The Supplementing Vegan
In recent years, the trend towards a diet free of animal products has grown tremendously, giving a rise in popularity to vegetarian, vegan and whole food plant-based diets. The reasons why people decide to start a vegan lifestyle can be very diverse: ethics, morals, religion, food intolerances and health. The primary distinction between being vegan and following a whole food plant-based diet is concern over animal welfare.
However, whatever the reason for embarking on this new lifestyle, it is important to ensure that it is done without building up vitamin and mineral deficiencies. One of the concerns about eating a vegan diet is, does being vegan cause various types of deficiencies like that?
Veganism has been around long enough for it to be clear that it is possible to live the vegan lifestyle long term without being starved of basic caloric requirements and staying healthy compared to people who consume meat and other types of animal products in their diet.
However, it has been shown that certain vitamins and supplements necessary for proper and optimal health can be more difficult to get when following a strict vegan diet. This does not mean that most nutrients cannot be had from fruits and vegetables, but that the concentration per serving of some is lower than what is estimated as “the ideal daily dose” even though other vitamins and minerals are in abundance. This leads to the potential that a vegan can be at risk of certain dietary deficiencies, depending on lifestyle and rigour following a balanced diet.
Being vegan and an athlete will require as much as twice as many nutrients as that of a sedentary person, increasing the need for supplementation for balance and energy.
Contrary to what some strict vegans may think, using supplements in the form of pills or drinks is not rejecting veganism. It is possible to get supplements free of any animal product, therefore using them is valid, both ethically and nutritionally.
When following the vegan lifestyle over an extended period, consider supplementing with the following:
When discussing supplementing the vegan lifestyle, the first to mention is vitamin B12. This is the most difficult vitamin to maintain through a vegan based diet, since it comes exclusively from animal based products. Therefore, getting a good amount of vitamin B12 will require supplementation either through fortified processed foods or vitamins.
Vitamin B12 is essential for normal functioning of our body, being responsible for the creation of red blood cells, and is involved with brain functions and in the formation of the tissues that make up the nervous system.
Another common deficiency when maintaining a vegan diet is calcium. Although there are many who argue that there are vegetables such as kale or chard that contain calcium, the fact is that their consumption makes it difficult to reach the recommended 1000mg per day.
Calcium is involved in the development of our bone structure, is a cardiovascular protector, and helps us to develop and maintain a stable nervous system. It is important to maintain proper calcium levels, especially among women as they have a greater tendency for deficiencies as they get older, causing problems such as arthritis or osteoporosis.
Calcium levels can be maintained through supplementation and taken with meals. Though should be avoided in excess as it can cause fatigue or nausea.
Iodine is a fundamental mineral in the development and proper functioning of our thyroid glands. It therefore intervenes in the regulation of our energy, as well as in the functioning of our metabolism. In vegan diets, it is common to find a deficiency of iodine, although there are different types of algae that can provide it.
In addition, various studies indicate that the consumption of some seeds, such as flax or soybeans, can interfere with the absorption of the whole and its functions, and therefore suggest limiting its consumption. Iodine is a mineral that can be taken in capsule format.
Vitamin D is involved in the proper functioning of our immune system, as well as in our bone and muscle functions. As with vitamin B12, vitamin D is usually obtained from animal products or fortified processed foods. Vitamin D can also be produced naturally by the body when going out and getting exposure to the sun.
Following a strict vegan diet can lead to a deficiency and with it serious health problems. Therefore, a deficiency of this vitamin, especially in the winter months in which we cannot absorb it through sunlight, can lead to various diseases and feelings of being tired and unable to carry out daily life normally.
Being a vegan and an athletic person doesn’t have to be a problem with proper protein levels. It is true that there are vegetables that can provide a good amount of protein for our body, but it can sometimes not be enough, especially if following a weight training regimen.
Therefore, protein powder of vegetable origin is ideal for optimal protein intake. The recommended dosage ranges from 40 to 55 grams and can be taken as a smoothie or with juices at any time of the day.
Omega 3 and 6
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are important for the correct functioning of multiple areas of our body such as intervening in brain functions, and in the protection of the heart and the entire cardiovascular system. They also help regulate our mood and help protect skin health.
In addition, many studies have shown that these fatty acids are integral to the prevention of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Therefore, those following the vegan lifestyle should consider supplementing with linseed oil. Popular Omega 6 supplements are made from fish oils, but should be avoided due to being derived from animal products.
In conclusion, whether you are vegan or not, the use of vitamins and supplements can help ensure a proper functioning of all the basic functions of our body. However, the type of supplements and the daily dosage will depend on each person, their diet, weight, gender and activity level.