7 Supplements Vegetarians Should Take (According to Experts)
Experts advise vegetarians to take vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3s, zinc, iron, calcium, and iodine supplements. Plant-based foods do not sufficiently provide these nutrients, so vegetarians need supplements to avoid nutrient deficiencies.
You may want to move to a vegetarian diet for many reasons. You probably care about your health, animal welfare, and the environment.
However, while the vegetarian plant-based diet has many benefits, it can also come with some risks, particularly nutrient deficiency risks.
Vegetarian diets lack (or do not give enough of) some nutrients critical to maintaining a healthy body and mind. However, with proper supplementation, you can enjoy the benefits of a vegetarian diet while getting all the nutrients your body requires.
But what are the best supplements a vegetarian should take? This article will answer this question. It’ll reveal the vitamins and nutrients missing from a vegetarian diet. It’ll also reveal expert recommendations of the best supplements to boost a vegetarian or vegan diet with all the nutrients the body requires.
Let’s start the discussion with who a vegetarian is!
What is a vegetarian?
The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as someone who does not eat products or by-products of animal slaughter. Thus, a vegetarian eats only plant-based food and avoids fish, meat, or chicken.
What a vegetarian diet can and cannot include are as follows:
A vegetarian diet may include:
A vegetarian diet cannot include:
While all vegetarians avoid food that comes from animal slaughter, there are different variations of vegetarianism. On one end of the scale are vegetarians that accept animal-derived food whose processing does not involve slaughtering.
At the other end of the scale are vegetarians who avoid all forms of animal and animal-derived products.
The most common types of vegetarians are:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians. These are the most “liberal” vegetarians. They avoid all animal flesh but consume eggs and dairy products.
- Lacto vegetarians. These vegetarians avoid all animal products and eggs but consume dairy products (such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, etc.).
- Ovo vegetarians. These vegetarians avoid all animal products but consume eggs.
- Vegans. These are the strictest vegetarians. They avoid all animal and animal-derived products. Thus, vegan diets exclude eggs, dairy products, and other ingredients derived from animals, such as honey, gelatin, albumin, carmine, pepsin, etc.
Do vegetarians need to take supplements?
Some nutrients your body needs are either lacking or unavailable in enough quantities in plant-based diets. So vegetarians on plant-based diets need to take supplements to provide the nutrients missing in their diets.
Know that it’s absolutely safe to be a vegetarian or vegan. According to the American Dietetic Association (now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of life.
This means that vegetarian diets (including total vegetarian or vegan diets) are safe for children, young and old adults, and even pregnant and breastfeeding women.
However, vegetarian and vegan diets do not supply all the vitamins and nutrients your body requires.
- Some of these essential nutrients are entirely missing from vegan and vegetarian diets.
- Other nutrients are available in very small quantities.
- While others are not readily absorbable because of the form they are available in.
Thus, when on a vegetarian or vegan diet, taking supplements or eating fortified foods is recommended to get all the nutrients your body requires.
What vitamins and nutrients are missing from vegetarian diets?
The nutrients missing from most vegetarian diets include
Vitamin B12 is only synthesized by microorganisms, mainly found in animals. Thus, vitamin B12 is not found in plant-based food.
Rich sources of Vitamin B12 are animal food such as meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. However, most vegetarian diets do not include these animal products.
Note that vitamin B12-producing microorganisms (bacteria) are also found in the soil. So, we can get some of it by eating unwashed vegetables.
However, getting your B12 needs by eating unwashed vegetables could be counterproductive. This is because you would be consuming dirt and contaminants that may be in the soil.
Our bodies can make vitamin D from the sun’s UV light. However, exposure to UV rays from the sun increases the risk of skin cancer. Thus, soaking up the sun is not a safe way to meet our vitamin D needs.
Food sources of vitamin D are the best ways to consistently and safely meet our body’s vitamin D needs. Most of the foods high in vitamin D are animal-based foods that vegetarians avoid. These include salmon, herring and sardines, cod liver oil, canned tuna, and egg yolks.
Besides fortified foods, mushrooms are the only sufficient non-animal source of vitamin D. So, vegans and vegetarians have limited vitamin D food sources and cannot get enough vitamin D from their diet.
Worse still, mushrooms produce vitamin D2, which is not as effective as vitamin D3 (the form of vitamin D in animal food).
Also, many commercially grown mushrooms are grown in the dark and contain very little of the relatively less effective D2. Thus, wild mushrooms (or those treated with UV light to boost their D2 content) are the best for vegetarians.
There are two main categories of Omega 3 fatty acids:
- Essential omega-3 fatty acids. You can only get this from your diet. The only essential omega-3 fatty acid is Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Your body makes these long-chain omega-3 fatty acids from ALA.
EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal-based food like fatty fish and fish oil, while ALA is found in plants like flaxseed and flaxseed oil, walnuts, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and soybeans.
Since the body makes the long chain Omega-3s (EPA and DHA) from the essential Omega-3 (ALA), getting enough ALA from plant sources should theoretically maintain your EPA and DHA levels.
However, that is not the case because the conversion of ALA to long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids is inefficient. The conversion of ALA to EPA is only 5 - 10%, while ALA to DHA is even lower at 2 - 5%.
Thus, achieving optimal essential Omega-3 status is almost impossible when relying on only plant-based Omega-3 food. For this reason, vegetarians who consume only plant foods need supplements to boost EPA and DHA levels for optimum Omega-3 fatty acid status.
Animal foods are the best sources of zinc. The food with the highest amount of zinc is oysters. Other zinc-rich foods include red meat, crabs, and poultry.
True, plant foods like beans, nuts, and whole grains have ample amounts of zinc. However, zinc absorption from plant foods is limited because of their phytate content.
