2 Supplements Every Vegan Should Take
One of the main reasons I thought being vegan would suck is that I thought I needed to take 100 different supplements, every single day. And if I didn’t do that, I’d have to eat 817 pounds of random vegetables on a daily basis. Thankfully neither of those options are necessary.
I’m not a big medicine person, so taking any sort of pills for anything was sort of foreign to me. I still remember having to take some sort of pill when I was like 13 to get over a sickness, and I was too terrified that I would choke and die. So I just chewed the pill like it was some sort of Flintstones vitamin, like I was 3 years old. It was disgusting FYI. And then I remember my mom trying to get my sister to take a pill when she was slightly younger and laying down on the couch, and it seemed like a traumatic experience. Now I’m curious… I should text her and ask her if she takes pills as an adult, or if she’s too scarred.
Anyway, I knew that going down the vegan path would be removing some things from my diet. I’ve been vegan for over three years now, and people still think it’s extremely restrictive, but I don’t agree. I know that meat and dairy both have various things in them which are beneficial to humans. But I also know those things can be sourced outside of the animal world, contrary to some people’s opinions.
If you’ve been vegan for any amount of time, or have researched any of this, I’m sure you’ve heard about this one. B12 is basically the only vitamin that isn’t reliably accessible from plant foods. Non-vegans typically get theirs from meat, but in doing so, they’re also getting a lot of fat and cholesterol. They will also be the first to say something like, “Well if being vegan is so great, how come it’s missing B12? See… I told you that meat is mandatory!” When in reality, a lot of meat eaters are only getting small amounts of B12 from the meat that they consume. In fact, vegans that take a simple B12 supplement are less likely to be deficient in B12 than the average meat eater. So basically, if everyone took an occasional B12 pill, they won’t need to eat meat (since basically everything else can be found in whole foods). Having low levels of this vitamin can cause nervous system problems and anemia, so this isn’t something you want to skip. You can also find B12 in several vegan fortified foods. You could eat those things a few times a day, but a supplement is just so simple and inexpensive.
- Nature’s Bounty Vitamin B12 Supplement, 2500mcg – This is the one I’ve been using since I ditched meat and dairy. I take (1) of these sublingual tablets once a week. I just place it under my tongue and let it dissolve. Some people take a much smaller dose, and they take it daily. I’d rather limit the amount of things I have to do on a daily basis, so weekly works for me. Plus it’s super cheap to go this route.
- Garden of Life mykind Vitamin B12, Raspberry Liquid Spray – I’ve never tried this one, but I know some others that like the spray. You could spray it on your food, or directly in your mouth.
When you hear someone talk about vitamin D, the first thing that probably comes to mind is milk. But the amount in there is pretty low naturally, so if you find milk that has a lot of vitamin D in it, it was added to it. A perfect example of why you don’t need dairy, since the dairy industry is basically supplementing the milk anyway. Another reason to remove animals from your diet. Vitamin D helps control calcium, magnesium, and phosphate levels in our bodies, as well as keeping our muscles healthy. But it’s hard to get enough from any food source. And getting it from sunlight can be just as unreliable. So a supplement is really one of the best options for most people. There are two main types, D2 and D3. D2 is from plants, but D3 can be from animals or plants. So if you get D3, just make sure it’s the vegan variation, which comes from lichen (both of the ones I recommend below are D3). Again, your skin can absorb the sunlight, so if you live in a warm and sunny location year-round, you might be ok. But you have to make sure you get enough exposure, but not too much exposure which could lead to burning, or even lead to skin cancer. So in my opinion, most people would be better off, and possibly safer, to just take a simple supplement. If you experience fatigue, muscle pain, and depression, you might have low levels of vitamin D. Apparently this affects up to 20% of people. And worse yet, if you are actually deficient in this vitamin, your body has a hard time maintaining your calcium and phosphate levels, which can lead to calcium and phosphate to be released from your bones, which can lead to soft and weak bones. Obviously this isn’t good for adults, but children can develop even more problems from a vitamin D deficiency like stunted growth, rickets, or even deformities. So this is something you don’t want to take lightly.
- Garden of Life mykind Raspberry Lemon Vegan D3 Chewable Tablets, 2000 IU – I think these taste great, and I take (1) each morning. They are almost like candy.
