Marine City Chiropractor Discusses Supplements of Consideration for The Vegan
One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.
Here are the most important nutrients that you may need to supplement with while on a vegan diet.
Several studies show that while anyone can have low vitamin B12 levels, vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of deficiency. This seems especially true for vegans who are not taking any supplements.
Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system.
Too little vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and nervous system damage, as well as infertility, bone disease and heart disease.
The only scientifically proven way for vegans to reach sufficient levels is by consuming B12-fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement. B12-fortified foods commonly include plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps enhance the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your gut. This vitamin also influences many other bodily processes, including immune function, mood, memory, and muscle recovery.
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods fortified with vitamin D are often considered insufficient to satisfy the daily requirements.
Vitamin D deficiency is a problem among vegans and omnivores alike. Vegans unable to maintain normal blood levels through fortified foods and sun exposure should consider taking a supplement.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be split into two categories:
Essential omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: This category includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not technically considered essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a structural role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also seem important for brain development and preventing inflammation, depression, breast cancer and ADHD.
Plants with a high ALA content include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and soybeans. EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal products such as fatty fish and fish oil.
Getting enough ALA should theoretically maintain adequate EPA and DHA levels. However, studies report that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as low as 5%, whereas conversion to DHA may be near 0%.
Additionally, research consistently shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA than omnivores.
Minimizing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and sesame, as well as making sure to eat enough ALA-rich foods, may further help maximize EPA and DHA levels.
Vegans tend to have lower blood and tissue levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, they may benefit from supplementing with EPA and DHA.
Iron is a nutrient used to make new DNA and red blood cells, as well as carry oxygen in the blood. It’s also needed for energy metabolism.
Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms such as fatigue and decreased immune function.
Iron can be found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available from animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants.
Vegans with a low iron intake should aim to eat more iron-rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts and seeds. Iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, enriched breads and some plant milks, can further help.
Also, using cast-iron pots and pans to cook, avoiding tea or coffee with meals and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can help boost iron absorption.
The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner.
Unnecessary intakes of supplements such as iron can do more harm than good by damaging cells or blocking the absorption of other minerals from your gut. Extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it’s best not to supplement unless truly necessary.
Vegans not getting enough iron from their diets should consider fortified foods or a supplement. However, overly high levels can be harmful and iron supplements are not recommended for everyone.
Plant sources of calcium include bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu and fortified plant milks or juices.
However, studies tend to agree that most vegans don’t get enough calcium.
More research is currently needed to evaluate how meatless diets affect daily calcium requirements. However, there is evidence that vegans consuming less than 525 mg of calcium tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures.
Vegans consuming too little dietary calcium should consider taking a daily supplement.
Zinc is a mineral crucial for metabolism, immune function and the repair of body cells.
An insufficient intake of zinc can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea and delayed wound healing.
Few plant foods actually contain zinc. Moreover, zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited due to their phytate content.
While not all vegans have low blood zinc levels, several studies have shown that vegetarians — and especially vegans — have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood zinc levels than omnivores.
To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day. These include whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement.
Vegans unable to reach the zinc RDA should first focus on adding zinc-rich foods to their diets. Those with low blood zinc levels should consider adding a daily supplement.
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