This article has been written by an external contributor to help you to know what supplements you need if you follow a vegan diet.
There has been an enormous surge in money being spent on vegan products and plant-based diets across the UK. Supermarkets are catching on and cashing in on this growing lifestyle, with Sainsbury’s launching a 31 product vegan range at the end of last year, and fast-food giants such as McDonald’s, KFC, and Burger King introducing plant-based options.
There were 600,000 vegans recorded in 2019 in the UK, this being up from 150,000 in 2014. 42 per cent of the UK’s vegans made the dietary shift in 2018 and are forecasted to make up a quarter of the British population by 2025. Although this is a positive change, there are concerns that vegan diets don’t give the body all of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function healthily and in optimum performance. With veganism garnering more attention and demand for education, Google Trends data reports that the term ‘vegan supplements’ is often searched for in the UK, with a particular spike in health supplements in early January 2020, likely after the indulgence of the Christmas period.
That’s not to say that vegan diets don’t have any health benefits. In fact, a plant-based diet can be extremely nutritious. However, there are some nutrients we may need to supplement that we can’t get solely from plants. With good planning, you can make sure you’re not missing out on anything important. If you find yourself wondering ‘what vegan supplements do I need?’, here, we’ll look at the most important additions you should be taking on a vegan diet.
What is Vitamin B12?
B12 is derived from foods from animal sources and is thought to be the most important nutrient needed on a vegan diet. There’s a common misconception that vegans who eat the right kind of plants don’t need to be wary of a vitamin B12 deficiency. Unfortunately, there is no research to confirm this. Vegans are at higher risk of B12 deficiencies, so it’s important that adults consume around 1.5 micrograms of B12 every day.
To help support a variety of bodily functions including the health of the nervous system, protein metabolism, normal brain functionality and the development of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, Vitamin B12 is needed. If not enough B12 is consumed, this can lead to anaemia, nervous system damage, infertility, and bone and heart disease. Humans used to get B12 from natural water in soil, however with declining soil quality from intensive farming and filtered water, this isn’t the case anymore. Taking supplements or fortified foods such as soymilk, nutritional yeast, meat substitutes, and breakfast cereals.
The Benefits of Vitamin D
Helping to absorb calcium and phosphorus from our guts, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient.
It also helps promote healthy bone, teeth, and muscle growth. Vitamin D is comprised of two forms — vitamin D3 is taken from animal products such as oily fish, red meat, liver, egg yolk, and butter, whereas vitamin D2 comes from plants, like mushrooms, and fortified foods.
There are only a few foods that Vitamin D can be derived from. Therefore, a lot of us struggle to meet the recommended daily intake of 10 micrograms a day. It is primarily derived from sun exposure, which is why the NHS recommends vitamin D supplements, even for carnivores, in the darker winter months.
Iron for a vegan diet
The transportation of oxygen around the body and red blood cell and to help the development of DNA is all enhanced by iron. Therefore, an iron deficiency can result in anaemia. Symptoms of anaemia include a decreased immune system functioning, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, and difficult concentrating. Iron is derived from meat, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, cheese, and cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli, and pak choi.
With this said, iron can also be harmful and prevent other vitamins and minerals from being absorbed. Therefore, it is important to only take these supplements if you’ve been told to by your GP — but it’s worth being aware in case you start to feel the symptoms and aren’t sure why.
Iodine- Why is it needed?
To help maintain a healthy thyroid function, consuming enough iodine is particularly important. This is a regulator of your metabolism. Good sources of iodine include sea fish, shellfish, dairy, and some plants and grains depending on the level of iodine in the soil in which they grew. If not enough iodine is taken, you can experience low energy, dry skin, forgetfulness, depression, and weight gain — so it’s recommended that adults consume 0.14mg of iodine each day.
Research suggests that those on a vegan diet have up to 50 per cent lower iodine levels in their blood than the likes of vegetarians. This ultimately makes them more susceptible to risks of iodine deficiency.
To ensure you are consuming the correct number of vitamins and nutrients, getting your blood taken at your GP to find out will help ensure that your vegan diet is giving your body what it needs.
Watanabe, F. and Bito, T., 2018. Vitamin B12 sources and microbial interaction. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 243(2), pp.148-158.
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