7 Supplements You Need on a Vegan Diet
Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.
Some even encourage vegans to avoid all supplements.
Despite being well intended, this type of advice can do more harm than good.
Here are 7 nutrients that you may need to supplement with while on a vegan diet.
1. Vitamin B12
Foods often touted to be rich in vitamin B12 include unwashed organic produce, mushrooms grown in B12-rich soils, nori, spirulina, chlorella, and nutritional yeast.
Some believe vegans who eat enough of the right plant foods don't need to worry about vitamin B12 deficiency. However, there is no scientific basis for this belief.
Several studies show that while anyone can have low vitamin B12 levels, vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of deficiency. This seems especially true for vegans who are not taking any supplements (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system (4Trusted Source).
The daily recommended intake is 2.4 mcg per day for adults, 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy, and 2.8 mcg per day while breastfeeding.
The only scientifically proven way for vegans to reach these levels is by consuming B12-fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement. B12-fortified foods commonly include plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Some plant foods seem to contain a form of vitamin B12 naturally, but there's still debate on whether this form is active in humans (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
What's more, no scientific evidence supports depending on unwashed organic produce as a reliable source of vitamin B12.
It's important to keep in mind that vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small doses. Thus, the less frequently you ingest vitamin B12, the more you need to take.
One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.
Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.
It's extremely important that all vegans get enough vitamin B12. The only reliable way to achieve this is by eating fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
2. Vitamin D
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D for children and adults is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day. The elderly, as well as pregnant or lactating women, should aim for 800 IU (20 mcg) per day (22).
That said, some evidence suggests that your daily requirements are far greater than the current RDA (23Trusted Source).
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods fortified with vitamin D are often considered insufficient to satisfy the daily requirements.
Aside from the small amount you get from your diet, vitamin D can be made from sun exposure. Most people likely make enough vitamin D by spending 15 minutes in the midday sun when the sun is strong — as long as they don't use any sunscreen and expose most of their skin.
However, the elderly, people with darker skin, those who live in northern latitudes or colder climates, and those who spend little time outdoors may be unable to produce enough (25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).
Furthermore, because of the known negative effects of excess UV radiation, many dermatologists warn against using sun exposure to boost vitamin D levels (28Trusted Source).
The best way vegans can ensure they're getting enough vitamin D is to have their blood levels tested. Those unable to get enough from fortified foods and sunshine should consider taking a daily vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3 supplement.
Vitamin D deficiency is a problem among vegans and omnivores alike. Vegans unable to maintain normal blood levels through fortified foods and sun exposure should consider taking a supplement.
3. Long-Chain Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids can be split into two categories:
- Essential omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet.
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: This category includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not considered essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a structural role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also seem important for brain development and reducing the risk of inflammation, depression, breast cancer, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
Plants with a high ALA content include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and soybeans. EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal products like fatty fish and fish oil.
Getting enough ALA should theoretically maintain adequate EPA and DHA levels. However, studies estimate that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as low as 5–10%, while its conversion to DHA may be near 2–5% (37Trusted Source, 38Trusted Source).
Additionally, research consistently shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA than omnivores (39Trusted Source).
Most health professionals agree that 200–300 mg per day should be sufficient (39Trusted Source).
Vegans can reach this recommended intake by supplementing with algae oil.
What's more, minimizing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils, as well as making sure to eat enough ALA-rich foods, may further help maximize EPA and DHA levels (40Trusted Source).
Vegans tend to have lower blood and tissue levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, they may benefit from supplementing with EPA and DHA.
Getting enough iodine is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism.
In adults, insufficient iodine intake can lead to hypothyroidism.
This can cause various symptoms, such as low energy levels, dry skin, tingling in your hands and feet, forgetfulness, depression, and weight gain (41Trusted Source).
The RDA for adults is 150 mcg of iodine per day. Pregnant women should aim for 220 mcg per day, while those who are breastfeeding are recommended to further increase their daily intake to 290 mcg per day (44).
Iodine levels in plant foods depend on the iodine content of the soil in which they were grown. For instance, food grown close to the ocean tends to be higher in iodine.
The only foods considered to have consistently high iodine levels are iodized salt, seafood, seaweed, and dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and farm equipment.
Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodized salt is sufficient to meet your daily needs.
Vegans who do not want to consume iodized salt or eat seaweed several times per week should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Iodine plays an important role in your thyroid function and metabolism. Vegans not getting enough iodine from seaweed or iodized salt should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Iron is a nutrient used to make new DNA and red blood cells, as well as carry oxygen in the blood. It's also needed for energy metabolism (45Trusted Source).
Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms like fatigue and decreased immune function.
The RDA is 8 mg for adult men and post-menopausal women. It increases to 18 mg per day for adult women, and pregnant women should aim for 27 mg per day (46).
Iron can be found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available from animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants (45Trusted Source).
Because heme iron is more easily absorbed from your diet than non-heme iron, vegans are often recommended to aim for 1.8 times the normal RDA. That said, more studies are needed to establish whether such high intakes are needed (47Trusted Source).
Vegans with a low iron intake should aim to eat more iron-rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, enriched breads, and some plant milks, can further help (24Trusted Source, 48Trusted Source).
Also, using cast-iron pots and pans to cook, avoiding tea or coffee with meals, and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can help boost iron absorption.
The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner.
Extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma, and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it's best not to supplement unless it's truly necessary (50Trusted Source).
Vegans not getting enough iron from their diets should consider fortified foods or a supplement. However, overly high levels can be harmful, and iron supplements are not recommended for everyone.
