Vegans follow a diet that does not include any animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs. It is possible to be a vegan and stay well-nourished, but most choose to supplement their diet. A vegan diet is low in some nutrients that are primarily present in animal by-products, so vegan supplements offer a simple way to get enough of these nutrients. Learn about the most common vitamins that vegans need and why they are so important to have in a vegan diet.
Vitamin B12 can be found in rich-plant foods like tofu, chickpeas, spirulina and quinoa. Studies show that both vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency, even if they do consume a rich-plant diet. Vitamin B12 plays an essential role in maintaining many bodily functions such as red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function and DNA production. Having too little vitamin B12 can lead to anemia, nerve system damage, infertility or bone and heart disease. The only scientifically proven way for vegans to continuously reach the daily recommended intake is to consume B12 fortified foods and to also take vegan vitamin B12 supplements. Additionally, the ability to absorb vitamin B12 decreases with age, so everyone over the age of 50 should be taking vitamin B12 supplements. Did you know that Can-i Boost, Can-i Mend and Can-i Fresh all contain vitamin B12 as well as so many other important nutrients and vitamins?
Vitamin D helps to enhance the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your gut and also influences other bodily processes like immune function, mood, memory and muscle recovery. Very few foods contain vitamin D and the ones that do, are insufficient to satisfy the recommended daily allowance. Vitamin D can also be produced from 15 minutes of midday sun exposure if you don’t wear sunscreen and expose most of the skin. However, the elderly, people with darker skin, those who live in northern climates or those who spend little time outdoors can have trouble producing enough vitamin D. For this reason, vitamin D deficiency affects not just vegans and vegetarians but also meat-eaters. One of the best ways to combat vitamin D deficiency for vegans is to have blood levels tested periodically. Additionally, you can also take vegan vitamin D3 supplements if you’re not getting enough vitamin D from fortified foods or sun exposure.
Vitamin D and calcium work hand-in-hand by protecting your bones. Calcium helps to build and maintain bones, while vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium. However, it is possible to have enough calcium but not enough vitamin D or vice versa. When this is the case, one or the other will be going to waste since you need both of them to work together. Calcium plays a critical role in bone and teeth formation, muscle function and heart health. Research shows that calcium levels in vegans are much lower compared to meat-eaters and vegetarians. Most people get calcium from milk, but calcium is also rich in plants like kale, bok choy, oranges and figs. Evidence suggests that vegans tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures due to having low calcium levels. It is recommended that if vegans can’t meet the required daily allowance of calcium through their diet, supplements should be taken.
Iron is essential for building healthy blood cells as well for helping them carry oxygen throughout the body. There are two forms of iron; heme (which comes from animals) and nonheme (which comes from plants). Heme iron is easier for the body to absorb and use yet eating a vegetarian or a vegan diet high in iron-rich foods can provide the body with enough iron. Vegans with a low intake of iron should aim to eat more iron-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, dried fruits, nuts and seeds. Even combining these foods with sources of vitamin C can help to boost iron absorption within the body. Having too little iron can lead to anemia, fatigue and a decreased immune function. However, having too much iron is also a bad thing and it can do a lot of harm by damaging cells and blocking the absorption of other nutrients. Therefore, it is highly recommended you talk to your doctor about whether iron supplements are necessary for you.
Zinc is another important nutrient for metabolism and the immune system and there are a few plant-based sources of zinc. Zinc is highly abundant in meat and in protein-rich plant-based foods but some vegans don’t get enough of it. Studies show that vegetarians and vegans tend to have lower zinc levels. If you don’t consume enough zinc, it can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea and delayed wound healing. There are some good sources of zinc such as beans, whole grains, breakfast cereals and avocados, though zinc is most plentiful in oysters, red meat and poultry. It’s recommended that vegans focus on adding more zinc-rich foods into their diets. Those with low zinc levels should take daily supplements.
Vegan diets have many pros and cons. While it can offer a lot of great benefits, it can also be more challenging when it comes to getting enough of those essential vitamins and nutrients. Eating specific types of foods and taking supplements can help vegans stay healthy and fill those nutritional gaps. As a side note, all Can-i Wellness products are non-gmo, gluten free and vegan! Shop the entire catalog of solution-based products here. Remember, this is only an overview of some of the most common vitamins that vegan diets tend to lack and it’s just a general recommendation. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before starting any supplement regimen.