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No matter how well-rounded your plant-based diet may be, it’s easy to still fall a bit short on certain nutrition needs. Here are the top 8 supplements for vegetarians to help you fill in the gaps.
No matter how well-rounded your plant-based diet may be, it’s surprisingly easy to still fall a bit flat on some of your recommended daily allowances. Which is why supplements can be so important for vegetarians and vegans.
“You will likely not be getting enough of certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12, omega-3s, and vitamin D, on a vegan or vegetarian diet,” says plant-based dietitian Amy Gorin, MS, RDN. “So it’s a good idea to consider supplementing these nutrients.”
Before making any assumptions on your needs, Gorin recommends meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist to discuss specific nutrient recommendations based on your diet. Below is a list of the most frequently suggested supplements to help balance any plant-based diet’s nutritional profile:
When transitioning to a plant-based diet, celebrity chef, nutritionist and reiki master Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN says it can be a good idea to keep a high-quality plant-based protein powder on hand. “You can add a delicious scoop of plant-based protein to any smoothie to make sure you’re getting enough,” she says, naming pea protein isolate as her go-to choice.
Iron is a key supplement for vegetarians and vegans. “In fact, the recommended intake for a vegetarian or vegan is up to 1.8 times the amount recommended for meat-eaters,” Gorn says. When you’re following a vegan diet, you’re taking in “nonheme” iron—a type of iron your body doesn’t absorb as easily as the iron found in animal products. “Luckily, there’s an easy way to remedy this,” she continues. “You can increase absorption by pairing a source of vitamin C, such as lemon juice, with a source of iron, such as spinach. One way to do this is to squeeze lemon juice onto a green salad.”
Many vegans and vegetarians don’t take in enough vitamin B12, warns Gorin. This is because many sources are animal-based. “If you don’t take in enough, this can harm your health, as vitamin B12 is important for necessary body functions—including production of red blood cells and proper maintenance of the central nervous system,” she says. “To remedy this, you may need to take a vitamin B12 supplement.” Also, an important note for those over 50: Gorin says your body may have a more difficult time absorbing vitamin B12 from food sources because your stomach secretes less hydrochloric acid, and this is what’s responsible for helping your body separate vitamin B12 from protein in the foods you eat.
Not surprisingly, calcium, which helps keep bones strong and thwarts osteoporosis, is an important supplements for vegetarians who don’t consume dairy products. “If you are falling short of calcium, you might want to consider a small supplement of about 500 mg per day,” says plant-powered dietitian Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN. “But if you are eating fortified foods, such as cereals, and are getting plenty of plant-based calcium, this may not be needed.”
If you’re not eating seafood regularly, Gorin says you may want to consider an EPA/DHA omega-3 supplement. “These omega-3s help with heart health and brain health, and your body makes better use of them than ALA omega-3s, which come from plants,” she says. “As 60 percent of the brain’s building block is fat, it’s essential to keep the brain fueled with DHA and EPA. You can look for algae-based supplements that contain DHA and EPA omega-3s.”
Ok, this isn’t just for those following a plant-based diet, but it’s still important to mention. “Vitamin D is a shortfall nutrient for all Americans,” says Palmer. “You can get it by sun exposure, but you can also get it in mushrooms exposed to light, fortified foods, and in supplement form.” Since vitamin D is important for bone health, immunity and even reducing risk of high blood pressure, Gorin says it’s wise to get a baseline blood test to determine your levels and assess your need for a supplement.
If you’re going to be traveling or live in an area where it can be difficult to get access to fresh vegetables, Poon recommends keeping a greens superfood supplement on-hand to ensure you’re getting enough phytonutrients and antioxidants.
“I also recommend a plant-based multivitamin geared toward plant-based eaters, such as Wholier, which provides only the nutrients you could be falling short in,” says Palmer. “Vegans get plenty of vitamin C, E, and A, for example, so why supplement those?”