Health Check: Supplementing on a Vegan Diet
A run down of what we take every day to stay healthy and happy.
A diet centred around plants is one of the best things you can do for your body. However, although healthy whole-foods, plant-based diet provides nearly everything our bodies need, modern food production systems and lifestyle limitations have made it more difficult for us and non-vegans alike to meet the entirety of our daily nutrient requirements. It’s extremely important to be supplementing whatever it is our bodies require to function well. Here's the run down of what we take every day to stay in check.
First up is B12! It’s extremely important that our bodies have a reliable source of this vitamin. We need B12 for nerve cell health, red blood cell production, protein metabolism and brain function. Its deficiency can lead to anemia, nervous system damage, infertility and bone diseases. Despite what some sources say, there are not plant-derived foods that can supplement an adequate amount of the vitamin to our bodies (spirulina, miso, nori and tempeh contain ‘inactive’ forms of B12). It can actually take years to develop a B12 deficiency, as your body is able to store it in your liver for extended periods of time. But don’t take that as your queue to wait until symptoms arise. B12 deficiency is no joke.
What you should take: You should have at least 5µg (micrograms) - from either supplements or fortified foods - a day. If taking supplements, look for either cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin. If taking in the form of fortified foods such as cereals and energy bars, these need to be taken twice of three times a day at least for adequate intake.
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is necessary for healthy bones, teeth and muscles. It also plays a huge role in how our bodies absorb calcium and phosphorus. In general, 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight is all our bodies need to produce vitamin D. However, whether you’re vegan or not, if you use sunblock or live in a country with limited sunlight over the winter (like the UK), you need to be supplementing it.
What you should take: Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D and fortified foods are often considered insufficient to satisfy our daily requirements. Look for a vitamin D2 supplement (which is always vegan) or a specifically vegan D3 supplement.
Iodine plays a huge role in thyroid function, which stores and produces the hormones that affect the function of almost every organ in our body and regulates our metabolic rate. The closer to the sea a food is grown, the more iodine is present, which explains why seaweed (including nori, laver and kelp) has a higher count of iodine than any other plant. The only other plant-based food considered to have consistently high iodine levels is iodized salt, and half a teaspoon is claimed to sufficiently meet your daily needs. However, Vegans who don’t consume iodized salt or don’t eat seaweed several times a week should take a kelp or iodine supplement of at least 150µg (micrograms) per day.