Supplements Every Vegetarian Should Consider Taking
When becoming a vegetarian or vegan, people can sometimes run into problems from lacking different vitamins and minerals that are usually present in animal products. There are certain supplements every vegetarian should take or consider taking if they are planning to do this diet for the long term.
I’ve been involved in various online health communities and forums in the last 14 years and I’ve noticed a lot of misinformation around nutrition and the need for supplements. People try so hard to become 100% natural, they neglect the real and dangerous pitfalls of abstaining from certain food groups. Deficiencies can sometimes take a long time to develop because the body can store things like vitamin B12 and so it takes a while before stores are depleted.
What Vitamins Do Vegetarians Need To Take?
Vitamin B12 – This vitamin is important for a wide range of functions in the body and becoming deficient in it can have permanent consequences to your health. Low levels of vitamin B12 on a vegetarian or vegan diet might also increase the risk of heart disease by raising levels of homocysteine. The protection again heart disease offered by going vegetarian might be reversed by not getting enough B12.
In one study researchers discovered that 52% of vegans, 7% of vegetarians and 1% of omnivores were deficient (1). However, in another study they found elevated levels of methylmalonic acid (MMA) in 68% of vegetarians and 92%! of vegans; while only 16% of omnivores had elevated levels of MMA. (2).
If you are eating a diet that excludes animal products, you should take a vitamin B12 supplement and choose sublingual methylcobalamin. Vitamin B12 is a supplement every vegetarian and vegan should take as it is one of the most dangerous deficiencies you can develop on this lifestyle, and one of the most reported in these groups.
Symptoms of B12 deficiency include: tiredness, shortness of breath, sore tongue, tingling, numbness, neurological dysfunction, poor memory, permanent nerve damage, vision loss and more.
I’ve put vitamin B12 at the top of the list because I believe it is the most important and overlooked vitamin deficiency for vegetarians and vegans. Everyone eating a vegetarian and vegan diet should take vitamin B12. If you’re not already taking a B12 supplement and you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you should start supplementing it.
Vitamin D – Deficiency of Vitamin D is widespread whatever lifestyle people are doing. Avoiding foods that have Vitamin D in them, as well as not getting enough sun (especially people in the northern hemisphere and have dark skin) will cause you to be at risk of developing vitamin D deficiency or having very low levels that it negatively impacts your health.
Vegans are more likely to be affected than vegetarians, but both should consider taking a vitamin D supplement.
How much is enough? Around 1000 – 2000 IU should be sufficient to raise vitamin D levels to a healthy level in adults and is also safe in pregnant women and children. (3, 4).
Adequate levels of 25(OH)D might lower the risk of infections, cancer, autoimmune diseases, fractures, and lower the risk of heart disease. It was also reported that higher levels of vitamin D might lower the rate at which the telomere’s shorten, possibly indicating a slower rate of cell ageing.
Symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency include: muscle pain and weakness, fatigue, bone pain, difficulty in thinking clearly, depression, bone fractures, hair loss, poor immunity and more.
Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and therefore you do not have to take it every day. In fact, you could take one high dose every week or month, but I prefer to take it daily.
What Minerals Should You Take On A Vegetarian Diet?
Iron – Women are more at risk of anemia than men, but this risk is increased further by becoming vegetarian (5). Although vegetarians get a plenty of iron from plant foods, the form of iron is not absorbed as well as from animal food. Vegetarians also tend to eat a lot of foods that are high in other things such as phytates, which can inhibit the absorption of iron. Good sources of iron include dark leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. Beans and peas are also good sources of this mineral.
There have been a few reports from both men and women on calorie restricted, vegetarian or vegan diet, who have been deficient in iron and developed anemia as a result. Before taking any iron supplements, I think it is best to get tested by your doctor and then consider taking iron if you need to. This is more relevant to women than men, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Symptoms of Iron deficiency include: intense fatigue and tiredness, rapid breathing, hair loss, pale skin and lips, palpitations, poor immunity and more.
