04 October 2012

Supplements to consider when going vegan

When a person decides to go vegan, he or she may miss out on some nutrients that are found in animal-based food sources. They can be added back to the diet, however, in supplement form, without the saturated fat and cholesterol.

Deciding which supplements to take can be tricky, especially because not all the supplements themselves are vegan. Many capsules contain gelatin or a non-plant derived cellulose to form their shape, so check the label before purchasing.

Some major vitamins and minerals you may want to consider supplementing include:

 B12: Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy red blood cells to function, and it is found most densely in meat and eggs. It can be added into a vegan diet without taking a pill. Many breakfast cereals and some soy milks are fortified with B12, meaning that it is synthetically added. Most nutritional yeast (yeast flakes that have a nutty, creamy, cheesy taste and texture) products are fortified with B12 and can be sprinkled on top of foods. Although sublingual tablets that dissolve under the tongue, lozenges, chewable tablet and mouth sprays are popular for this vitamin, your body will absorb it in any route of administration. The most effective ones contain methylcobalamin, a natural form of B12 that comes from bacteria and is more readily used in the body.

Calcium:  Calcium is essential for bone integrity and the delay or prevention of osteoporosis. Calcium is found in dairy products, but it is also found naturally in dark green vegetables and fortified into nut milks, breakfast foods and orange juice. Splitting up supplementation into two 500 mg doses instead of one 1000 mg dose can increase absorption. Because vitamin D is found in milk, choosing calcium with vitamin D added can increase absorption as well as correct any possible vitamin D deficiency. Calcium carbonate or calcium citrate are both good options, but a calcium citrate base may be more easily absorbed by most people. Lastly, you may benefit from adding magnesium if you are prone to headaches. The Nutrition Now brand created a vegan fruit-flavored soft chews for people who are tired of taking pills or want a sweet treat. The strawberry, raspberry and orange flavors are gluten-free and contain only 17 calories a piece.

Iron: Iron is found in the hemoglobin of red blood cells and helps with oxygen transport to muscles and other tissues. It is necessary for many proteins and enzymes in the body, assists with cell growth and can result in fatigue and decreased immunity if it is lacking. Two forms exist, heme that is found in animal sources and more easily absorbed, and nonheme that is found in plant sources and fortified foods. Fortified breakfast cereals and oatmeal provide the most iron, followed by soybeans, lentils and other beans. Another way to sneak in iron is to cook with cast-iron cookware, which allows some of the iron to leach into the food. Women with heavy menstrual cycles should pay special attention to iron levels and supplement regularly. Fatty Acids (Omega-3, Omega-6, DHA, EPA) Fatty acids are essential for brain and heart health and reduce inflammation, but the body cannot produce them itself. The most popular source is fatty fish, and many non-vegans supplement with fish oil capsules. The vegan version is a flax oil capsule, which should be kept refrigerated. Other dietary sources are flaxseed (which should be ground instead of ingested whole for the most benefit), pumpkin seeds, walnuts, soybeans, fortified soymilk, and canola and soybean oils. 

Multivitamin: A multivitamin contains a little bit of everything vitamin and mineral. Make sure the daily value percentages are not any higher than 100 percent. You can actually ingest too much of vitamins A, D, E and K because your body stores them in fat, so also consider how much of these vitamins you are ingesting from fortified foods. If you feel like one multivitamin a day will cover everything, consider Deva brand. They also produce iron-free, prenatal, and hair/skin/nails formula multivitamins. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to supplement our diet and would get everything we need from whole foods. Consider supplements a "cushion" or a "safety net" for the days that you don't eat as cleanly as you should. If you feel sluggish or out of balance or have been told by a doctor that you are deficient in any of the following areas, experiment with adding a daily supplement into your diet and see how you feel after about a month or so. Always take them with food to help with digestion and prevent an upset stomach.

Erin Fergus | Facebook
Pensacola, FL Erin works as an adjunct instructor in Human Performance at Pensacola State College and group fitness instructor and personal trainer at the YMCA. She holds a master’s in exercise science and is entering her final year of a master’s in journalism. She became a vegetarian in 2001 after viewing PETA demonstrations in Washington, D.C., and she has transitioned closer to veganism since 2008. Some of her previous work has been featured on livestrong.com. Her favorite activities include vegan cooking, going to the beach, playing piano and spending time with her Cocker Spaniel.

Photo credit: TDIV