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Supplementing your diet or lifestyle with vitamins is a choice everyone has to make, vegan or not. A vegan diet is low in certain nutrients that are found mostly in animal products, like vitamin B-12. Some people prefer finding foods that give them all the nutrients they need, while others prefer taking vitamins for any number of personal or medical reasons.
There are many ways to live a balanced, vegan life. The struggle of not using supplements is that when you eat foods for specific vitamins and nutrients, there’s often no real way to tell exactly how much nutrient is in each of your food servings.
And there are many opinions out there about when and how you should include vitamins and supplements. We’re going to go through the most recommended vitamins for vegans, but don’t forget: if you are unsure whether you should be taking a specific vitamin or supplement regimen, it’s best to talk to your doctor.
According to Medical News Today, vitamin B-12 is the first and most important of eight vitamins vegans should be taking. B-12 is “a nutrient that is critical for neurological function, for maintaining your immune system, and even for making blood cells and DNA.”
Your body’s ability to absorb vitamin B-12 can decline with age, so taking a supplement can help you hold onto that ability longer.
If you’d prefer to add more foods rich in vitamin B-12 first, here’s a list of foods to try.
There are three kinds of omega-3 fatty acids – ALA, DHA, and EPA. ALA is the kind found in flax and chia seeds, but it’s the other two that vegans have a little more trouble keeping in their diet.
Omega-3’s have a wide range of health benefits, and they typically come from fish products. Seaweed is a vegan food that has DHA and EPA in it, but you’d have to eat copious amounts of seaweed every day to be able to sustain the omega-3 levels your body needs.
Iron aids in the production of healthy red blood cells. While you can take iron supplements, this study suggests vegans can get the iron they need by adding more of these foods to their diet:
Since calcium is often found in dairy products, it’s easy for vegans to be low on this nutrient. Like the other items on this list, you can find plant-based items that are rich in calcium like dark, leafy greens (mustard greens, bok choy, watercress), chick peas, and fortified foods that contain plant-based milks. If you would rather take a calcium supplement, you can do that and take vitamin D to help your body absorb more of both.
Spending 15 to 20 minutes in the sun every day can allow your body to make all the vitamin D it needs, but if you live somewhere that isn’t quite so sunny, taking a vitamin D supplement is a great idea for vegans and non-vegans alike.
There are 2 vitamin Ks. Vitamin K-1 is found in abundance in dark leafy greens, so your vegan diet is great for this. However, vitamin K-2 is found in egg yolks and some other dairy products.
To supplement without taking a vitamin, you can add more fermented foods like raw sauerkraut to your diet.
Zinc helps boost your immune system, among other things. Vegans may need to take a zinc supplement because, though many plants have zinc in them, they also contain phytates, which hinder your body from absorbing zinc.
Iodine is essential for your thyroid function. Seaweed and certain plants have small amounts if iodine in them.
Luckily, your body doesn’t need much iodine so cooking with iodized salt and adding more seaweed to your diet should give your body what it needs.
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