Top 5 Supplements for Vegans

Eating a plant-based diet is a great choice for your health. Studies show that vegans and vegetarians tend to have fewer heart health risks, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure, and a healthier body weight.(1) As more people are catching on to these benefits, it’s no wonder that the vegan lifestyle is quickly becoming mainstream. According to a 2019 article in The Economist, a full 25% of 25-34 -year-old Americans now say that they are vegans or vegetarians.

The fruits, veggies, nuts, and grains that make up a vegan diet are packed with nutrients, antioxidants, and gut-healthy fiber. Even so, it can be challenging to get the full range of nutrients your body needs from a purely plant-based diet. There are a few key nutrients that don’t appear in plant-based foods, or only in obscure foods that Westerners don’t eat regularly. Other nutrients may be hard to find in sufficient amounts, or in a form that’s easy for our bodies to absorb. 

Because of these challenges, studies show that vegans are often deficient in key nutrients,(2) despite their best intentions to eat consciously. That’s why it’s smart to supplement your vegan diet with a few important vitamins and minerals that may be lacking in your food. Here are the top 5 supplements vegans need to stay healthy.

1. Vitamin B12

If there’s one vitamin supplement vegans need, it’s B12. Vitamin B12 is produced by soil bacteria. It’s found in the guts of grazing animals who ingest soil, but it’s very scarce in plant-based foods. One study(3) recommends nori seaweed as a good source, but it’s risky to rely on just one food source for such an important vitamin. 

Vitamin B12 is crucial for healthy neurological function and helps your body make red blood cells. It’s also important for healthy methylation, a process that regulates gene expression and homocysteine levels, an important factor in heart health. Over time, lack of B12 can lead to neurological problems, anemia, and heart health risks.(4,5,6) 

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in vegetarians and vegans,(7,8) so adding a B12 supplement to your diet is a smart, practical choice. Our Naturelo Vegan B12 supplement gives you 1000 mcg of natural B12 in the form of methylcobalamin, the naturally bioactive form of the vitamin for your body, together with 200 mg of organic spirulina.

It’s important to always take B vitamins in their active form, because some people are unable to properly metabolize non-active B vitamins. This can happen because of reduced liver or digestive function, or because of a common genetic abnormality known as the MTHFR variant, which significantly reduces your body’s ability to utilize B12 and folate.

Some health experts recommend taking B vitamins together, because they often work together in teams. Our Naturelo B Complex supplement gives you all 8 B vitamins in their active forms, plus important co-nutrients like choline, inositol, and PABA, which are considered part of the B complex family.

2. Omega-3s

Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain function,(9) keeping your heart healthy,(10) and regulating inflammation in the body,(11) an important factor in many health risks. Since the primary food source of omega-3s is fish, most Americans don’t get enough, but vegetarians and vegans get even less -- about 50% less, in fact.(12)

Are there vegetarian sources of omega 3s? Yes, but it’s complicated. There are three long-chain omega 3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA is the form found in plant-based food like flaxseed, chia seeds, soybeans, and walnuts. EPA and DHA are the animal-based forms found in fish, and the bioactive forms that our bodies use. 

When we eat ALA, our bodies must convert it into EPA and DHA in order to use it. The problem is that this conversion process is very inefficient. It’s estimated that only 5-10% of the ALA we ingest gets converted into EPA, and only 2-5% of it becomes DHA.(13) You’d have to eat a lot of flaxseeds and walnuts to get enough EPA and DHA that way.

Fish, on the other hand, get their EPA and DHA from algae. What if we cut out the “middle man” and went straight to the source? Our Naturelo Vegan DHA supplement is sourced from algae to deliver a healthy concentration of bioactive omega 3 fatty acids in a plant-based form that’s perfect for vegans and vegetarians.

3. Vitamin D3

Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin”, because our skin produces it naturally when exposed to sunlight. You’d think this would make it easy to get enough vitamin D. Yet research shows that lack of vitamin D is increasingly common.(14,15) One reason is reduced sun exposure and increased use of sunscreens due to skin cancer concerns.

Vitamin D is best known for its crucial role in bone health, but current research reveals a growing list of other important benefits. It regulates immune function, supports a healthy mood, and helps normalize blood pressure and blood sugar levels.(16) Many researchers now believe that the outdated government recommendations for vitamin D are too low. 

Although many of us are low in vitamin D, vegans are especially at risk. There are only a few natural food sources of vitamin D, and most of them are animal-based. Only wild mushrooms produce vitamin D2, which is a less efficient form for our bodies than vitamin D3. It’s best to add a vitamin D3 supplement to make sure you are getting enough.

Until recently, the only vitamin D3 supplements you could find were animal-based as well. But today, you can get a vitamin D3 vegan supplement sourced from lichen. Our Naturelo Vitamin D3 supplement is plant-based and available in either a 2500IU dose or a high-potency 5000IU dose to help restore levels in those who are vitamin D deficient.

4. Calcium with K2

Your bones and teeth are made from calcium, and if you don’t get enough, they can become weak and brittle, especially as you age. Most people get their calcium from dairy products, but vegans lack this rich source. This is why experts warn that vegans are likely to be deficient in calcium, leading to possible bone health problems later in life.

