Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Article: Vitamins for Vegans

Image: Carsten Schertzer via Flickr
This past summer was pretty hot in Texas. I'm normally sensitive to heat, but I was on set one day and I nearly passed out after several hours in a 80+ degree warehouse. I started experiencing fatigue after that, which was a completely foreign symptom for me. Normally, I bound around with energy to spare. How did I get my energy back? Some rest and consistent doses of B12.

Whether you are a vegetarian or a full vegan, vitamins are an important part of your diet. I used to dismiss them, thinking that, if I ate a balanced diet, they were superfluous. Making the choice to be vegan means that you need to me more conscious of the nutrients you are and aren't getting in your daily meals. For me, this meant adding a couple of supplements to my diet. But where do you start? Below I've listed some of the most important vitamins to consider, along with specific brand recommendations.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a registered dietitian or medical professional. Please consult with a doctor if you are experiencing any health issues or are considering adding supplements to your diet. Please verify any claims with the manufacturer, especially if you have any allergies or concerns.

  • B12 - Insufficient amounts of B12 can lead to anemia, or, as I experienced, low energy levels (among other symptoms). Symptoms can take quite awhile to manifest, so take a daily vitamin or monitor your intake of fortified foods diligently to keep levels high. B12 doesn't naturally occur in vegan foods, so I recommend a daily vitamin, such as Vitamin Code Raw B12.
  • Calcium - This is probably one of the most common topics I get asked about by my relatives, especially if I mention that I don't drink regular milk. Almost everyone has heard that calcium is essential for strong bones. Calcium is present in a variety of vegan foods, from dark green veggies to fortified non-dairy milks and orange juice. I try to get it from a variety of sources, including greens, fortified foods, and a daily supplement. One vegan option is Deva Vegan Cal-Mag Plus.
  • Vitamin D - This vitamin assists with calcium absorption, so it is often included in calcium supplements. You can find it in fortified foods as well as supplements, including the  Deva Vegan Cal-Mag Plus mentioned above.
  • Omega Fatty Acids - Omega-3's have been in the spotlight recently, and you may have heard of people taking fish oil to get it. Vegans don't have to suffer the fishy taste and can instead opt for flax oil, walnuts, or other sources. The less famous omegas - 6 and 9, are also worth looking into, and consuming in balance. You can get these packaged together in supplements such as Vega's Omega Blend.
  • Iron - Iron is an important nutrient, but all in the right balance. If you get too much iron, you might get "stopped up." If you get too little, you can get anemia. Iron is essential for the formation of blood, and is found in many vegan foods such as dried fruits, whole grains, leafy greens, and nuts. If you are interested in taking iron, you may want to take a blood test and see a doctor before taking a supplement such as Vitamin Code Raw Iron.
Remember to read the information on your vitamin and supplement packages, especially if you plan to take more than one. Some vitamins and minerals are packaged together, so check with a doctor or dietician if you might be getting more than your recommended daily value of certain nutrients from vitamins and supplements.

If you can afford it, I find I prefer food-based vitamins and supplements (often available at health food stores). Some of the cheaper supplements may not be absorbed as easily by the body, so do your research. It may require testing a few different brands to find what works best for your body. Also, remember to bring your vitamins when you travel for extended vacations, when it is often more vital than ever to get those crucial nutrients that might be hard to find (especially when in a foreign country).

Further reading:
For more information on vegan diets, here are some resources. Remember, your doctor can also be a great resource, especially if he or she is familiar with plant-based diets.

If you're truly fascinated with plant-based nutrition, there is also a certificate program from the T. Colin Campbell foundation. You may be familiar with his work from Forks Over Knives.

Disclosure notice: I am not a registered dietitian or medical professional. Please consult with a doctor if you are experiencing any health issues or are considering adding supplements to your diet. Please verify any claims with the manufacturer, especially if you have any allergies or concerns.

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