Regardless of the reason you follow a vegan diet, it’s important to understand how this affects your nutrient intake and dietary needs. A vegan diet contains no animal products, but some nutrients are only available from animal food sources. Sometimes vegan foods may provide vitamins, but they do not absorb well in the body.
To support your health, you need to ensure that you get enough essential vitamins and minerals. When you follow a vegan diet, this can be done through a combination of intentional food choices and dietary supplements. In this article, we’ll explore what you need to know about how to supplement your vegan diet and how to choose the best vegan multivitamin to meet your needs.
Multivitamins are convenient ways to enhance your daily nutrition by providing several nutrients in a small serving, usually one or two capsules, tablets, or gummies. Most multivitamins contain lower amounts of vitamins and minerals than standalone supplements. This is because they are not replacing the need for a healthy intake, nor are they intended to correct a deficiency. Multivitamin and mineral dietary supplements help to support overall daily nutrition status.
For vegan diets, daily supplemental nutrients can help bridge the gap between the nutrients that may naturally be harder to find with a plant-based diet.
Not all multivitamins are vegan-friendly. Many supplements contain nutrients that are sourced from animal products, which is why it is important to read labels.
Essential nutrients are those that the body cannot make. Vegan diets can be rich in many essential vitamins, like vitamin C. But other essential nutrients, like vitamin B12 and other B vitamins, may mostly be found in animal food sources.
When you follow a vegan diet, it’s important to be knowledgeable about potential nutrient deficiencies so that you can proactively address them. Ask your healthcare provider about recommended daily supplements to support your overall nutritional needs. Depending on your individual health, they may simply recommend a daily multivitamin or they may recommend additional supplements.
Vitamin B12 is the most common nutrient deficiency on a vegan diet. This is because vitamin B12 is found in meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy products. It is sometimes added to cereals or nutritional yeast, a process known as fortification. But these sources alone likely won’t provide enough B12 to support your daily needs. Because vitamin B12 is water-soluble, it needs to be consumed on a daily basis.
Riboflavin (vitamin B2) and niacin (vitamin B3) are also commonly lacking on a vegan food plan. These nutrients are frequently found in animal foods, and may also be added to fortified foods. However, fortified foods are also more processed. It’s best to consume as many whole foods as possible, which could mean that you miss out on fortified products.
Vegan diets that are largely raw or do not include typical fortified cereal grains will also be lower on essential B vitamins. Gluten-free cereals, for example, don’t typically fortify with B2, B3, or B12 like other cereal products. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is 2.4 mcg for all non-pregnant adults. Healthcare providers may suggest taking a multivitamin and an additional vitamin B12 supplement, or a B-complex vitamin, which includes vitamin B12 and other essential B vitamins.
B vitamins are necessary for cellular metabolism, energy production, and a healthy nervous system, so getting enough on your vegan diet is important for overall health.
Yes, vegan multivitamins are effective at supplying daily nutrients. However, depending on the individual diet, a multivitamin alone may not provide enough of certain vitamins and minerals to address typical shortfalls of a plant-based diet.
Some of the most common nutrients that may be needed in addition to a multivitamin include:
Your healthcare provider can determine the additional nutrients that you need.
When you are choosing a vegan multivitamin, it should include all of the standard vitamins and minerals that are typically found in multi-nutrient formulations. There are some standard variations, but in general, multivitamins include:
Not every nutrient is included in multivitamin and mineral formulations. Some exclude vitamin K, iron, iodine, and copper because not everyone needs these and formulations are designed to apply to most people. Vegan diets are typically not lacking in vitamin K unless it is mostly vegan processed foods and not many leafy greens or fresh fruits. Iodine and iron are essential minerals that may not be found in vegan food sources, unless you consume seaweed or other sea vegetables (iodine) or plant-based iron sources like pea protein, spinach, tofu, pumpkin seeds, lentils, and more. Even so, plant-based iron does not absorb as efficiently as animal-sourced iron. A supplement may still be needed by reproductive-aged people who menstruate or who are pregnant.
Vitamin D3 supplements are often sourced from lanolin in sheep’s wool, which makes them vegetarian-friendly but not vegan. When choosing a multivitamin or a vitamin D supplement, it’s important to check for the source of nutrients if a product is not labeled vegan. Some vitamin D3 supplements, like Care/of’s, are made from algae, which is vegan-friendly. Vitamin D2 is not as bioavailable as vitamin D3, but is vegan-friendly. Some vegans feel comfortable consuming vitamin D3 sourced from lanolin because it is produced after the sheep are sheared, and no harm is done to the sheep in the process.