Zinc – One of the things in a standard western diet that people get plenty of is Zinc. Standard western diet might contain enough Zinc, but for raw foodists, vegetarians, vegans and people who practice calorie restriction with optimal nutrition, we tend to have a lot of copper in our diets, but too little zinc. Deficiency of zinc can often be mild, and symptoms will be fairly subtle. These symptoms – to an extent – might be ameliorated by the diet itself which helps the body cope.
Use CRON-O-METER to see much zinc you are getting compared to zinc, and try to aim for a ratio of 8:1 to 10:1. So for example: for every 1 mg of copper in your diet, you want to make sure you are getting 8 mg of zinc.
Symptoms of Zinc deficiency include: acne, poor immunity, dry skin, hair loss, poor appetite, mouth ulcers and sores.
Zinc deficiency is easily correctable by taking a zinc supplement. There are many different zinc supplements you can choose from with some being better than others. I recommend trying Zinc Picolinate as it is one of the most bioavailable zinc supplements you can buy and it’s fairly easy on the stomach if you take it with some food.
I wouldn’t recommend taking this supplement continuously at such a high dose, but within a short period of time you might notice improved immune system and you’re not getting sick as often. You’ll likely feel more energy, especially if you’re low in Zinc. Some people even report having vivid dreams when taking it! I did initially but these effect only lasted a few weeks.
Iodine – Iodine is a mineral that if often forgotten, but it plays an important role in the body, especially the thyroid. Important for metabolic processes in the body and regulation of growth and energy expenditure.
In 2003 there was a study published which showed that 25% of vegetarians suffered and 80% of vegans suffered from iodine deficiency compared to just 9% of people eating a standard mixed diet (6).
Symptoms of Iodine deficiency include: lethargy and tiredness, weight gain, poor memory and difficulty concentrating on tasks. If you’re feeling colder than usual, this might be a sign. However, calorie restriction usually leads to a significant decrease in core body temperature and this will cause you to feel cold and is not a symptom of anything serious. I recommend including a thyroid test (fT3, fT4 and TSH) in your regular blood test panel.
Including sea vegetables in your diet is one solution: these include foods like kelp, kombu. Cranberries are also another food which are rich in iodine. Alternatively you could also take a supplement which contains iodine (it’s often included in many popular multivitamins).
1. Gilsing AM1, Crowe FL, Lloyd-Wright Z, Sanders TA, Appleby PN, Allen NE, Key TJ. Serum concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate in British male omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans: results from a cross-sectional analysis of the EPIC-Oxford cohort study
2. Herrmann W1, Schorr H, Obeid R, Geisel J. Vitamin B-12 status, particularly holotranscobalamin II and methylmalonic acid concentrations, and hyperhomocysteinemia in vegetarians
3. Joyce Maalouf, Mona Nabulsi, Reinhold Vieth, Samantha Kimball, Rola El-Rassi, Ziyad Mahfoud, and Ghada El-Hajj Fuleihan
Short- and Long-Term Safety of Weekly High-Dose Vitamin D3 Supplementation in School Children
4. Shahnaz Ahmad Mir, Shariq Rashid Masoodi,1 Shafia Shafi,2 Iqra Hameed,3 Maqsood Ahmad Dar,1 Mir Iftikhar Bashir,1 Arshad Iqbal Wani,1 Zaffar Amin Shah,4 Shameema Parveen,5 Abdul Hamid Zargar,1 and Parviz Ahmad Shah
Efficacy and safety of Vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy: A randomized trial of two different levels of dosing on maternal and neonatal Vitamin D outcome
5. Roman Pawlak, PhD, RD, Julia Berger, BS, Ian Hines, PhD. Iron Status of Vegetarian Adults. Review of Literature.
6. Krajcovicová-Kudlácková M1, Bucková K, Klimes I, Seboková E.. Iodine deficiency in vegetarians and vegans.