- Country Life Vegan D3 Capsules, 5000 IU – I recently ran out of the chewable tablets that I just mentioned, but my grocery had these ones in stock, so I gave them a try. I’ve been using these ones for a couple weeks now, and no complaints. I just take (1) a day with my first meal. These are about the same price as the ones above (per tablet/capsule), but the dose is 2.5X on these. I think this dose size is probably the most you’d want to take in a day. And if you’re getting a good amount of vitamin D from fortified food sources or from things like tofu, mushrooms, etc., you might want to take a smaller dose, as having too much can be just as bad as having too little.
BONUS: Omega-3 (DHA & EPA)
Most of us get omega fats in our diets. But a lot of these are omega-6 fats from processed foods and fast food, usually in the form of various cooking oils. We should have a healthy ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats, but a lot of people in the western world are consuming way too much omega-6 and way too little omega-3, so the ratio is way off. There are 3 main types of omega-3 fats, and the first one is called ALA. Vegans can get theirs from chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts. (Non-vegans get most of their omega-3 fats from seafood.) The second type is called DHA, and the third is called EPA. The plant sources I mentioned are good for ALA, but they contain no DHA or EPA. Both of which are not essential, but they seem to be vital for long-term brain health. They aren’t considered essential because the body can convert ALA to DHA and EPA, but you’d need to make sure you consume enough ALA. But even then, your ability to do that conversion may vary dramatically, as some people convert it easily and some people convert very little or none at all. The only sure way to confirm you’re getting it is to supplement. But don’t worry, most non-vegans supplement too, except they use fish oil. But it’s funny, fish don’t even produce DHA and EPA, they get it from algae. So why not stop killing the fish, and just go straight to the source? Seems like a no-brainer. Unfortunately, the supplements are pricey. You just have to ask yourself, is your brain health worth it?
- Testa Plant Based GMO-Free Omega-3 DHA + EPA from Algae Oil – These were the first ones I tried and they were fine. I didn’t feel any different after taking them for a month or two. But I feel like this supplement makes sense. I guess the only way to know is to get tested before and during and after.
- Nested Naturals Vegan Omega 3 DHA & EPA Supplement – I tried these ones next and I didn’t notice any real differences. They recommend keeping these ones in the fridge, so I did. I think these ones might have a slightly more marine taste to them than the Testa brand.
I try to eat a lot of healthy foods, so that I’m getting all of my nutrients from the food, rather than ingesting tons of supplements. I used to take a multivitamin, but stopped. I’ve considered going back to taking one of those each morning, which I might do at some point. It’s an even simpler way to get most of the things you need, all in one pill. But I feel like the quality might not be as good, plus sometimes you’re getting an insane percentage of some vitamins and a very small amount of other vitamins. I’d rather take the ones that are harder to get from food, and try to get the rest from my food. But a multivitamin might work best for you.
If I felt terrible all the time, I would probably get a lot of tests done to see what I’m lacking. But I feel fine almost all the time, so I’ve skipped that for now. Although it would be interesting (and probably helpful) to know what all of my levels are. I should have done that before I went vegan, so I would’ve had some sort of baseline to judge my results off of.
You can probably get every single thing you need without supplements, as long as you’re hardcore with a ton of whole foods and fortified foods every single day. That’s probably the healthiest option, but that might add stress and cause you to give all of this up. I say keep things simple and don’t make it so complicated that you don’t want to do it.
If you’re planning on going vegan, I’d at least start out with the B12. If you’re never outside or live in a dark and gloomy place, I’d do the Vitamin D as well. They are pretty cheap and I’ve seen zero side effects. Try eating a wide variety of foods as well. Not sure what to eat? Check out this free app from Dr. Michael Greger: Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen iOS App. It’s a simple way to track the foods recommended by NutritionFacts.org. And if you’ve never heard of him, check out his book called How Not to Die (I still love that book title).
One other thing to mention is not all supplements are vegan. Most gel capsules have gelatin in them, and I’ve even seen some that use dairy or eggs. Weird, I know. So be sure to check labels whenever buying anything, it only takes a few seconds to read through the ingredients. And if there are any allergens, they should be clearly listed. Plus these days, there are plenty that say “vegan” right on the front. Some say vegetarian, which might be vegan, but you’ll have to confirm in the ingredients section or by contacting the company.
Other ways to stay healthy, that you probably already know: get some sun every day, prioritize your sleep, get some exercise, remove as much stress from your life, do work you enjoy, and stay hydrated. I think you’ll do just fine with that recipe.
As always, I’m not a doctor, and you should consult one if you aren’t sure about starting new supplements. Everyone has a unique situation and may require something else than what I’ve listed above.