It isn’t that there are no plant-based sources of calcium. Many leafy green veggies have calcium in moderate amounts. A bigger issue is that those same veggies also tend to have oxalates, which block the absorption of calcium. Broccoli and kale are good low-oxalate options, but it takes many servings to meet daily minimums for calcium. 

Some people are wary about taking calcium supplements, because extra calcium that isn’t well absorbed in the body can potentially build up in the arteries. But recent research reveals that this is actually due to a lack of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 has the specific job of directing calcium away from blood vessels and into the bones where it belongs, helping to reduce heart health risks and improve bone mineral density.(17,18,19)

Though researchers have long understood the importance of vitamin K for bone health,(20) they have only recently come to appreciate the different roles played by vitamin K1 and vitamin K2. Since vitamin K1 is easily found in our diet, health professionals haven’t traditionally thought to recommend vitamin K supplements. But vitamin K2 is much harder to come by, found mostly in animal organs and obscure fermented foods. 

Getting enough Vitamin K2 is crucial for maintaining bone and heart health, especially if you also need to take calcium. Because vitamin K2, D3, and calcium work together in such important ways, we’ve combined them all in our Naturelo Bone Strength vegan calcium supplement. It’s made with plant-based calcium from algae, D3 from lichen, and natural K2, plus vitamin C from Acerola cherries to help boost calcium absorption.

5. Iron

The mineral that makes your blood red, iron is crucial for making red blood cells and new DNA, and for transporting oxygen through the blood to give your cells energy. When you’re low in iron, you may feel dizzy, fatigued, and short of breath. Iron deficiency is pretty common, particularly for menstruating women and for those who don’t eat meat.

You can find iron in plant-based foods like beans, dark leafy greens, dried fruit, and nuts. But plant-based non-heme iron is absorbed at a lower rate than the heme iron found in animal products. This means that vegans need to eat twice as much iron from plant-based sources to reach daily minimums. It’s easy to see why many fall short. Having a vegan iron supplement on hand to help keep your levels up is a good idea. 

Some forms of iron are easier for your body to absorb than others. If you’ve found iron supplements to be hard on the stomach, look for a chelated iron (check the supplement facts for the word “chelate”), which is associated with better bioavailability and less gastric distress. Our Naturelo Vegan Iron supplement combines chelated iron with a blend of iron-rich whole foods like spinach and chard, plus vitamin C to boost absorption.

References:

1. What is a Vegan Diet?” WebMD.

2.  Craig WJ. “Health effects of vegan diets.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89(5):1627S-1633S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N

3. Watanabe, Fumio et al. “Vitamin B₁₂-containing plant food sources for vegetarians.” Nutrients vol. 6,5 1861-73. 5 May. 2014, doi:10.3390/nu6051861

4. Reynolds E. “Vitamin B12, folic acid, and the nervous system.Lancet Neurol. 2006;5(11):949-960. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(06)70598-1

5.  “Vitamin B12 Deficiency Anemia.” John Hopkins Medicine.

6. Anthony, Kiara. “High Homocysteine Level (Hyperhomocysteinemia).” Healthline, Jan 2018.

7. Pawlak R, Lester SE, Babatunde T. “The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature” [published correction appears in Eur J Clin Nutr. 2016 Jul;70(7):866]. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2014;68(5):541-548. doi:10.1038/ejcn.2014.46

8. Pawlak R, Parrott SJ, Raj S, Cullum-Dugan D, Lucus D. “How prevalent is vitamin B(12) deficiency among vegetarians?”. Nutr Rev. 2013;71(2):110-117. doi:10.1111/nure.12001

9. Pearson, Keith. “How Omega-3 Fish Oil Affects Your Brain and Mental Health.” Healthline, Dec 2017.

10. “Omega 3 fats - Good for your heart.” Medline Plus.

11. Calder, Philip C. “Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes.” Nutrients vol. 2,3 (2010): 355-74. doi:10.3390/nu2030355

12. Saunders AV, Davis BC, Garg ML. “Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and vegetarian diets.” Med J Aust. 2013;199(S4):S22-S26.

13. Davis BC, Kris-Etherton PM. "Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: Current knowledge and practical implications." Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;78 (3 Suppl):640S-646S.

14. Forrest KY, Stuhldreher WL. “Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults.” Nutr Res. 2011;31(1):48-54. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2010.12.001

15. Holick MF, Chen TC. “Vitamin D deficiency: a worldwide problem with health consequences.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2008;87(4):1080S-6S. doi:10.1093/ajcn/87.4.1080S

16.  “Vitamin D: Vital Role in Your Health.” WebMD, 2004.

17. Maresz, Katarzyna. “Proper Calcium Use: Vitamin K2 as a Promoter of Bone and Cardiovascular Health.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 14,1 (2015): 34-9.

18. Geleijnse JM, Vermeer C, Grobbee DE, et al. “Dietary intake of menaquinone is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease: the Rotterdam Study.J Nutr. 2004;134(11):3100-3105. doi:10.1093/jn/134.11.3100

19. Ishida Y. Clin “Calcium.” 2008;18(10):1476-1482.

20. Pizzorno, Joe Jr, ND. “Vitamin K - Keeping Calcium in Your Bones and Out of Your Blood Vessels.” WebMD, 2007.