Certain vitamins and minerals can be tricky to find in your diet when you’re vegan. Here’s how to nail those essential nutrients
If you’re already a vegetarian or flexitarian, there may be one question stopping you going vegan: will I get enough vitamins and minerals?
It’s a valid concern: some nutrients – such as vitamin B12 and omega-3 – are naturally more plentiful in meat, fish or dairy.1
The good news is that a balanced vegan diet can give you all the vitamins and minerals you need.2 You just need to know which ones are a little trickier to get hold of…
What supplements should vegans take?
Here are the nutrients you can go short of – and how to get enough. Choose carefully and it’s easy to get enough essential nutrients to live a healthy vegan life.
Recommended daily intake: 8.7mg for men over the age of 18 and 14.8mg for women aged between 19 and 50. 8.7mg for women over the age of 50.3
Why it’s important: Zinc is important for many different reasons, most importantly it is needed for the normal function of the body’s immune system. It also plays an important role in cell division, contributes to normal carbohydrate metabolism and to the maintenance of normal vision.11
Find it: This mineral is found in the largest amounts in meat, shellfish and dairy foods.3
Fix it: Include wholegrains, soya, pulses, beans, nuts and seeds in your diet – all are good vegan sources of zinc.
2. Vitamin B12
Recommended daily intake: 1.5 micrograms for both men and women.4
Why it’s important: Vitamin B12 helps the normal functioning of the nervous system, and contributes to normal red blood cell formation. B12 also contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue.12
Find it: Vitamin B12 is only naturally found in meat, fish and dairy foods, so vegans may not get enough.4
Fix it: Plant milks, yeast extract and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin B12 – eat them twice a day. A B-complex supplement containing B12 can help top up your levels, too.5
Recommended daily intake: 8.7mg for men and 14,8mg women
Why it’s important: Iron is essential in the body as it contributes to normal formation of red blood cells and haemoglobin. Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body.13
Find it: Iron is found as haem iron in meat and fish, and non-haem iron in plant sources. Non-haem iron is harder for our bodies to absorb.6
Fix it: Plant sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables, pulses, nuts, wholegrains and dried fruits. To improve absorption, pair your meals with vitamin C-rich food and drink, like berries or orange juice.
Recommended daily intake: 700mg a day for both men and women
Why it’s important: Most people know that calcium is needed for the maintenance of normal bones and teeth. However, the body also uses calcium to muscle function and transport messages between the nervous system and different body parts.14
Find it: Omnivores and vegetarians get much of their calcium from dairy foods, which can make it tough to get enough on a vegan diet.7
Fix it: Tuck into sesame seeds, kale, tahini, almonds, pulses, and dried fruit. Calcium-set tofu is good too – look for calcium carbonate or calcium sulphate in the list of ingredients. Plant milks (apart from organic versions) are often fortified with calcium, too.
Recommended daily intake: between 250-500mg a day for both men and women
Why it’s important: Omega 3 are fatty acids which are essential for your body to function and help in maintaining good overall heart health.15
Find it: Oily fish is the best source of omega-3 particularly two types called EPA and DHA. A plant source of omega-3 is ALA, but our bodies can only convert 10-30% of ALA into DHA – leaving vegans at risk of a deficiency.8
Fix it: Chia seeds, walnuts, linseeds, hemp seeds and rapeseed oil contain ALA, while seaweed and algal oil supplements are a vegan source of EPA and DHA
Recommended daily intake: 140µg a day for both men and women
Why it’s important: Iodine is essential for making thyroid hormones in the body, and contributes to normal energy-yielding metabolism..16
Find it: Dairy foods, fish and shellfish are the richest sources of this mineral. Seaweed is a highly concentrated vegan source of iodine, but take care; eating it more than once a week can provide too much, and is linked to thyroid gland disorders.9,10
Fix it: Limit eating seaweed to just once a week, or choose something where the iodine content is regulated – either a daily multivitamin containing iodine, or a sea kelp supplement.
Try out our Vegan Recipes packed with essentials vitamins and minerals
Is a multivitamin enough for a vegan?
With all these important vitamins that as a vegan you could be missing out on, you may be thinking that a multivitamin is the best option for you.
We would recommend keeping a track of your diet to see what vitamins you are lacking, and then either go down the route of a multivitamin supplement or a specific vitamin, depending on what vitamins you are low or lacking in.
Whilst it may be tempting to take a multivitamin as a precaution and there is no harm in doing this, always check the content and quantities of vitamins and nutrients in a specific product. For example, not all multi options have iodine. On the other hand, some may contain very high levels of one or two nutrients. You don’t want to end up taking too many or too little of a specific vitamin.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies
Author: Andrea Dobronszki, Regulatory Affairs
Andrea started her career as a clinical dietitian and lecturer at a university hospital, managing the dietetic treatment of patients with various diseases, and giving lectures in nutrition for medical students. Later she worked as a Product Developer at a sport nutrition company where she developed food supplements and fortified foods, and ensured that the products complied with the relevant regulations. Andrea joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate and specialises in food supplements, food regulations, nutrition and dietetics.
Last updated: 31 December 2020