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Vegan supplements: What should you take and why are they important?

Olivia Petter
Friday 20 April 2018 17:52 BST
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(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

If you decide to take the leap and go vegan, there are myriad factors to consider.

Firstly, you must concoct an informed and fantastically-witty response to bemused friends and family members who say things like: “go on, just one sausage”.

In other words, fully establish your motivations for switching to a plant-based lifestyle before doing so; it will save you from endless insipid dinner party debates.

Once you’ve cracked that coconut, it’s time to consider the necessary supplements predicated by the vegan diet, which obviously excludes two major food groups, meat and dairy, that can leave you lacking nutrients that are essential to healthy bodily function.

The thing is, a lot of us underestimate the abundance of micronutrients available in fruits and vegetables, and therefore additional supplementation via tablets might not be absolutely necessary across the board.

So which ones do you really need to keep tabs on?

Vitamin B12

Fundamental to the functioning of a healthy nervous system, this is a crucial one for vegans as B12 is only found in animal products such as eggs, meat or fish, explains leading Harley Street nutritionist Rhiannon Lambert. However, it is occasionally added to plant-based foods, such as nutritional yeast.

When not supplemented properly, a deficiency can lead to heart problems and complications during pregnancy, she added.

Zinc

Not many plant-based foods actually contain zinc (small amounts are found in chickpeas), so it’s advisable to supplement via tablets if possible as the micronutrient is crucial for boosting metabolism, hormone production and immune function. It can also help the breakdown of carbohydrates, Lambert adds.

The best plant-based sources are nuts, seeds and legumes.

Iron

As an essential central component of haemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood, an iron deficiency can cause anemia which can lead to fatigue and poor functioning of the immune system, Lambert explains.

There are two types: heme and non-heme. “A vegan diet will only include non-heme diet as its plant-based opposed to heme iron,” she adds.

“Key sources of non-heme iron are broccoli, spinach, soy beans, and tofu.”

Iodine

“Iodine can often be forgotten but it is key for your body,” says Lambert, “as it is used to make thyroid hormone.”

As a key metabolic regulator, a deficiency in iodine can weaken the immune system and lead to an enlarged thyroid gland. It also happens to be one if the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world, affecting nearly one-third of the population, Lambert claims.

Iodine can be found naturally in cranberries, strawberries, seaweed.

Omega 3

There are three different types of Omega 3 fatty acids, Lambert explains: alpha linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Unlike other nutrients, these cannot be made in the body and therefore must be obtained through diet or supplementation.

Crucial to healthy brain function and nerve health, Lambert says the best vegan sources are nuts and seeds, which mostly contain ALA. However, these can take longer to be fully absorbed and therefore supplementing with a tablet is advisable to ensure you’re getting enough.

Vitamin D

During the chilly winter months, it’s not just vegans who could do with some vitamin D, which is typically obtained via sun exposure.

It’s extremely important for bone health and immune system function, says Lambert.

Calcium

Usually found in high quantities in dairy products, such as milk and cheese, calcium is a key one for vegans to supplement to help maintain strong bones and prevent blood clotting.

“While milk is a great source of calcium, it can be sourced elsewhere for a vegan diet, and it should be noted that milk isn’t the only source of calcium out there!” says Lambert.

“Sources such as kale, dried figs and almonds all count towards the 700mg/day that is required in the body, but there are many calcium fortified foods available; calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified milk and bread.”

If you’re concerned you aren’t getting enough through your diet, it might be time to take a trip to the vitamins counter.

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