What are the essential vitamins needed for vegetarians and vegans? Today we’re going to find out. I’ve written about the best vegetarian vitamins as well as how vegans get enough iron and my list of top vegan supplements but there should be a single resource on this blog where you can access the 411 of the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for vegans and vegetarians.
I aim to make this list the definitive guide for vegan supplementation for health. If you’re asking yourself “what vitamins should I take?” then this will help answer that question.
Let’s start with a broad perspective. The bird’s eye view if you will. And the question asked at this high level is what exactly are the essential vitamins and the essential minerals required by the body.
Essential vitamins for vegans
These are the essential vitamins required for vegans.
Vitamin A (retinol), Vitamin Bp (choline), Vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin, vitamin G), B3 (niacin, vitamin P, vitamin PP), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxamine, or pyridoxal), B7 (biotin, vitamin H), B9 (folic acid, folate, vitamin M), B12 (cobalamin), Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), Vitamin D (ergocalciferol, or cholecalciferol), Vitamin E (tocopherol) and Vitamin K (naphthoquinoids).
Now there is nothing special about these essential vitamins, in fact their required and essential for vegetarians, vegans and folks eating the Standard American Diet. You diet has no bearing on the necessity of specific nutrients, that is a physiological need of the human body.
Essential minerals for vegans
The following are the essential minerals required by all humans, not just vegetarians and vegans.
Calcium, chloride, chromium, cobalt, copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, phosphorous, potassium, selenium, sodium, sulfur and zinc.
That’s quite a list. When you count them all up, the required vitamins and mineral necessary for optimal vegan and vegetarian health number 31.
You might be asking yourself how can we get enough vitamins and minerals on a daily basis. I mean 31 is quite a lot of nutrients to keep tabs on. The good thing is that a well balanced whole foods plant based vegan diet will provide you with all you need of every single one of the above essential vegetarian vitamins except for vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone created by our melanin’s reaction to sunlight, and vitamin B12 is only made by bacteria.
Okay, so we really only need to concern ourselves with 2 vitamins. However, it is worthwhile paying attention to a couple of others if you really want to be picky. Here are 4 other minerals that are worth paying attention to; calcium, iodine, selenium and iron (mostly for vegan women).
The easiest way to take care of all of this is by taking a daily or weekly vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement. For women I recommend this multivitamin with iron and for men this multivitamin without iron.
If you are a pregnant vegan or a vegan woman hoping to become pregnant soon you should definitely be taking a vegan prenatal supplement and vegan prenatal vitamins like this one here.
Some of you might be eating well and don’t feel the need for a vegan supplement. I can understand that totally. For those of you, below you’ll find the 2 vitamins and 4 minerals that vegans should take care to ensure they get enough of.
Vitamin B12 is not to be toyed with. I have written extensively about this vitamin and deficiency can cause coma and death in severe cases. Deficiency can cause symptoms of fatigue and tiredness all the way through to irreversible brain and neurological disorders.
Please, for your sake take a daily or weekly vitamin B12 sublingual tablet. It is as easy as that. And it’s not just a vegan problem, evidence is suggesting that most folks living in the Western World could use B12 supplementation. For only pennies a day you can get all that you need. I recommend sublingual vitamin B12 like this one though most any B12 you get can be used.
Aim for a daily dose of 250 mcg or if you want to take a weekly dose take 2,500 mcg weekly. Cyanocobalamin is best for most of us.
Most vitamin D supplements come from either cod liver oil or lanolin extracted from sheep’s wool. This vitamin D is known as vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol.
There is however a vegan vitamin D which is known as vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol.
The current recommendation for daily supplemental vitamin D intake for vegans as well as most folks is 2,000 IU. This is especially true of those of us living above or below the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and who don’t get out for at least 30 minutes of sun every day. Basically, there is evidence to suggest that practically all of us could benefit from vitamin D supplementation and it seems that adequate vitamin D intake prolongs life and is generally very good for us.
Just one of these vitamin D2 tablets every day is all you need.
The recommended daily value or intake for calcium is 1,000 mg per day for adults both men and women. But this is grossly exaggerated primarily thanks to the dairy industry’s propaganda machine and lobbying efforts.
Now it’s hard for me to find an accurate number for the amount of calcium that we really need. So if you want to be safe, go with the “official” recommendation. Though Dr. Greger suggests that we aim for 600 mg of calcium per day from dark green leafy vegetables. Spinach and chard and beet greens don’t count because although they are super healthy they contain enough oxalates that can impair the calcium absorption from those foods.
If you are concerned about your calcium intake you can take a daily or weekly calcium supplement. Though just drinking and extra cup or 2 of fortified soy milk should fill any gaps.
Up here in Canada I don’t worry about iodine because our salt is fortified with iodine. If you enjoy vegan sushi every now and then you are likely getting sufficient iodine as seaweed is a good source.
A caveat though. Hiziki (hijiki) should be avoided because it has been shown to carry excess arsenic. Also, kelp should also be avoided as much as possible as it has TOO MUCH iodine.
If you are concerned about your iodine levels you only need to supplement the relatively small amount of 150 mcg per day. Both of the vegan multivitamins for men and women that I linked to above contain that amount. That’s how I’d go about supplementing if I felt the need. There is no need to buy an extra iodine supplement.
There is no need really for selenium supplementation. If you are concerned, those multivitamins above contain sufficient quantities of selenium to fill any gaps.
Additionally, just one Brazil nut eaten each day will provide you with your required intake of selenium. Now that’s a tasty way to take your selenium if you ask me.
The vegan diet is healthy and nutritionally adequate when properly planned and based upon whole foods as much as possible. The only issues are vitamin B12 which you MUST supplement and vitamin D which you should supplement with. The others minerals are things to keep an eye on for the best health possible. Stay vegan, but more importantly stay a healthy vegan.
The cost for supplementing with a daily vegan multivitamin as well as vitamin B12 and vitamin D is only $0.25 per day. That’s 25 cents per day or $7.5 per month. Not much for ensuring your optimum vegan health.