ribs, spine or legs, nearsightedness.
The other source of vitamin D is exposing your skin to the sun. Too much sun exposure truly is bad for you, but some sun is important for everyone. In the winter, be sure to get enough Vitamin D from your supplements. I supplement through the summer, too, because it’s very inexpensive and just so important.
This company sources the more active form of vitamin D, which normally comes from the lanolin in sheep’s wool, from lichen to be a purely vegan form that will be more active in your body than vitamin D2, which is what most vegan vitamin D supplements are made with. This makes it very effective for anyone who is recovering from a vitamin D deficiency, since it will help them rebalance their levels faster than with D2.
This is a lower level of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol), which is the vegan form of vitamin D, and is perfect for anyone maintaining normal vitamin D levels on an ongoing basis. This, along with the vitamin D that will be in a multivitamin, and some exposure to sunlight should be just the right intake for most people to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.
Vitamin B12 & B Complex Recommended Supplements
If you get a good multivitamin, it should have enough of the most active form of vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin). If it doesn’t, or if you get deficient in B12 or any of the B complex of vitamins, you should take an extra supplement.
Some people don’t absorb B12 very well through their digestive system, and should take a supplement that you dissolve under your tongue (called sublingual), sending the vitamin directly into your blood stream, skipping the digestive system.
This supplement uses high-quality forms of all the B vitamins (including B12 as methylcobalamin) and in quantities that will help maintain healthy blood levels of B vitamins to keep energy levels up. It includes choline and PABA, which are important for vegans since they may not eat enough foods rich in those nutrients.
Calcium Recommended Supplements
There are some wonderful food sources of calcium that you should be sure to get enough of – but because calcium is such a large nutrient, it’s hard to get enough from food alone. Average food intake is about 700mg per day, and the recommendation for adults is 1000mg (up to 1300mg for older adults). That means a supplement to boost up that extra 300mg is most likely a good idea.
This supplement gives you calcium and mangnesium in highly absorbable forms, with enough elemental calcium equivalent in 2 capsules to give that 300mg boost, along with 66IU of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). That may be enough vitamin D for someone with normal levels to maintain, along with what’s in a multivitamin and some exposure to sunlight, rather than taking a separate vitamin D supplement. There are enough of the accompanying bone health nutrients (vitamin k, magnesium) in plant foods to ensure proper absorption if taken along with a healthy balanced diet full of fruits, veggies, beans, grains, nuts and seeds.
If you have started to develop bone health deterioration, osteoporosis or osteopenia this is a great option. It includes highly absorbable forms of calcium and other bone health nutrients, along with nutrients to help absorption (like vitamin C). It includes vegan vitamin D3, vitamin K, zinc and boron for a total bone health package. This is what I take, and I have one capsule per day for 250mg of calcium just to get that boost from what I eat to my total daily needs.
Omega-3 & EFA Recommended Supplements
EFA stands for essential fatty acids. ‘Essential’ in relation to nutrition means that humans need to get it from our food, our bodies can’t produce certain nutrients from thin air. Here’s more info about essential fatty acids if you’re interested.
Our bodies need 2 specific fatty acids from our diet – the others can be produced in our bodies if we eat enough fat in general. Those 2 fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6. The trick is, our bodies need a certain ratio of omega-3 to omega-6.
Most food sources of essential fatty acids (especially as those foods get to be lower and lower quality) have too much omega-6, which creates a relative deficiency of omega-3.
The most potent food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are ground flax, flax oil, chia seeds and oil, or sacha inchi oil.
Ground flaxseed is fantastic, but it can be difficult to digest and absorb. If you want to be sure you’re getting the omega-3 fatty acids, oils is a great way to do that. You can use this in salad dressings and cold dishes, but don’t heat it as these oils are extremely unstable in heat. Keep them in the fridge.
Then there’s a specific type of omega-3 called DHA, which is important for brain and nerve function. Our bodies convert omega-3 to DHA, but isn’t always totally efficient at it. Taking a supplement of DHA directly is often the best way to get this nutrient.
Deva makes a DHA supplement from algae, which is fully vegan and is a much more environmentally-sustainable source than fish. This comes in softgels, which makes it easy to take. I have tried the liquid version, without the capsule, and although it is more palatable than you might imagine, it was not something I was able to take on a regular basis. You may be stronger than I am, though, and it is a great option nutritionally.
Probiotics Recommended Supplement
Probiotics are the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract, and they serve a lot of useful purposes. If their population gets too low they have trouble keeping their claim on your system, and bad forms of bacteria and yeasts take over.
Taking a probiotic regularly helps keep the good bacteria population up. Prebiotics (the food that those good bacteria eat) are important too.
You need to make sure that your probiotic supplement is made up of high quality and active forms of the right bacteria, and that they will survive through your system to make it to the colon (where most of them live).
Digestive Enzymes Recommended Supplement
A digestive enzyme supplement helps your body break down foods. It might seem weird to take a pill to help your digestive system, but the unfortunate truth is that incomplete digestion is one of the top reasons for nutrient deficiencies and for allergies and intolerances.
If you aren’t digesting your food fully, you won’t be getting all of the nutrients from it. Foods that pass through your system when they aren’t fully broken down will be treated as allergens by your immune system.
It’s important to take digestive enzymes before a meal, since that’s when they’ll be most effective. You can also take them after a meal if you find yourself feeling heavy and bloated, but take that as learning for next time to take the enzyme before or change the structure of the meal you had.
You can decide whether you take them with every meal, or just with some. Important times to take them would be with large or complicated meals, when you’re eating in a rush (i.e. not chewing properly) or when you’re stressed or tired.
I haven’t tried these yet, but they look like a great package – excellent components, very affordable and I love that they use recycled packaging. They include not only a full spectrum of plant digestive enzymes, but also some herbs and spices that can help boost digestive function.