There are plenty of reasons people decide to go vegan. Everyone who adopts a vegan lifestyle has one thing in common, though: they may need to take supplements to stay healthy. This is not a bad thing; when used appropriately in the recommended amounts, someone on a vegan diet can live a completely healthy lifestyle while taking dietary supplements and eating only plant based foods.
What do vegans eat and what do they avoid? Why is vegan supplementing necessary to remain healthy if going vegan is a diet? This article will cover the most common vitamins, minerals and nutrients vegans need to supplement in addition to their normal food intake in order to remain healthy and prevent nutritional deficiencies.
Vegan Diet Review
Traditionally, vegans are defined as having adopted a lifestyle in which they do not consume or use animal products. In terms of their diet specifically, vegans eat only plant-based foods, and typically steer clear of the following:
- Meat (including beef, lamb, poultry, steak, etc.)
- All seafood
- Milk, cheese and eggs
Think of any plant you could grow in a garden, and it’s on the list of acceptable foods for the vegan diet. The diet also encourages that processed soy and vegan products, such as vegan cheese and vegan desserts, be consumed only occasionally and in small amounts.
Vegan Diet Plan Basics and Rules
On a vegan diet, people can eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It is still possible to eat a well balanced diet as a vegan if you focus on whole foods and recipes with healthy ingredients and limit the amount of processed “vegan” foods you consume. Yet some vegans run the risk of facing malnutrition because of a lack of certain essential nutrients in their diet.
Here are the most common nutritional deficiencies vegans often face as a result of their diet, how much of each nutrient you need and where you might be able to get enough of them through both food and oral supplements.
In the US, much of our protein normally comes from meat. Meat tends to be a staple for every meal – bacon with our eggs in the morning; chicken in our Caesar salad at lunch; pork chops and potatoes for dinner every Tuesday.
That obviously isn’t the case when you go on a vegan diet. And if you’re not sure which other foods contain protein, there’s no way you are going to be able to get enough once you cut meat out of your diet.
How much protein do you need per day?
Adults need, on average, about one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you weigh 150 pounds, your weight is equal to 68 kilograms, so you would need about 68 grams of protein per day. Since meat, eggs, milk and cheese are off the menu, you are going to have to get creative with where your protein comes from.
What will happen to you if you don’t get enough protein?
Many parts of your body are either made of or depend on protein. So not getting enough of it can seriously damage a lot of your body’s normal daily functions.
- You may experience muscle and/or joint pain
- It might take you longer to recover from injuries
- Your immune system won’t work properly
- Your hair may start to thin and fall out
- Your brain will start to feel foggy, making focus and concentration difficult
Where can you get more protein from?
The best way to ensure you are getting as much protein as possible throughout your day is to consume one if not more protein packed food with every meal, and snacks too, if you want. Here are some vegan friendly foods that contain protein.
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut butter
Click here for a larger list of delicious protein rich foods for vegans. If you still aren’t getting enough protein, you can try using protein powder as a harmless supplement to give your daily protein intake a boost. Get creative with the ways you use it each week.
Iron is a mineral also found richly in meat, though it is found naturally in many other foods besides meat as well. Some foods, like cereals and pastas, are fortified with iron, meaning they have had iron added to them when it does not naturally occur.
How much iron do you need per day?
Women over 18 years of age need about 18 milligrams of iron per day.
What will happen to you if you don’t get enough iron?
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Issues with concentration and thinking clearly
- Iron-deficiency anemia
Where can you get more iron from?
Plenty of vegan friendly foods contain iron.
You can also take a multivitamin that contains iron. If you are going to take an iron supplement, consult your doctor first. They will test your blood to let you know how much iron is safe and/or necessary for you to take based on those results.
You need calcium for a few important biological functions, primarily muscle contraction and the release of hormones throughout your body. If you don’t get enough calcium through dietary means, your body takes it from your bones, which can make them break more easily. Because calcium also plays a role in the nervous system, it’s safe to say this is one mineral you definitely do not want to miss out on.
How much calcium do you need per day?
You need a minimum of 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. Usually when experts push the importance of dairy, calcium is at the foundation of that persuasion. Thankfully for those on a vegan diet, calcium is found in other foods besides dairy products.
What will happen if you don’t get enough calcium?
The most common side effect of prolonged calcium deficiency is osteoporosis, which is what increases your risk for bone fracture. Calcium quite literally keeps your bones strong (it wasn’t just a ploy to get you to finish your milk at breakfast when you were little).
Where can you get more calcium from?
One alternative to milk is soy or almond milk, which often contain more calcium than regular cow’s milk. If you don’t like soy or almond milk, or want to get your calcium from a whole food source, you can get it from adding these foods to your regular vegan diet.
- Navy beans
- Almond butter
Taking a calcium supplement once per day can also provide you with the calcium you need to stay healthy. Note: Taking iron and calcium together, in supplement form or via whole foods, increases iron absorption!
Vitamin B12 is essential for healthy blood and nervous system functions. It is normally found in foods we eat quite regularly on a traditional diet, such as red meat, milk, fish and cheese. Because those on a vegan diet do not eat those foods, vitamin B12 deficiency is a concern you should try to avoid before it becomes a real health problem.
How much vitamin B12 do you need per day?
On average adult women need about 100 mcg per day, which you can get by taking the smallest vitamin B12 supplement available.
What will happen if you don’t get enough vitamin B12?
- Stomach problems
- Headaches and/or lightheadedness
- Nerve problems such as tingling or numbness
- Vision loss
- Behavioral changes and memory loss
Where can you get more vitamin B12 from?
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that you absolutely cannot get from plant based foods, regardless of what you might read online that says otherwise. Similar to iron, some foods like cereals and nut milks such as almond milk can be fortified with vitamin B12. However, your best bet while on a vegan diet is to take a vitamin B12 capsule to ensure you are getting enough of it.
The truth: Dietary supplements are not all bad
Nutritional supplements often get a bad rap, mainly because the FDA does not regulate what goes into them or which ones are put on store shelves. Many supplements are overpriced and do not contain the level of nutritional value promised on their labels. So if you are going to take over-the-counter supplements, here are a few things you should know.
- If possible, always choose whole foods over dietary supplements.
- You should never take dietary supplements for any reason other than to prevent possible nutritional deficiency, as taking too much of any vitamin or mineral can be potentially harmful and has not been proven to promote health.
- If you are unsure of whether or not a dietary supplement is safe or appropriate for you, consult a medical professional, such as a doctor or dietitian. They will help you choose the correct supplements if you are not sure which ones to take.
Menu and Meal Planning
- Banana nut scone
- Scrambled tofu and kale
- Mango yogurt smoothie
- Veggie sandwich
- Sweet potato fries
- Quinoa salad (1 cup)
- Black beans with rice
- One half baked potato
Grocery Shopping List
- Peanut and other nut butters
- Raw nuts and seeds
Does the Vegan Diet Work?
Because the vegan diet requires you to cut out entire food groups, there is a very good chance you’ll be consuming fewer calories. Of course, fewer calories generally means weight loss. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, because vegan diets tend to contain less saturated fats and more fiber, “Vegans tend to be thinner, have lower serum cholesterol, and lower blood pressure, reducing their risk of heart disease.” As long as you supplement your diet as necessary, the vegan diet should help you accomplish your health goals. Below you’ll find a few ladies who have had great results with the diet.
Reviews and Weight Loss Results
Is the vegan diet the key to weight loss and optimal health? I think these women would say absolutely yes!
“I have been a vegan for 10 years. Initially for ethical reasons, from an animal welfare perspective in more of a radical sense, in that I do not value one life over another, and it significantly decreases your carbon footprint. I wasn’t concerned so much with the health benefits, and didn’t do my research so I’d been living on a carb based diet and I was the largest I’ve ever weighed. I knew I needed to make some big changes to my lifestyle.
I was 14.10 stone when I started the weight loss. I now weigh 9.10 stone. A total of 5 stone lost. I’ve never measured my inches, but I am a literal third of my earlier size in all places. The health improvements are ongoing. I eat pulses, grains and more raw foods, as well as oats each morning. I feel lighter, I have more energy, I make better decisions because I’m not exhausted all the time and my mental health, confidence and understanding of self has significantly improved too.
The most difficult part of becoming vegan was accepting that discipline is self taught, and to focus, bigger lifestyle changes had to come into play, like yoga, taking up more hobbies to stop myself from returning to negative mind patterns that would legitimately approve the bag of chips I thought I wanted at 11pm at night.
My best advice for anyone wanting to try a vegan diet is do your research. It is an instant no-brainer to me that a plant based diet is progressive. It’s ethical, it’s green and it’s delicious. But you really need to look at what you’re taking in, as with any diet. Do not rely heavily on soy or meat substitutes, focus on whole foods that your body craves. Smoothies and oats are a fantastic energy source to kick your day off, and meet other vegans and support each other. The longer you invest in the diet, the more you realize just how creative you can be with a vegetable you’ve been taking for granted.”
Before and After Success Stories
“I’ve been following a vegan diet almost three and a half years, since 3.13.13.
I lost over 40 pounds a little over a year before going vegan so I was quite small. I actually gained and lost a little weight here and there over the years after becoming vegan. But not a lot. I have maintained. When I listened to my body I dropped 8 pounds with no exercise. I don’t get sick often. I recover faster when I do workout. I have more energy. My digestion is good. My eczema went away. My skin isn’t as dry and it’s soft. My mood and outlook on life are so different;. it’s unexplainable.