Calcium is a mineral that's necessary for good bone and teeth health. It also plays a role in muscle function, nerve signaling, and heart health.
The RDA for calcium is set at 1,000 mg per day for most adults and increases to 1,200 mg per day for adults over the age of 50 (51).
Plant sources of calcium include bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, and fortified plant milks or juices.
An often-heard remark among the vegan community is that vegans have lower calcium needs than omnivores because they do not use this mineral to neutralize the acidity produced by a meat-rich diet.
More research is needed to evaluate how meatless diets affect daily calcium requirements. However, evidence suggests that vegans consuming less than 525 mg of calcium tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures (53Trusted Source).
For this reason, all vegans are encouraged to aim for the RDA, making sure they consume at least 525 mg of calcium per day. Supplements should be used if this can't be achieved through diet or fortified foods alone.
Vegans consuming too little dietary calcium should consider taking a daily supplement. This is especially important for those getting less than 525 mg per day.
Zinc is a mineral that's crucial for metabolism, immune function, and the repair of body cells.
An insufficient intake of zinc can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea, and delayed wound healing.
The RDA for zinc is currently set at 8–11 mg per day for adults. It increases to 11–12 mg for pregnant women and 12–13 mg for lactating women (54).
Few plant foods contain high amounts of zinc. Moreover, zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited due to their phytate content. Thus, vegetarians are encouraged to aim for 1.5 times the RDA (54).
While not all vegans have low blood levels of zinc, a recent review of 26 studies showed that vegetarians — and especially vegans — have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood levels of zinc than omnivores (55Trusted Source).
To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day. These include whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement that provides 50–100% of the RDA.
Vegans unable to reach the zinc RDA should first focus on adding zinc-rich foods to their diets. Those with low blood levels of zinc should consider taking a daily supplement.
The bottom line
Well-planned vegan diets can fulfill your nutritional needs.
That said, certain nutrient requirements may be difficult to achieve through diet and fortified foods alone.
This is especially true for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and long-chain omega-3s.
All vegans who are unable to meet their dietary recommendations through diet alone should consider taking supplements. Still, it's best to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regime.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Danielle Nierenberg
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By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas
From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.
When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
Several Different Fungal Hybrids Cause Human Disease.<p>Hybrid fungi that can cause infections in humans are well known to occur in several different lineages of single-celled fungi known as yeasts. Notable examples include multiple different species of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/yea.3242" target="_blank">yeast hybrids</a> that cause the human diseases <a href="https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/6218/cryptococcosis" target="_blank">cryptococcosis</a> and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html" target="_blank">candidiasis</a>. Although pathogenic yeast hybrids are well known, our discovery that the <em>A. latus</em> pathogen is a hybrid is a first for molds that cause disease in humans.</p>
(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
How A. Latus Differs From its Parents.<p>Elucidating the identity of closely related fungal pathogens and how they differ from each other in infection-relevant characteristics is a key step toward reducing the burden of fungal disease. For example, we found that <em>A. latus</em> was three times more resistant than <em>A. nidulans</em>, the species it was originally identified as using microscopy-based methods, to one of the most common antifungal drugs, <a href="https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00520" target="_blank">caspofungin</a>. This result provides a clear example of the potential importance of accurate identification of the <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogen causing an infection.</p><p>We also examined how <em>A. latus</em> and <em>A. nidulans</em> interact with cells from our immune system. We found that immune cells were less efficient at combating <em>A. latus</em> compared to <em>A. nidulans</em>, suggesting the hybrid fungus may be trickier for our immune systems to identify and destroy.</p><p>In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our quest to understand <em>Aspergillus</em> pathogens is becoming more urgent. Growing evidence suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/myc.13096" target="_blank">a fraction of COVID-19 patients are also infected with <em>Aspergillus</em>.</a> More worrying is that these <a href="https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2607.201603" target="_blank">secondary <em>Aspergillus</em> infections</a> can worsen the clinical outcomes for those infected with the novel coronavirus. That being said, we stress that little is known about <em>Aspergillus</em> infections in COVID-19 patients due to a lack of systematic testing, and none of the infections identified so far appear to have been caused by hybrids.</p><p>So, when it comes to hybrids, some are fantastic (the minotaur), some are helpful (the mule) and some are dangerous (<em>Aspergillus latus</em>). Understanding more about the biology of <em>Aspergillus latus</em> may help in our understanding of how microbial pathogens arise and how to best prevent and combat their infections.</p>
This Saturday, June 6, marks National Trails Day, an annual celebration of the remarkable recreational, scenic and hiking trails that crisscross parks nationwide. The event, which started in 1993, honors the National Trail System and calls for volunteers to help with trail maintenance in parks across the country.
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The Navajo Nation covers the corners of three different states. Google Maps
Growing Contribution<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM3NDY5Ny9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjM4MTgyM30.IuQTKQs1stvYYKD6vaVTrqAyoBsUG0BhDvlhxsyKwPA/img.png?width=980" id="02a05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2841f82b1785df5d5ed7bf64d3bb882b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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World Environment Day: A Time to Consider the Planet We’ll Return To, and Decide How to Care for It Going Forward
It's a different kind of World Environment Day this year. In prior years, it might have been enough to plant a tree, spend some extra time in the garden, or teach kids the importance of recycling. This year we have heavier tasks at hand. It's been months since we've been able to spend sufficient time outside, and as we lustfully watch the beauty of a new spring through our kitchen's glass windows, we have to decide how we'll interact with the natural world on our release, and how we can prevent, or be equipped to handle, future threats against our wellbeing.