In this month’s issue of Vegan Life magazine, there was a useful guide to supplements for vegans. This is something that I looked into myself last year as I wanted to make sure the family was getting all the nutrients needed for tip-top health and not lacking anything vital.
While a varied, balanced vegan diet can meet all nutrients needs (with the exception of vitamin B12), as mentioned in The Vegan Life article, there are four key nutrients to consider supplementing, and these are vitamins B12 and D, iodine and omega 3 essential fatty acids.
However, it’s worth noting that it’s not vegans exclusively that would benefit from taking these supplements. As we get older, our ability to absorb B12 from foods diminishes, so anyone over 50 years old is advised to consume fortified foods and/or take a B12 supplement. The UK government’s health advisers are also proposing that millions of people should be offered free vitamin D supplements as it’s estimated that one in five adults in the UK is at risk of vitamin D deficiency. Worldwide, iodine deficiency has become a major health problem too. To reduce the risk amongst their own populations, countries such as the USA, India, Denmark and Switzerland fortify table salt with iodine (‘iodized salt’). And when it comes to essential fatty acids, people are generally getting too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3.
My number one choice for nutrient intake will always be food. However, for these key nutrients – vitamins B12 and D, iodine, omega 3 (especially EPA & DHA) – I’ve decided to take a ‘belt and braces’ approach for now and use supplements to top up our levels, as and when needed.
Here’s how my family currently accesses these four nutrients…
Foods – fortified non dairy milks, non dairy yogurts, nutritional yeast flakes, breakfast cereals
Supplement – SOLGAR Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) 1000mg Sublingual Nuggets
Food – fortified non dairy milks, non dairy yogurts, breakfast cereals
Summer months – lots of time spent outdoors in T-shirts & vest tops
Supplement – Viridian Liquid Vitamin D drops which have a nice, fruity flavour (we squirt it straight into our mouths or into smoothies/yogurt).
Food – iodised salt (from Sainsburys); seaweed (Clearspring Nori Sprinkle is a favourite) UPDATE 2017 – we also love making vegan sushi rolls with nori sheets – another great source of iodine!
Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids
Food – walnuts, ground linseed, chia seeds, hemp seeds, greens
Supplements – Since it’s not known how well the body converts the omega 3 in walnuts and seeds from ALA into DHA, I also like to give the family a supplement which includes DHA (derived from marine algae). Our current favourite is Viridian Vegan EPA & DHA – a lovely orange-tasting liquid that we squirt on smoothies, yogurts or straight into our mouths!
In addition to these four, I also think it’s important to pay attention to Iron and ensure that we eat lots of iron-rich meals. Worldwide, iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder and affects a staggering 2 billion people.
Vegan for Life has a useful section on iron, which includes the levels needed by gender and age, ways to enhance iron absorption, and a list of foods and their iron content. I also love this infographic by Vegans of Instagram ♥
While the recommended intake for men and post menopausal women is 8mg (which is pretty easy to achieve on a well-balanced varied diet), for menstruating women it’s 18mg – more than double! Considering ½ cup beans and ½ cup cooked greens each contain around 2mg, it can be quite a challenge to reach the 18 mg RDA. And that’s before we even take account of the fact that certain minerals (especially calcium), and beverages such as coffee and tea inhibit the absorption of iron. I’ve had my iron levels checked twice in the past couple of years and both times they’ve been low. Not anaemic low, but lower than optimal.
A few months ago I decided to top up my iron intake during the ‘time of the month’ with an iron supplement. I’ve been taking Viridian Balanced Iron Complex, which contains iron bisglycinate, a form of iron that is gentler on the digestive system than ferrous sulphate. I’ve had no stomach issues at all taking this supplement. As an added bonus, the supplement contains B12, magnesium, folic acid and vitamin C.
For years, I was ‘anti supplements’ but now I understand that they do have their place… just as long as we see them as a ‘supplement’ rather than a substitute for healthy eating 😉
What’s your stance on supplements? Do you take any yourself?