For me, the most difficult part of transitioning to a vegan diet is finding what works for you. I gained and lost weight after becoming vegan because I was doing what worked for other people, but it wasn’t working for me. The easiest part is that there are so many vegan options. They taste amazing, they are easy to make, and you’re not hurting animals or the planet.
To anyone thinking of becoming a vegan, try it. I mean really try it. It’s not as difficult as everyone thinks it is. Everyone has their own vegan journey. Your journey will not be and shouldn’t be like anyone else’s. It will be challenging at times, but not hard. Yet even the challenges are still worth it and you will grow from them.”
“I have been transitioning into veganism since September 2015 – when I say transitioning I mean taking the time to learn the new foods, what I can and cannot eat as well as finding foods that I enjoy. I’m a massive cheese, chocolate and ice cream lover, giving these up were by far the hardest. Now, a year on, I have adapted to the lifestyle and having clear skin makes it all worth it.
In May 2015, I went on oral steroids to help my eczema and I put on 1 stone of weight which was so upsetting for me as I have always had a small frame. Changing my diet to veganism has helped me to lose 1 and a half stone so I am now weighing 8 stone – the weight that I feel most comfortable. However, losing weight was just an added bonus because my main goal was to clear my eczema. I have had eczema since I was 6 weeks old and I’ve spent many years at doctor surgeries and at the dermatology unit in the hospital trying different medicines, creams and ointments as well as oral steroids and light treatment.
After spending 23 years of my life trying all of the different medications, I was about to give up hope until my Canadian friend Anna mentioned to me the idea of veganism. This felt so alien to me. How could I give up all the foods that I love? But over night I decided it was my only chance as nothing else truly worked. The oral steroids were fantastic in terms of healing my eczema but a week after coming off them my skin was worse than ever.
Of course, for the first few months of veganism, I struggled, I caved in at the sight of pizza and the delicious melting cheese. Every time I had a pizza my skin would instantly get worse so I knew that if I wanted to have clear skin I had to improve my willpower to resist. A year down the line and I can safely say I’m doing pretty well and my skin is silky and smooth – it’s incredible. I’ve never felt so happy. My skin used to be so dry, red, lumpy, spotty and itchy so it’s a huge transformation!
The hardest part of changing to vegan was telling my family, especially my grandma as I still live at home with my parents so my mum now cooks separate meals for me. It took many months for her to adapt to my new way of eating, but now she enjoys all of my vegan food too! At first, my grandma never believed me that veganism was the way forward for healing my skin. She is a massive meat eater and the thought of giving that up when it’s made so clear by doctors, that we need meat for iron, she warned me that I’m going to be lacking in so many nutrients. I now take tablets from Healthspan: Veg Omega 3, Probiotics, MultiVitality for Vegetarians and Flaxseed Oil.
The easiest part was having my friend Anna to help and support me everyday throughout and to keep me strong when I felt like giving up. Anna started off being vegetarian just before I became vegan, but now her and her parents are vegan too so we share all the different foods we find with each other and it makes it so much easier. I joined a vegan Facebook group and made friends with other vegans to find out what restaurants they eat at and what they found hard and what meals they tend to eat. All of which has helped me along the way.
If anyone is struggling with eczema, I would highly recommend trying veganism – you never know, you may be surprised. Don’t worry if you have a few pitfalls and eat something you shouldn’t, the key is never to give up on your dreams. Be determined and believe it will work for you and you never know what the result could be.”
“I stopped eating meat 10 months ago and have been vegan for about 5 months. I completely stopped eating meat, but for veganism it took a little more of a transition.
I gained about 5-10 pounds of muscle without the use of meat or animal products. Yes, you can get protein in a lot of different foods! I noticed a ton of improvements when I transitioned. When I ate anything with dairy (especially cheese) and even eggs, I always felt very lethargic afterwards. I felt very groggy and just not all there. After incorporating a lot of whole foods in my diet, more vegetables, beans, nuts, whole grains – I feel more energetic and just able to think a lot more clearly.
The easiest part about the diet is a lot of the transitioning. You wouldn’t believe how many vegan items there are out there. Wild By Nature (a supermarket near me) has an entire aisle of meatless products. Its amazing. Stop and Shop offers a lot too. There are just so many options that it has actually made transitioning a lot easier. It’s also a lot easier than I thought to gain muscle! I feel a lot more confident.
If I could share anything with people interested in Veganism, I would tell them that it’s totally worth it! I know that I feel a lot better physically, mentally and emotionally. There are many reasons to do it if you research – it’s better for your health, better for the environment (a huge factor), better for human starvation and most importantly (for me), the animals.”
These vegan recipes will help you get started on getting your whole food diet in order before you figure out which supplements you will need. Stay healthy!