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Best Supplements To Take When Following a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet

There are multiple health and ethical benefits to following a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, it is fundamental when undertaking a vegetarian or vegan regime that the right food choices are made, in order to ensure your body is not deprived of vital nutrients

These nutrients are fundamental for sustaining overall physical and mental well-being. Often the quantity and types of food consumed by vegetarians and vegans results in being deprived of certain vital nutrients

A viable solution to this problem is incorporating vitamin supplements, which provide your body with the nutrients required, while still upholding the values of vegetarianism and veganism. Listed below are a handful of recommended supplements you can take, to protect your own body when pursuing this type of diet.

Vitamins for Vegetarians Image Source

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is responsible for red blood cell growth and nervous system maintenance. However, because the only unfortified, natural sources of Vitamin B12 are meat and dairy products, vegetarians and vegans are most often deprived and deficient in this very important vitamin. One recent study using the more sensitive vitamin B12 testing technique, found high rates of deficiency: 68% for vegetarians and 83% for vegans, as compared to just 5% for omnivores.

This is important to note as B12 depletion can take years to become clinically evident. This means deficiency sets in long before obvious symptoms appear, and some of the more serious effects, such as nerve damage from being deficient, are irreversible.

Deficiency of vitamin B12 can lead to a host of serious problems including macrocytic anaemia, an abnormality in red blood cell development, heart palpitations, numbness, loss of vision, learning disabilities in children, cognitive decline, memory loss, infertility, premature aging, vascular problems such as heart disease and stroke, irreversible nerve damage, and numerous other symptoms. 

Also, Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin we can not obtain from plants or sunlight. Plants don’t need B12 so they don’t store it. It's found exclusively in animal foods, such as liver, clams, oysters, mussels, fish eggs, octopus, fish, crab and lobster, beef, lamb, cheese and eggs.

A commonly held  misconception amongst vegetarians and vegans is that it’s possible to get vitamin B12 from plant sources like seaweed, fermented soy, spirulina and brewers yeast. However, it's important to note, plant foods said to contain B12 actually contain vitamin B12 analogs called cobamides, which actually block the intake of, and increase the need for true vitamin B12.

Therefore, it’s crucial for those abstaining from animal products to understand there are no plant sources of vitamin B12, and that all vegans and most vegetarians should supplement. This is especially imperative for vegetarian or vegan pregnant women, and for children, whose need for B12 is even greater than that of adults.

In addition to the importance of supplementing with vitamin B12, the proper form of B12 to use should also be considered. A general approach to B12 supplementation might include 1,000 mcg (1 mg) to 5,000 mcg (5 mg) of sublingual methylcobalamin

Cyanaocobalamin is the most frequently used form of B12 supplementation in the US, as it's the cheapest form of B12, but not the best. This low-grade, low-quality, and slightly toxic (contains cyanide) form of vitamin B12 is widely available and used in most vitamin formulas, so read your labels. (Hydroxocobalamin is frequently used in Europe, and is another inferior form of the vitamin).

The far superior choice for B12 supplementation is to choose methylcobalamin. This is the form existing in nature, and is a bio-available form, meaning your body can put it to immediate use. Methylcobalamin has increased absorption, better retention in tissues, is free from toxic cyanide, and supports the production of SAMe. Also, there are no worries of toxicity by supplementing with vitamin B12.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a common deficiency, because most people think they receive sufficient amounts of it from the sun. However, cloud cover, long winters, living in a northern climate, using sunscreen, and indoor jobs means for majority of us, our bodies do not have access to enough vitamin D. Moreover, vitamin D is only found in a small variety of foods, most of which are not included in the vegetarian or vegan diet, such as milk, egg yolks and salmon. 

Therefore, it's recommended to supplement with a minimum of 1000 to 2000 IUs per day. It would also be prudent to request your doctor test your vitamin D levels, including those of children. Most people, even those who are not vegetarians or vegans are deficient in vitamin D, and may find their levels are below optimum. 

However, bear in mind that while vitamin D2 is vegan, vitamin D3 is not, so always read the label carefully before purchasing if you follow a vegan diet. Fortified vegan products contain D2 (ergocalciferol). Foods with naturally occurring vitamin D usually contain animal derived vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). (There is one form of D3 that is derived from lichen and suitable for vegans, which is marketed as Vitashine).

A vegan diet can be planned to provide adequate amounts of vitamin D through use of fortified foods like fortified plant milks. Some brands of hemp milk for instance, provide 160 IUs of vitamin D per eight ounce serving. Any person, regardless of chosen food path, who does not include good sources of vitamin D their diet or take vitamin D supplements can be at risk for not getting adequate vitamin D, especially if sunlight exposure is limited. 

Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones as it helps the body maintain calcium levels in order to regulate tooth and bone development. A deficiency can thus lead to stunted or defective bone growth and conditions such as osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, etc. which require long term medical aid and chiropractic therapy. The body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium so it's important to use these supplements in conjunction with one another for optimum bone health.


Calcium is vital for bone and tooth growth, blood-clotting capabilities and the overall health of your heart, nerves and muscle function. Calcium is often found in milk and other dairy products, however, there are other excellent sources of calcium. 

Sources of well-absorbed calcium for vegetarians and vegans include calcium-fortified organic soy or rice milk, calcium fortified juice, calcium-set tofu, tempeh, organic soybeans and soy nuts, bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, navy beans, almonds, almond butter, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, and okra, grains, beans (other than soybeans), figs, and hummus.

Vegetarians and vegans should strive to meet daily calcium recommendations, and if these can not be met through food choices, than a calcium supplement should be used. Adults require 1,000 milligrams every day to maintain health and prevent long term illnesses associated with low bone mass such as osteoporosis, convulsions or abnormal heart rhythms.


Iron serves as a pivotal element of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in your blood from your lungs throughout your body. Iron comes in two forms; heme and non-heme. Heme is more readily absorbed than non-heme, and unfortunately for vegetarians, all plant based sources of iron are non-heme, thus vegetarians and vegans may have lower iron stores than omnivores. 

However, this has not translated into higher rates of anemia, and many vegetarians' iron stores are in a low-normal range, but is not cause for alarm. There are some evidence based studies supporting low-normal iron stores as beneficial for improved insulin function, and lower rates of heart disease and cancer. 

Many nutritionists believe if you eat a varied, healthy plant-based diet which includes a balance of grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and fruits and vegetables, then it's not necessary to keep close track of iron intake. 

Begin, by making sure you’re eating foods containing substantial amounts of iron. Some of the best plant sources of iron include: 
  • Legumes: lentils, organic soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans. 
  • Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal. 
  • Nuts and Seeds: pumpkin, squash, pine, pistacio, sunflower, cashews, unhulled sesame. 
  • Vegetables: tomato sauce, swiss chard, collard greens. 
  • Other: blackstrap molasses, prune juice.
But regarding iron, here’s the key: It’s not how much iron you consume, but how well you absorb it.

There are ways to to increase the absorption of non-heme iron from a plant based diet, so making sure you're absorbing your iron is as important as making sure you’re getting enough from your food.

Here's how to do it ...
  • Consume less - The less iron consumed per meal, the better it's absorbed. When consuming higher amounts of iron at one time, our bodies absorb less than when eating small amounts throughout the day. 
  • Eat non-heme iron foods with vitamin C foods - This can increase iron absorption by as much as five times. Example: Beans and rice with salsa
  • Avoid coffee and tea when eating high-iron meals - The tannin in coffee (even decaf!) and tea inhibit iron absorption. Avoid them an hour before or two hours after your meal.
  • Cast-iron skillets increase iron absorption - Cooking with a cast-iron skillet increases the iron in your meal — especially when you cook a food containing vitamin C in it. (Think tomato sauce)
  • Avoid spinach as an iron sourceSpinach contains oxalates that may block absorption. You can certainly still eat spinach, but avoid combining it with an iron containing plant source you may be having with your meal.
If you choose to take an iron supplement, it's best to break it in half, and take half in the morning and half at night, always with meals or juice.


Zinc is vital for a healthy metabolism, immune system and healing. The National Institute of Health recommends that vegetarians need 50% more than the recommended 40 mg dose of zinc due to the fact that the zinc found in plant based foods has a lower absorption level.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Omega 3 Fatty Acids host a wealth of health benefits, ranging from assisting with inflammatory diseases, decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease, lowering blood pressure, alleviating joint pain and arthritis, to protecting against dementia and depression. 

Vegans are at risk because they do not eat the fish which contains these fatty acids. To optimize your intake of omega 3 fatty acids, you can supplement your diet with flaxseed oil or ground flaxseed. (Keep refrigerated).

Taking vitamin supplements is ultimately a personal choice. If you research the amounts of nutrients your body requires and shop for your food accordingly, you may be able to receive enough vitamins and nutrients from your diet alone. However, a large number of vegetarians and vegans undergo a diet which does not contain the sufficient nutritional quantities for optimal body function. In these instances, supplements provide a simple solution to protecting the overall physical and mental well-being of your body, without compromising your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.

Guest Author Bradley Taylor, is a freelance writer from Derby, England. Bradley is a motoring enthusiast who loves writing about cars and everything automotive but is versatile, and also writes across a variety of other topics. You can find him on Google+ and follow him on Twitter.


1 Response to " Best Supplements To Take When Following a Vegetarian or Vegan Diet "
  1. UI UX Designers Delhi said...

    Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.

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