The question: I want to go vegan this year. What supplements should I take to get all my nutrients?
The answer: A vegan diet certainly has health advantages. Compared to a meat-based diet, it's been tied to lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, lower blood pressure and protection from heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Meeting daily nutrient needs on a vegan diet requires planning and, in some cases, supplementation. Nutrients to pay close attention to include protein, vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D and iodine. The following foods and supplements will help you meet daily nutrient needs from your vegan diet in 2015.
Studies conducted on vegetarian populations have shown that protein intakes are right on target with requirements. In fact, the typical protein intakes of vegans meet, or exceed, daily requirements. Nearly all plant foods – grains, vegetables, beans, lentils, nut and seeds – contain protein.
Beans, lentils, tempeh, soybeans, soy foods, soy beverages, nuts and nut butters are high in protein, rivalling many animal foods. Vegan energy bars and vegan protein powders are other ways to bump up your protein intake, although I recommend to try to meet protein needs first by eating whole foods.
Include a good source of plant protein at each meal. Add whole grains to every meal. Cooked grains such as quinoa, kamut, millet and amaranth contain protein too.
It's possible to meet your daily calcium requirements from a vegan diet, but it does take planning. Even vegans who drink milk and eat yogurt need to pay attention to calcium since many don't meet daily calcium targets.
You'll find it much easier to get enough calcium if you use fortified plant beverages like soy, almond, rice and hemp milks.
Good sources of calcium include fortified plant beverages (about 330 milligrams per cup), firm tofu made with calcium (253 mg per half-cup), almonds (94 mg per quarter-cup), almond butter (112 mg per 2 tbsp) and cooked spinach (122 mg per half-cup), rapini (100 mg per half-cup) and collard greens (133 mg per half-cup). Navy beans, pinto beans and soybeans are also good sources of calcium.
To meet calcium requirements of 1,000 mg (ages 19 to 50) or 1,500 mg (ages 50-plus), a supplement may be needed. I recommend calcium citrate, a pill-form, which generally comes in 300-mg doses and can be taken with food or on an empty stomach.
This nutrient is of concern because it's not naturally present in plants; natural vitamin B12 is found only in animal foods – meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy. Vitamin B12 is added to plant beverages (one microgram per cup) as well as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and some soy products such as veggie burgers and veggie dogs. Check the nutrition label to see if B12 is added to these foods. Nutritional yeast, sold in natural food stores, is also high in vitamin B12.
To get the B12 you need each day (2.4. mcg), include three servings of it in your daily diet. One serving is as follows: half-cup (125 ml) of fortified plant beverage, 30 g of fortified breakfast cereal, 42 g of fortified soy product or 1 tbsp of nutritional yeast. To ensure you're meeting your daily B12 requirements, you can take a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement that contains 5 to 10 mcg of B12 or a separate B12 supplement of 500 to 1,000 mcg.
You can't rely on diet – vegan or otherwise – to provide the daily 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D typically recommended. Fortified plant beverages supply only 100 IU of vitamin D per cup.) To get the recommended 1,000 IU per day, take a vitamin D3 supplement.
This mineral is important for thyroid function, which regulates metabolism. Iodine is found naturally in dairy products, seafood and seaweed, and iodized salt is fortified with it. Because iodine is found inconsistently in plant foods (it depends on the iodine content of the soil) vegans are advised to take a 75 to 150 mcg supplement every other day. (The daily requirement is 150 mcg.) If you don't use iodized salt, take a supplement daily.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel.