5 Nutrients to Consider When Crafting a Vegan Supplement
Vegan and vegetarian supplements don't necessarily have to be for vegans and vegetarians only. Technically, anyone can choose to take vegan supplements. That being said, if you are looking to manufacture a supplement that's just for vegetarians or vegans, you may want to consider incorporating one of these key nutrients vegans need.
5 Important Nutrients for Vegans (In No Particular Order)
Nutrient #1 - Vitamin B-12
One of the most important nutrients for vegans, vitamin B-12 supports a number of different bodily processes, including the development of red blood cells to how our brain maintains neurological functions. Especially for vegans, Vitamin B-12 intake has earned a reputation for being particularly difficult to manage. In certain cases, even those who eat traditional diets can benefit from B12 supplementation. Several studies show that while anyone can have low vitamin B-12 levels, vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of deficiency. This seems especially true for vegans who are not taking any supplements.
Vegan sources of Vitamin B-12
Very low B-12 intakes can lead to anemia and nervous system damage. The only reliable vegan sources of vitamin B-12 are:
- B-12 are foods fortified with B-12 (including some plant milks, some soy products and some breakfast cereals)
- B-12 supplements
Nutrient #2 - Iron
Like B-12, iron is most often recognized, from a nutritional standpoint, for the role it plays in how our blood cells and the heart deliver oxygen to the rest of the body.
Like many of the nutrients on the list, for vegan consumers a well-balanced diet may not always be enough when it comes getting enough iron. Unlike the naturally occurring iron in animal-based foods, the iron found in plant-based foods (non-heme iron) can't be used as readily by the body.
Good iron sources for vegans
Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world. Since there are lots of plant foods containing large quantities of iron, you can get all the iron you need for a vegan diet.
- Good plant sources of iron include lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa
- Fortified breakfast cereal
- Iron supplements
Nutrient #3 - Zinc
Zinc is a vital component for many of the body's natural processes, including fighting infection, growth and speeding up reactions, and yet research has suggested that a surprisingly large portion of the world's population – not just vegans – are at risk of being zinc deficient.
While zinc can be found in certain vegetable sources, research has indicated that other nutrients found within those plants may bind to the zinc, ultimately impacting our body's ability to absorb it properly. Our bodies need zinc for lots of different functions, including fighting infection, growth and speeding up reactions. It is possible to get all the zinc you need from eating a varied and balanced vegan diet.
Vegan zinc sources
- Few plant foods actually contain zinc and zinc absorption from some plant foods is further limited due to their phytate content.
- Sources of zinc include beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, whole meal bread and quinoa.
- Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a zinc supplement daily.
Nutrient #4 - Amino Acids
The building block of protein, it can be fairly easy for a person adhering to a traditional western diet – one that includes fish, poultry, and meat – to get their daily dose of amino acids from whole foods.
While there are a number amino-rich plants and plant-based foods, getting the right amounts of all nine essential amino acids (the ones that our bodies can't produce on their own) can prove challenging when following a strictly plant-based diet.
Some plant products, such as soybeans and quinoa, are complete proteins, which mean that they contain all nine essential amino acids that humans need. Others are missing some of these amino acids, so eating a varied diet is important. Of those 9 essential amino acids, there is one that vegans should pay heed to – lysine, the least abundant amino acid obtained through plant foods. Vegans must deliberately include enough lysine-rich foods in their diet to supply the body with all the protein building blocks it needs.
Vegan sources of complete amino acids
- Protein supplements
Nutrient #5 - Vitamin D
Playing a role in everything from bone health to how our neurons send information, Vitamin D is another essential nutrient – for vegans and non-vegans alike!
A key thing to remember when manufacturing a vegan supplement with vitamin D is that most Vitamin D isn't vegan (thanks to the fact that it's derived, believe it or not, from sheep's wool).
The best vegan sources of vitamin D
When choosing a supplement, be aware that some types of vitamin D are not vegan-friendly. Vitamin D2 is always suitable for vegans, but vitamin D3 can be derived from an animal source (such as sheep’s wool) or lichen (a vegan-friendly source). It is advisable to check the source before purchasing.
Ultimately, the nutrients that make it into your vegan supplement's formulation will depend on the unique needs that your supplement is intended to meet.