And at last… I have some space in my brain to consider the supplement aspect of veganism and explore what I might be missing. Having done a lot of reading on veganism in general, the big three that are typically brought up upon exploring the topic of supplements are Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and Omega-3s. Having cleaned out my fridge and my freezer, my kitchen cabinet and most of my closet in an effort to embrace my new lifestyle, I think I’m ready to think about what I might be missing. I began by finding a really helpful fellow blogger, Ginny Messina (who is also a registered dietitian) and found a very blunt approach to the supplement conversation. She recommended:
Vitamin B12. You can’t get enough by eating unwashed organic produce or mushrooms grown in B12-rich soil. The recommended dose is 25 to 100 micrograms per day or 1,000 micrograms 2-3 times per week. If you have not been taking B12 for a while, start out with 2,000 micrograms daily for several weeks. Or get a blood test to see where you are and whether you might need a more therapeutic dose.
Vitamin D. If you live where it’s sunny and warm all year and you spend time outdoors without sunscreen, you can make enough. The rest of us need a supplement or fortified foods (just like omnivores do) supplying 1,000 I.U.s of vitamin D. (This amount is well above the RDA for vitamin D but most experts think it’s warranted.
Iodine. Omnivores get most of their iodine from dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and equipment on dairy farms. Vegans who regularly eat sea vegetables may get enough, but the content varies a lot as it does for sea salt and other “natural” salts. Miso, which some vegans prefer to use in place of salt—because it’s a whole food—is not usually a good source of iodine. The only reliable sources are iodized salt or a supplement providing around 90 micrograms per day.
Calcium. We don’t know if vegans have lower needs, but the old “low protein diets reduce calcium needs” theory has taken some real hits in the past years. Based on current understanding–which is admittedly pretty poor–we vegans should strive for the RDA. Our ancestors didn’t drink milk and got all the calcium they needed from wild greens. And even though modern cultivated greens have less, we could get enough calcium just from these foods, too. But the recommendation to eat four or more cups of cooked greens per day makes veganism a hard sell. Without fortified foods, many vegans fall short on calcium. (So do most omnivores; the food industry doesn’t fortify orange juice or instant oatmeal with calcium as a favor to vegans. Those foods are marketed to omnivore women.)
Iron. Young women with heavy periods may have a tough time keeping up with iron needs, and again, this is not a problem that is specific to vegans. Rates of iron deficiency anemia are actually very high among pre-menopausal omnivore women. It can help to take a low dose supplement (high doses can be hard on the stomach) with orange juice to boost absorption, or to include some fortified foods in the diet. There is some evidence that taking supplements of the amino acid L-lysine boosts absorption of supplemental iron.
Possible supplement requirements
DHA: 200 to 300 mg several times a week. It may be a good idea, but we don’t know for sure. I take this amount almost daily and would recommend it in particular for anyone who is prone to depression.
Sound like a lot of supplements? Well, here is some perspective: Omnivores get their vitamin D from fortified foods (cow’s milk is not a natural source of this nutrient) and their iodine from accidental contamination of dairy foods. Many omnivores—women especially—depend on supplements to meet calcium and iron needs. And the Institute of Medicine recommends that everyone over the age of 50 should add vitamin B12 supplements or fortified foods to their diet since it becomes increasingly difficult to digest and absorb the vitamin B12 in animal foods with aging.
Thanks again Ginny- that’s a lot of info. Ok. I’m overwhelmed (and quite frankly a little nervous after reading that). I’ve never really been much for supplements even when I ate meat and dairy (which is another reason I find it comical when omnivores ask me about things they believe I may not be getting enough of- it has been my experience that when I ate everything, I didn’t think about what I wasn’t getting enough of, I was just a part of the blind-eating-community). But I honestly can’t imagine having to take these vitamins separately and religiously. Who has that kind of time/memory/energy? I was, however, able to find a completely vegan multivitamin and mineral supplement online through the Thrifty Vegan. Upon looking at the supplement facts, I couldn’t find Vitamin D on there, but instead found Vitamin D2 (which I thought was a different vitamin altogether) but after some more research learned that it is actually ergolcalciferol that comes from some form of lab tweaked yeast. Livestrong notes that “both D2 and D3 appear to be equally effective” in raising Vitamin D blood levels. (I think the reason that D3 isn’t used in vegan products is because it is a byproduct of cholesterol so that makes sense to me). Livestrong’s suggested daily amount differs from Ginny Messina and says that “In 2010 the Institute of Medicine raised daily adequate intake recommendations from 200 to 600 IUs for children and adults under 70.” The once daily multivitamin that I mentioned above has 400 IUs (but I think that especially in the summer months I get enough sun to offset the difference).
Onto Omega 3s and Omega 6s:
Thanks to an article by Dr. Linda Posch, MS SLP ND on How To Get The Right Balance of Omega 3 & Omega 6 In Your Diet I was able to (first and foremost) understand what the heck these Omegas are (see below for some of her findings):
Sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids
The three chief omega 3’s that we get from our food sources are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
EPA is connected to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and DHA to proper nerve and brain development and function.
Our bodies should convert ALA to EPA and DHA, but some people may have trouble with this conversion, due to some unique aspect of their physiology.
To get EPA and DHA in their diets, vegetarians should concentrate on leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, walnuts and spirulina.
We don’t often think of vegetables as sources rich in fatty acids, but the sum of the parts quickly add up in a vegetarian diet.
Other vegetarian food sources provide ALA, the indirect form of Omega 3 fatty acids. 1 tablespoon of flax oil per day seems to provide enough ALA for conversion to daily therapeutic amounts of EPA and DHA. Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are also good sources of ALA. Brazil nuts, wheat germ, wheat germ oil, soybean oil and canola oil also contain significant amounts. There is no reason for vegetarians to be deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA.
Food Sources of Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Only nature could function so perfectly offering the right balance of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids in foods such as: flax seeds, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds and grape seeds. Food sources of Omega 6 fatty acids include pistachios, olive oil, chestnut oil and olives.
Many of the oils we use for cooking are comprised of linoleic acid, which is one reason why our Omega ratios are off kilter. Soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, and cottonseed oil are routinely used in processed foods. Many of these oils are refined. To avoid over-consumption of Omega 6 fatty acids, reduce or eliminate refined oils and processed foods, and read ingredient labels.
She notes that there are some issues with the ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s being out of balance, however, this is largely due to diets that are high in animal products or food that have been heavily processed (no worries for me there). But why am I doing this again? I still don’t know what Omega 3s or 6s do!
Dr. Posch says, “Omega 3 is necessary for cell wall manufacture and pliability; which allows for optimal intake of nutrients and oxygen, and the excretion of wastes. Omega 3 is necessary for the healthy development of nerves and eyesight.” And good news for the veg heads of the world- there is no reason that we can’t get these Omegas from nature.
So I’ve made up my mind and here is my plan (remember I’m no expert this is just my plan of attack now having armed myself with some brain food):
- I’m going to order the Vegan Multivitamin & Mineral Supplement from an online store ($12.95 for 90 Tablets seems reasonable to me)
- I am going to make sure that I get 15 minutes of sun per day every day that’s humanly possible but I will rest assured when I have a lazy day snuggling with my cats instead of going for that sun stroll because I’m covered as far as the Vitamin D goes because of the supplement.
- I am going to buy some flax oil and use it whenever I can (1 tablespoon per day) but I am also going to understand that I get Omega 3s and 6s from hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, brazil nuts, and wheat germ oil (all of which can be put right into my morning granola, my salad, or made into a trail mix for a mid-day snack). I’m also going to continue to eat leafy greens and walnuts like there’s no tomorrow. However, in order to keep my Omega 3/Omega 6 ratios in check, I will limit the amount of refined oils that I use (soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and cottonseed oils used in processed foods.
I would like to note that I’m currently waiting for my boyfriend to finish with Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run but he’s only half way through and he seems sold on the all powerful effects of spirulina (the blue-green algae super-food). The topic has certainly peaked my interest and I would like to learn a little more about it once I have gotten used to the effects (if any) I’ll be seeing from the multivitamin.
**Something else worth knowing in the Things I Didn’t Know Weren’t Vegan section of your brain:
Consider this: any tablet that’s a liquid gel is out of the question for vegans considering that the gelatin that is used to make them is derived from animal skin and bones. You heard me… opt for the chewable version of these same pills or buy them at a vegan friendly health food store just to be sure. Oh… and don’t be afraid to ASK.
Also, after a conversation I had with a friend regarding how sneaky those little animal products are, I stumbled across this and couldn’t resist putting it up- this one’s for you Kyla. Thank you Steph for putting together this list of 12 Seemingly Vegan & Vegetarian Foods That Really Aren’t.