The vitamin supplements you might need if you're vegetarian or vegan
Vegetarianism and veganism has been growing in popularity in recent years as many of us are looking for new ways to look after our health and the planet. This demand has opened a wide range of choices for those who follow a meat-free or a plant-based lifestyle.
However, you may be missing out on essential vitamins and nutrients in your diet. In this guide we’ll discuss all of the vitamin supplements you may need, how they’re made, and the benefits of following a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, so you can live both ethically and healthily.
Which vitamins and minerals do vegetarians miss out on?
We’ll begin by discussing all of the vitamins and minerals vegetarians may miss out on by omitting meat and fish from their diet. It’s important to remember that if you think you’re deficient in a vitamin, you should always get a blood test from your doctor to confirm this is the case.
Iron is necessary to help you maintain healthy blood, muscles and energy levels. If you’re a vegetarian, getting enough iron might be a concern to you, but don’t worry.
Iron is present in foods such as fortified cereals, dried fruit, dark green vegetables and wholemeal bread, all compatible with your vegetarian diet. If you aren’t including enough iron-rich foods into your diet, you may benefit from an iron supplement.
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid and it’s vital to helping you maintain a healthy heart, brain and eyes.
However, as omega-3 is derived from fish, it isn’t suitable for vegetarians. But you can get a good source of omega-3 from algal oil, a fish oil substitute made from certain marine algae. There are also some food sources that contain essential fats, like nuts, seeds, and soya beans.
Vitamin D, otherwise known as the sunshine vitamin, helps the body to absorb calcium, as well as helping the bones and teeth to stay strong and the muscles to work as they should. You should get your vitamin D intake from sunlight as it’s difficult to get an adequate amount of vitamin D from your food.
The NHS recommends that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months when the sunlight is sparse, but many vitamin D supplements are from non-vegetarian and non-vegan sources, so always check the label.
Which vitamins and minerals do vegans miss out on?
A vegan diet contains only plants, excluding all meat and all animal-derived products like eggs and cheese. Therefore, if you’re vegan, it can be easy to lack the essential nutrients in your meals.
Most supplements don’t need to be sourced from animals, however, vitamins such as vitamin B12, vitamin D and omega-3 typically aren’t vegan. Vegan alternatives are created by swapping any animal-related ingredients for vegan-safe bacteria or algae.
Keep reading to understand the vitamin supplements you may wish to integrate into your plant-based diet to ensure you’re hitting all of your nutritional needs.
Calcium helps you to maintain healthy bones and teeth, and most non-vegans are able to get their calcium intake through dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt. Vegans, however, may find it a little tricker to find good sources of calcium.
Green, leafy vegetables such as broccoli and cabbage contain calcium, but you can always supplement your calcium, too–just make sure it contains vitamin D otherwise your body won’t be able to absorb it.
Vitamin B12 is necessary for healthy nerves and red blood cells, and to build DNA. The most common sources of vitamin B12 are from dairy products and meat, but if you follow a plant-based diet, you can get your vitamin B12 intake through fortified foods such as cereals, soya milk, and of course, supplements!
There are many vegan vitamin B12 supplements that are derived from fermented bacteria, compared to animal-based ingredients like gelatin.
Zinc is essential for cell growth, it supports the immune system and it assists the healing of wounds. Although zinc is found in a number of dairy products, it’s also present in fortified cereals, nuts and seeds, peas, beans and chickpeas, bread and potatoes.
If your zinc intake is low, you may benefit from taking a zinc supplement, but you should be able to get enough zinc from a balanced, vegan diet.
Although you may miss out on these vitamins by choosing to follow a vegetarian or a vegan diet, don’t despair! You may find that the benefits outweigh the cons.
Studies suggest that by converting to vegetarianism or veganism, it’s good for your heart health, the environment, and it may prevent type 2 diabetes. It’s perfectly safe, too, as long as you eat nutritious, balanced meals and supplement any missing vitamins when you need to.
As part of National Vegetarian Week, we hope this guide has taught you some of the foods you can integrate into your vegetarian or vegan diet to get your necessary vitamin intake, in addition to highlighting the key vitamins you may be lacking.
If you need any more information about vitamins and supplements or vegetarianism and veganism, visit the NHS website.