As we take the first tentative steps into January, many people will be making their first forays into veganism. And with all the many health benefits, environmental benefits and ethical considerations, it’s not surprising that more and more people are moving towards plant-based diets each year.
However, as with any diet, veganism is one that should be planned, in order to make it as balanced and varied as possible. One of my favourite things about eating plant-based is that it forces me to be more imaginative with my cooking. When I ate a pescatarian diet (no meat, just fish from the age of 5 to around 22 years old), I often cooked the same few meals over and over again. When I started eating plant-based, however, I had to reconsider the flavours, cuisines and types of food I wanted to eat. It was probably one of the better things I ever did for my cooking, but also for my health, as I had to start eating lots of different types of foods to remain healthy.
If you’re considering veganism just for a month and know what you’re doing, the chances are you won’t become deficient in anything. It’s also accepted that well-planned vegan diets are sufficient to get enough nutrients (and more!) into your system. However, if you would like to eat a more plant-based diet more of the time or are just starting out and unsure what you need, taking supplements is highly recommended, as well as aiming to introduce more foods into your diet. It’s not enough to just cut out meat and dairy, and continue eating all the parts of your previous diet, just without these elements with without adding anything new. Not only would it likely be bland and uninspiring, it’d also leave you at risk of deficiencies, and likely swearing you’ll never go vegan again. But alongside extra foods, there are some supplements that it’s recommended that vegans take. Read on for more!
Supplements you should consider as a vegan
Vitamin B12 is recommended for all vegetarian and vegans, and if you’re not sure whether you’re deficient you’re unlikely to cause yourself any harm by supplementing. Because of this, it is good to take whether you believe you are deficient or not, as much of the population is lacking B12. Some people suggest that you can get enough from unwashed vegetables, mushrooms, spirulina etc., but there is no scientific evidence for this belief.
Vitamin D is recommended for everyone living in the UK or northern latitude countries due to reduced sunlight hours in winter. It assists with calcium absorption and is vital for healthy bones, so should be supplemented by anyone – vegan or otherwise – living in northern latitudes over winter.
Long-chain Omega 3s
Long-chain omega 3s play a part in brain and eye health, so are pretty important to get right. Reduced levels have been linked with depression, breast cancer and various other conditions. Omegas are mostly found in fish oils, which explains why vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower concentrations of EPA and DHA (long chain fatty acids) than omnivores. Because of this, it’s recommended that vegetarians, and vegans especially, supplements with algae oil, high in essential fatty acids, to maintain healthy levels.
Iron supplementation, especially for women, may be advisable if you don’t eat red meat. Too little iron can lead to anaemia and symptoms such as fatigue and decreased immune function. Vegans can absolutely get enough iron from foods such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, pulses, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, as well as fortified foods such as plant-milks, but if you’re suffering from symptoms of anaemia, consider seeing a doctor to see if iron supplements would help. Don’t take iron supplements if you don’t feel you are deficient – having levels too high can be also harmful, so seek medical advice if you are unsure.
Iodine could be beneficial for vegans, especially those who are pregnant. Since iodine is mostly found in seafood and dairy products (due to iodine used to clean farming equipment), vegans are at risk of becoming deficient. Reduced iodine levels can lead to hypothyroidism, so although it is possible to reach the RDA with vegan foods such as seaweed and iodine salt, if you don’t eat these regularly, it may help to take a supplement.
Thankfully, it’s easy to find supplements nowadays containing all the recommended vitamins and minerals required as a vegan so you’re not popping five plus pills each morning. Many non-vegans are also advised to supplement (e.g. for vitamin D) so provided you take supplements as recommended, you’re really not missing out on anything while eating a plant based diet! It can seem daunting having to take supplements, but in reality it’s quite simple – supplements such as Wellwomen Vegan and Boots A-Z contain almost all the required minerals in one capsule and would probably be beneficial for many people to top up their diet.
Of course, supplements should not replace a balanced and varied diet – many things are better absorbed when consumed in food form, not to mention better tasting – but getting any diet right is key to living a healthy, energetic and happy life, and the same goes for veganism, whether just for January or for the rest of your life.
I’d love to hear if you’re giving Veganuary a go, and whether you choose to supplement or not and why! Comment below and share this on Instagram if you found it helpful.