Often times when I talk to someone about the specific needs of a vegan eater (think B12, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, etc….), I frequently get asked which supplements I take especially since many multivitamins can lack in some large minerals (calcium + magnesium) and can have insane amounts of the RDA for other nutrients. Which if you didn’t know, for some nutrients (like zinc or fat soluble Vitamin A/D) can pose potential complications and side effects if taken at mega doses. More often, you’ll see insane levels of B vitamins including folic acid.
Folic acid is considered generally safe but in some studies, doses larger than 1mg/1000mcg may cause abdominal cramping, diarrhea, irritability, confusion, nausea, and other side effects. Moreso, large amounts (again, mostly 1mg or more) of folic acid over the long term may increase risk for heart attacks in people who have cardiovascular imbalances. So… more is not always better.
When it comes to vitamin and mineral supplementation, it’s important to consider your overall intake and aim to consume most of the vitamins and minerals from food based sources to protect against mega doses and also receive a host of non-nutritive benefits like phytochemicals and anthocyanins. With that being said, below is a snip it of my usual supplementation regimen to ensure that I’m meeting the needs for some of the critical nutrients for all individuals but particularly for vegan or predominately plant-based eaters.
Calcium – RDA 1000mg/day for adults
1 cup of Trader Joe’s fortified unsweetened soy milk – 350mg/~30% – some days I definitely have more than this, but consistently I have at least one cup per day
Calcium Citrate Supplement – I take a calcium supplement with my multivitamin so the vitamin D and magnesium can help with absorption. Many calcium supplements contain other minerals and vitamins like Magnesium and Vitamin D. I get these in my multivitamin and don’t want to over do it, so I take the single calcium citrate (which is better absorbed than calcium carbonate). Each serving has 300mg/~30%.
Tofu and Low Oxalate Veggies – the remainder of my calcium is from foods – tofu is a big part of my diet and contains about 30% calcium in a serving and vegetables like kale, bok choy, and collards contain 75-100mg calcium but are also low oxalate calcium vegetables meaning that the calcium is easily used by the body compared to high oxalate foods like spinach.
Vitamin D – 600 IU or 15mcg for adults
Vitamin D is not naturally found in many foods, so I don’t rely on foods to be a good source even though that same cup of Trader Joe’s unsweetened soy milk has 30% vitamin D for the day. I also don’t rely on the sun for vitamin D synthesis as more and more research is coming out that not everyone converts it in the same manner and I also tend to head for the shade whenever I go outside. So, for me, I take Vitamin D in my multivitamin. Each serving contains 2000IU or >300% of Vitamin D3 from lichen (many forms of D3 come from an animal). I take more than 100% because when I’ve had my vitamin D level checked in the past I’ve been low or on the lower end and lordy knows I want to keep my bones healthy.
Iodine – 150mcg for adults per day
Iodine is needed to help maintain normal thyroid function. Iodine is frequently added to table salt but with the popularity of sea salt and pink salt (which likely don’t contain iodine), a deficiency is becoming more common. Also, iodine is found primarily in seafood and seaweed – both of which are not my jam. If you rely on seaweed for your iodine, it’s recommended that you consume it a few times a week as the content can vary.
In my world, my old multivitamin contained only 52% of the recommended amount of iodine and so I took a separate iodine supplement a couple times a week (I never use table salt as I prefer the taste of other salts). Now, my multivitamin provides 100% iodine from kelp which I feel much better about and love being able to downsize what I’m taking a bit.
Magnesium 310-400mg per day (more for males and pregnant/lactating women)
It’s estimated that 50% of Americans do not consume adequate magnesium which may contribute to poor blood sugar control, cardiovascular issues, osteoporosis and lower levels of calcium and potassium in the blood which affects overall homeostasis. Magnesium is important for muscular contractions and is responsible for over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body! That’s a big responsibility and it’s important to meet our needs. Magnesium is found in many plant-based foods and so if you are consuming a whole food plant-based diet with multiple servings of nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, and greens you may be meeting your nutritional needs. However, just because magnesium is in a lot of foods, doesn’t mean there’s a lot of it in each food. For example, 1/2 cup cooked spinach and 1oz of almonds are some of the highest sources and there is only 20% of the RDA in each serving. So, depending on the quantity and type of the food you’re eating, the intake can vary considerably.
Magnesium is a big mineral and I’ve taken multivitamins with 8-13% of the RDA per serving because it’s just too big for many multivitamin pills. I use Nuun electolyte tabs about every other day which contains 6% magnesium (again, trivial) and I also use Naturally Vitality Calm Magnesium Powder that can be mixed into water a couple times per week. Each serving (2 tsp) contains 81% of the magnesium for the day and I find this to be helpful in the evening as magnesium helps to regulate deep, restorative sleep.
Zinc – 8-12 mg per day (11-12 for males and pregnant/lactating women)
Zinc is mostly found in animal meats and foods but can be found in smaller amounts in whole grains like oats and also in some beans and nuts/seeds. For example, 1 cup of cooked oatmeal only has 1.1mg or 7% of the RDA and 1oz almonds contains 6% of the RDA while 3oz beef contains 47% of the RDA. However, the good news is that if you eat a varied diet, you get little bits from many foods.
It may still be a good idea to supplement and my multivitamin does contain 13mg or about 100% of the RDA. Zinc supplements are easy to find and inexpensive but if you go with a solo supplement, keep in mind that some levels present in those can be >200% and if you go with something like that, I would recommend taking it every other day or a couple times a week as large zinc intakes can cause some unpleasant side effects like abdominal cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
Choline – 400- 55mg per day (550mg for men and pregnant/lactating women)
Choline is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in metabolism, gene expression, lipid transport, and early brain development (why expectant moms and breastfeeding moms need more). Choline is similar to magnesium in that it’s infrequently added to multivitamins yet many Americans – particularly vegans and predominately plant-based eaters consume lower amounts. Eggs and beef are great sources but beyond that, choline is pretty minimal in plant-based foods.
There’s 10% choline in my multivitamin and I also take a 300mg supplement to help fill in the gaps that I may be missing out on from the foods that I’m eating.
Vitamin B 12 – 2.4 – 2.8 mcg per day (2.6mg pregnancy, 2.8mg lactating women)
Vitamin B12 is no stranger to anyone who’s been vegan, vegetarian, or predominately plant-based for any length of time. As vitamin B 12 is found naturally in animal products (because you’re consuming what they’ve synthesized) and then fortified into some plant-based foods like nutritional yeast, it’s a good idea to supplement for every vegan/vegetarian. This is in part because inadequacies are not something you want to mess around with as Vitamin B12 affects your neuromuscular system and symptoms can range from tingling and numbness to fatigue, constipation, and weight loss.
I supplement vitamin B 12 daily in my multivitamin that contains 8mcg 286% of methylcobalamin (more bioavailable than cyanocobalamin). I also love nutritional yeast and consume it regularly but don’t rely on it for supplementation.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Recommendations vary
First, it’s important for vegans and plant-based eaters to meet the dietary reference intake for ALA. ALA is the plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids and the recommendation is 1100-1600mcg ALA/day. This might look like…1 teaspoon chia seeds (~700mg ALA), 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed (~500mg ALA), 1 teaspoon hemp seeds (~700mg ALA). Beyond meeting the ALA recommendations, supplementing with 300mg DHA may be helpful for the correct ratio of omega-3s in the body but definitely a must if you’re pregnant/breastfeeding. EPA is mostly needed with DHA to help absorption but not needed in the event that you meet you ALA requirements as ALA can be converted into EPA.
I supplement with 300mg DHA omega-3 fatty acids for good measure and to help with overall inflammation particularly as it relates to running induced physiological stress.
Other notable mentions…
My multivitamin provides adequate folic acid and iron – two additional nutrients for vegan women primarily to be aware of.
There you have it….my supplementation regimen with specific amounts of the nutrients I look for. If you have any questions, please comment below or reach out to me and and I’d love to help you in any way that I can!