Most supplement makers clearly identify when their products are vegan, but if it’s not clear, there are certain ingredients that will automatically let you know they’re not vegan-friendly. If any of these are on the label, the product is not vegan, although this isn’t a complete list:
Everyone’s individual health needs are different. The additional nutritional support you need on a vegan diet may vary, and can change depending on seasons of life. Pregnancy has higher nutritional demands than menopause, for example. Always consult your doctor before starting or adjusting supplements, especially if you follow a vegan food plan.
Minerals are something to be mindful of because phytates in plant-based foods can sometimes bind with them and prevent the body from absorbing them, even if you consume enough. Creatine, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids are also nutrients of importance.
Selenium is a mineral with antioxidant-like activity that is also needed to make thyroid hormones. While seafood and other animal products contain selenium, Brazil nuts are vegan and are one of the most abundant sources of dietary selenium. If you have a nut allergy or cannot consume Brazil nuts, a dietary supplement may be needed.
Creatine is a molecule that the body makes from the amino acids glycine, methionine, and arginine. Creatine is needed for body energy processes, and since it comes from amino acids that are abundantly found in animal foods, vegans may get significantly less from diets alone. You can get creatine in a vegan diet by ensuring that you consume a wide variety of plant-based protein sources, so that you are getting plenty of all of the essential amino acids. Research shows that vegetarians have lower creatine stores than those who consume meat, but there is very little data on vegans.
It is possible to get more than enough protein on a vegan diet, but it’s important to ensure a variety so that all essential amino acids are consumed. Excellent sources of vegan protein include peas, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and soy. Care/of’s Vanilla Plant Protein and Chocolate Plant Protein contain 18 grams of protein per serving and combine pea protein, pumpkin seeds, and hemp seeds for complete amino acid profiles.
Iron is a necessary mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body. You need enough iron for energy, reproductive health, and overall well-being. Low iron can cause fatigue, and plant-based diets are associated with a higher frequency of depleted iron stores. Vegan food sources of iron include white beans, tofu, spinach, and lentils. Sometimes an additional iron supplement is needed. Not everyone should supplement with iron, though, so always check with your doctor before starting.
Vitamin D and calcium are essential for bone health. Vitamin D supports the absorption of calcium, so taking them together is common. Both are also hard to find in vegan food sources since calcium is commonly found in dairy foods and sardines, and vitamin D foods include cod liver oil and salmon. There are vegan-friendly supplement options for both, just be sure to check labels.
Zinc is an essential mineral for healthy immune system function, metabolism, energy, and reproductive health. It is found in meat, seafood, and poultry, which are clearly not vegan, but there are some excellent vegan food sources, too. Pumpkin seeds, beans, legumes, and nuts contain zinc, although research shows that plant-based diets still generally contribute to lower zinc levels. If you cannot consume nuts or seeds, a vegan zinc supplement can support nutritional needs.
Iodine is needed to synthesize thyroid hormones, and the most common food sources are not vegan (seafood and dairy products). Plant-based diets tend to be low in iodine. Seaweed and other sea vegetables are vegan-friendly iodine foods, as well as iodized table salt. There are also vegan iodine supplements available. Don’t start an iodine supplement, or suddenly increase your food-based iodine intake, without consulting your medical provider, especially if you have thyroid issues. Iodine can overstimulate thyroid hormone production in people who are sensitive.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential, and the primary diet source is seafood. The body can’t make these vital fatty acids. Your body needs them for healthy cognition, nervous system function, immune system responses, and cell signaling. They also support healthy vision and heart wellness. Many vegan food sources contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but this has to be converted within the body to EPA or DHA. The ALA conversion process is not efficient, and high-fiber diets may also reduce how well this process happens in the body. Because omega-3s are so essential, vegan omega-3 supplements—made from algae—can help to fill a nutritional gap. It’s still important to eat vegan sources of ALA, like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. But relying on those alone will typically not provide enough omega-3 fats to meet nutritional requirements.
Finding vegan nutritional support can feel overwhelming. Reading every label and every ingredient can start to get confusing, or worse, takes time you already feel like you don’t have. When you want simple, high-quality vegan dietary supplements, you don’t have to scour the internet for hours. Care/of knows that vegan nutrition is essential, which is why we have many vegan-friendly options. Better yet, we make it simple for you to find exactly what you need, by asking you a few basic questions. Then, you get what you need, delivered to your door on a regular schedule, so you never have to think about it. You can pause, change, or adjust things as needed, too.
Vegan diets are popular, but plant-based foods are low in several essential nutrients. Whether you supplement your vegan diet with a multivitamin or other targeted supplements, it’s important to find high-quality vegan supplements that meet your needs.