Vitamins and Minerals Vegans Need

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Vitamins and minerals are essential for proper body function and development. While there is a lot of focus in the vegan world on macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins), these micro-nutrients deserve just as much attention.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the vitamins and minerals that vegans need to keep an eye on. It’s important to note that some of the items on this list should be addressed by all people no matter your diet.

Note: Stay aware of how much of these vitamins and minerals you are consuming so you don’t exceed the recommended dose. Please seek the advice of your doctor when looking to supplement. The information in this post is not meant to serve as medical advice.

VITAMIN B12

What it does:
This B vitamin helps the body produce red blood cells and prevents anemia. While anyone can have a B12 deficiency, it’s more common in vegans and vegetarians.

Where to find it:
While B12 is mainly found in fish, shellfish, meat, and dairy products, vegans can find it in unwashed organic produce, mushrooms grown in B12-rich soils, nori, spirulina, chlorella and nutritional yeast. You can also find it in enriched cereals, fortified soy products, and supplements.

How much you need:
For ages 14 – 64, the daily recommended dose is 2.4 micrograms per day. If taken twice daily, the recommended dose is 2-3.5 micrograms. If taken once daily, the recommended dose is 25-100 micrograms. There is a large difference between amounts taken twice daily and once daily because beyond 3 micrograms (for adults), absorption drops significantly.

CALCIUM

What it does:
Calcium helps build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis, which weakens your bones and can cause breaks. It also plays a role in muscle function, nerve signaling and heart health.

Where to find it:
Foods high in calcium include soybeans, dried figs, almonds, and dark leafy greens, like kale, mustard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, collards, and watercress. You also can drink fortified soymilk and juices.

How much you need:
The recommended dose for calcium is 1,000 milligrams for adults up to 50 years old. If you are not eating at least 3 servings of the foods listed above per day (one serving is 1/2 cup cooked), then you should consider eating calcium fortified food, calcium-set tofu, or taking a calcium supplement of 250 – 300 milligrams per day to ensure you are getting enough calcium. Some research indicates that it is prudent to keep calcium intakes lower than 1,400 milligrams per day.

VITAMIN D

What it does:
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps enhance the absorption of calcium and phosphorus from your gut and promotes bone health. It also influences immune function, mood, memory and muscle recovery.

Where to find it:
If you live where it’s sunny and warm all year and you spend time outdoors without sunscreen, you can likely make enough. Those unable to spend time in the sun can find Vitamin D in fortified products like soymilk, rice milk, and some cereals. You should also consider taking a daily vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3 supplement. Although vitamin D2 is probably adequate for most people, some studies suggest that vitamin D3 seems more effective at raising blood levels of vitamin D.

How much you need:
The recommended dose of Vitamin D is 600 micrograms, though many experts would agree that increasing the dose to 1,000 micrograms is warranted. If you want to get your Vitamin D from the sun, you should get 10 minutes of exposure 3 to 4 times a week, if possible. Based on where you live, this should be all the vitamin D you need.

IODINE

What it does:
Getting enough iodine is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism. In adults, insufficient iodine intake can lead to hypothyroidism. This can cause symptoms such as low energy levels, dry skin, tingling in hands and feet, forgetfulness, depression and weight gain.

Where to find it:
Omnivores get most of their iodine from dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and equipment on dairy farms. Yuck! There are many vegan sources of iodine but they usually do not carry nearly enough to meet your daily dose. Iodine levels in plant foods depend on the iodine content of the soil. For instance, food grown close to the ocean tends to be higher in iodine. The only reliable sources are iodized salt or a supplement.

How much you need:
The recommended dose for adults is 150 micrograms of iodine per day. Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodized salt is sufficient to meet your daily needs.

IRON

What it does:
Iron plays a key role in the production of DNA and red blood cells. These cells help carry oxygen throughout your body. Iron is also needed for energy metabolism. Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms such as fatigue and decreased immune function. 

Where to find it:
Good sources of iron include cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, broccoli, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, wheat, and tofu. Iron-fortified cereals also are a good source.

How much you need:
The recommended dose is 8 milligrams for adult men and post-menopausal women. It increases to 18 milligrams per day for adult women. Eating foods high in vitamin C can help increase iron absorption.

OMEGA 3

What it does:
Omega-3 fatty acids improve your heart health and brain function. They 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.

Too much omega-3s can result in bleeding and bruising.

Where to find it:
Plants with a high ALA content include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and soybeans. It’s also found in small amounts in spinach, broccoli, yams, potatoes, yeast, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, and rice bran. You also can look for food products fortified with omega-3 from a plant source. 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.

How much you need:
While no official recommended dose exists, most health professionals agree that 200 – 300 milligrams per day should be sufficient.

ZINC

What it does:
Zinc is a mineral that helps support immunity, cell function, and normal growth and development. An insufficient intake of zinc can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea and delayed wound healing.

Where to find it:
Zinc is found in whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, legumes, nuts and seeds. To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day.

How much you need:
The recommended dose for zinc is 8 – 9 milligrams per day for adults. Zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited due to their phytate content so vegetarians and vegans are encouraged to aim for 1.5 times the recommended dose.

 

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