Though I have absolutely no credentials as a nutritionist or a dietician, I think my status as a mild hypochondriac qualifies me as someone worth listening to when it comes to vitamin deficiencies on a vegan diet.
As Mike explained in a previous post, supplementation for vegans is a must, though there is some debate around whether some of them are necessary. B12, for example, is a no-brainer, while vitamin D and Omega-3 are a little less straightforward.
My low-key health anxiety has prompted me to take pretty much everything that a vegan diet could be deficient in. This isn’t always a good idea, since you could end up consuming too much iron, for example, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Here’s a list of the vitamins I take and the reason I take them:
Vitamin B Complex: I take this in liquid (sublingual) form in case B12 doesn’t get absorbed through my gut, which was the case with a relative in the past. I used to take it every day but realized that was probably a waste and have cut down to once or twice per week. As mentioned before, B12 is a must for vegans, and its important to get the right kind as not all forms are equal.
Kelp: This is a source of iodine, which vegans can be deficient in. I could just eat kelp without having it crushed up, put in capsules and crammed in a bottle, but it tastes awful that way. I take this every day.
Omega-3: Specifically, Omega-3 from algae. I’ve heard that common plant sources of omega-3 — like nuts and seeds — aren’t optimal. But that doesn’t mean you need to start taking fish oil; algae can do the trick. I take this every day.
Iron: I don’t know if my diet would leave me deficient in iron if I didn’t supplement. What I do know is that for many years (even before I was vegetarian) my feet would frequently get cold, and it went away when I started taking iron, so I stuck to it. I take this three times a week.
Magnesium: This is one of those vitamins everyone should be taking. Huge swathes of the population are deficient in this important nutrient and don’t even know it. I take this every day in the form of magnesium glycinate — other forms are supposedly inferior.
Vitamin D: This is another one that most people — vegans and otherwise — are deficient in. I try to get sun every day, but being in the northeast United States means that in winter months I’m nowhere close to getting my daily dose unless I supplement. I also take this one in a liquid form under the tongue every day.
Another important one, especially if you’re a weightlifter, is creatine. Though it occurs naturally in our bodies, most people get half of it from dietary sources — namely meat. This means that vegans and vegetarians may be deficient, so it’s important to supplement with it. I don’t take it every day, but I should.
So that’s pretty much it. People think being healthy and vegan means scarfing down handfuls of vitamins. But even as someone who is vegan and overly concerned with my health (which partly led to me going vegetarian and vegan in the first place — though the health claims are not all they’re chalked up to be), I hardly think about the supplements I need to take.
Even if it were the case that I had to spend a significant amount of time tracking my vitamin levels, seeking vegan forms of essential nutrients, and spending loads of cash on supplements, I’d still do it, because I find the alternative unconscionable.