When it comes to meat-loving countries, America has a massive lead. The average person consumes more than 200 pounds of meat and poultry per year. While 76% of Americans have woken up to the benefits of dietary supplements, most of the population still goes above the recommended intake of saturated fats, sodium and sugars. It goes without saying that you should start cutting down on processed foods if you care about your health. Vegans take it a step further and cut out all animal products from their diet.
A typical vegan meal is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, with a glass of coconut milk thrown in for good measure. This ultra-healthy diet can assist weight loss, keep cardiovascular issues at bay and even protect against type-2 diabetes. A vegan generally enjoys nutritional benefits like lower saturated fats and cholesterol levels. But there’s a downside. Vegans may be missing out on some very essential nutrients.
For instance, raw soybeans and lentils contain high levels of phytic acid. This anti-nutrient keeps the body from digesting calcium, iron and magnesium. The lack of important vitamins mostly derived from meat and fish can lead to increased fatigue and reduced muscle growth.
Well-balanced meals become all the more important since a vegan diet narrows down the number of food groups you can tap into. Supplements can play a major role by increasing your intake of nutrients and making sure your body is getting everything it needs to stay healthy.
If you’re planning on going vegan, here are a few essential supplements for vegans you shouldn’t ignore.
Perhaps the biggest gap in a vegan diet is reduced intake of Vitamin B12. Found naturally in meat, fish and dairy products, Vitamin B12 is essential for cell growth and a lack of it can cause irreparable nerve damage.
According to the NIH, the average adult requires 2.4 mcg of Vitamin B12 while a breastfeeding woman needs 2.8 mcg, per day. Since vegans abstain from animal products, they need higher doses of B12 supplements than a typical meat eater would. Vegan food items fortified with Vitamin B12 are an option, but they might not be enough. A B12 supplement will ensure better red cell reproduction and a healthier nervous system.
Vegans get enough non-heme iron from their plant-based diet. But the heme variety is found solely in animal products. Iron helps with the delivery of oxygen throughout the body and a lack of it can increase listlessness and cause mild anemia. But make sure to always stick to the dosage recommended by your doctor, because too much iron can reduce calcium absorption and cause vomiting and abdominal pain.
We all know calcium is vital for improved bone health and muscle recovery. With age, the right levels of calcium can keep osteoporosis at bay. As a vegan you might already be getting enough calcium if your diet includes vegetables like bok choy, arugula, okra, broccoli, or kale.
These fatty acids come in two varieties, essential and long-chain. The essential variety is also known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and can be obtained from walnuts, chia seeds, soybeans and flaxseeds. The long-chain type can be found in seafood.
As a vegan, you can increase your long-chain omega-3 fatty acids by consuming an algae oil supplement. Omega-3s are important for cardiovascular health as well as eye, brain and joint health. So it’s vital to make sure you’re getting enough of them.
Vitamin D deficiency is a problem that extends beyond vegans to omnivores, too. Your immune system needs Vitamin D to function effectively and D2 supplements are vegan-friendly as they’re drawn from mushrooms and yeast.
Healthy levels of sun exposure can help and D3 supplements are available (though they’re mainly derived from animal sources). If you’re hell bent on staying vegan, Vitamin D fortified foods could help. A good idea is to consume Vitamin D along with magnesium to increase the former’s effectiveness.
Vegans need a zinc supplement more than the average omnivore. Why? Phytates in legumes and grains reduce your body’s ability to absorb zinc. Early warning signs of zinc deficiency are mental fatigue, weight loss and reduced appetite. Doctors usually prescribe a zinc gluconate or citrate supplement for vegans whose zinc levels have dropped.
A meatless diet shouldn’t stop you from pumping iron. Plant-based protein powders (pea, hemp, soy) are great alternatives to whey and can be used as a supplement if you’re taking your workout to the next level.
As a vegan you don’t need to keep yourself up at night worrying about iodine and selenium levels, as your body needs them in relatively small amounts. That being said, going vegan is about maintaining a healthy balance of nutrients.
Yes, a vegan diet improves gut health and increases antioxidants and enzymes, but ignoring your body’s need for essential nutrients can be harmful in the long run. Supplements will help fill that nutritional gap. Just make sure you have professional guidance when consuming supplements on a regular basis.