There are two forms of iron, namely heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron is available in animal products, while non-heme iron is found in plant foods. However, non-heme iron is not readily absorbed by the body.
Calcium is available in both animal and plant food. Calcium is plentiful in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. Vegans would find calcium in leafy green vegetables such as curly kale, okra, broccoli, etc.
However, plant-based sources of calcium have high amounts of oxalic acid, which reduces calcium absorption.
The best sources of iodine are animal-based food, such as seafood, eggs, and dairy products.
Iodized salt and seaweed are the only vegetarian-friendly foods with consistently high iodine levels. However, these options are not readily available in many places, leaving vegetarians with limited options for getting enough iodine.
Supplements experts recommend for vegetarians
Vegetarians need supplements that supply the vitamins and nutrients missing in their diets. Supplements that experts recommend for vegetarians include vitamins B12, vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron, calcium, iodine, selenium, and magnesium.
Vitamins B12 supplements
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in several biological processes, including red blood cell formation, cell metabolism, nerve function, and DNA synthesis.
Low levels of vitamin B12 can cause one or more of the following:
- Megaloblastic anemia
- Fatigue and weakness
- Impaired cognitive function
- Nerve damage
- Mood disturbances
- Intestinal problems
Vitamin B12 is not found in plant-based foods. As a result, people who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet have a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency. Experts advise taking vitamin B12 supplements to help vegetarians meet their vitamin B12 daily recommended intake.
Vitamin B12 recommended dietary allowance (average daily intake sufficient to meet your body’s requirement) is 2.4 mcg per day for adults, 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy, and 2.8 mcg per day when breastfeeding.
Why Not Natural methylcobalamin B-12 dietary supplement will help you meet your B-12 recommended daily intake while on a vegetarian diet. It’s a liquid vitamin B12 supplement that naturally boosts energy, mood, and memory while supporting healthy metabolism and nervous system functioning.
The Why Not Natural B12 supplement features methylcobalamin B12, the bioactive form of B12 that is more readily absorbed by the body.
It’s also very potent and comes with a graduated dropper for easy dosing. Lastly, the liquid supplement is enjoyable as it has an organic cherry flavor.
Vitamin D supplements
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin important for many bodily processes. These include enhancing calcium absorption for bone health, supporting muscle recovery, maintaining immune function, and regulating hormones.
Vitamin D deficiency can result in:
- Loss of bone density
- Muscle weakness
- Mood swings
On the one hand, consuming vitamin D-rich food is the best way to consistently and safely meet our body’s need for the nutrient. On the other hand, vegetarians have limited vitamin D food sources. So, experts recommend balancing a plant-based dietary practice with vitamin D supplements.
The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 15 mcg per day for children and adults and 20 mcg per day for the elderly and pregnant or lactating women.
When choosing vitamin D supplements, you may want to go for vitamin D3 rather than D2, as studies show that D3 is more effective at raising the blood levels of vitamin D.
Why Not Natural provides two vitamin D3 supplements to help you meet vitamin D RDA while on a vegetarian diet.
The first is the Why Not Natural Extra Strength D3+K2 dietary supplement. The vitamin D3 supplement also includes organic vitamin K2, an anti-aging super-nutrient. The supplement is in veggie capsules that quickly build up vitamin D levels to support your bone health and immune system.
If you prefer liquid supplements, the second Why Not Natural vitamin D supplement is for you. It’s the Why Not Natural D3-K2 dietary supplement with coconut MCT oil.
The highly potent supplement also comes with vitamin K2. However, it features MCT oil. So, in addition to supporting bone health and immune function, it also supports weight management and has benefits for cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also comes in an interesting peppermint flavor.
Omega-3s are unsaturated fatty acids that play a structural role in our body and eyes.
Few nutrients have been studied as extensively as omega-3 fatty acids. Interestingly, every study identifies these fatty acids as super-important as they perform powerful functions.
Essential fatty acids (the ALA Omega-3 the body cannot produce by itself) are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. However, ALA has minimal benefits compared to the long-chain Omega-3s (EPA and DHA).
EPA is used to produce key molecules that regulate inflammation, thereby decreasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and various other diseases.
DHA is a major structural component of the retina of the eyes. It helps prevent macular degeneration, which causes vision impairment and blindness.
DHA also plays an important role in brain development in children and supports cognitive function throughout the lifespan.
While plant-based diets can provide ALA omega-3, they do not provide enough EPA and DHA omega-3. So, experts recommend that vegetarians boost their plant-based diets with EPA/DHA-rich Omega-3 supplements.
Supplements can provide vegetarians and vegans with the recommended daily intake of Omega-3, which is 200 - 300 mg daily.
Zinc is an essential mineral that metabolizes nutrients, maintains the immune system, and grows and repairs body tissues. Zinc plays a role in virtually everything that the body's cells do.
An insufficient intake of zinc can cause:
- Poor development
- Hair loss
- Skin lesions
- Delayed wound healing
- Impaired immune function
Because zinc absorption from plant foods is limited, vegetarians have higher risks of having zinc deficiency. Thus, people on plant-based diets are advised to take 1.5 times the RDA for zinc.
The recommended daily intake for zinc is 8 - 11 mg for adults, 11 - 12 mg for pregnant women, and 12 - 13 mg for lactating women.
Zinc supplements can help you balance your zinc intake while on plant-based diets. The Why Not Natural Picolinate + Bisglycinate Zinc dietary supplement is the ultimate zinc supplement.
The liquid supplement uses the best form of zinc for optimal absorption and health benefits. It includes potent elderberry for immune support and lowered inflammation. It is also fortified with some vitamin C.
Iron is an essential mineral needed to carry oxygen in the blood. It is also used to make red blood cells and DNA.
Low levels of iron can cause:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Developmental delays of baby (in pregnant women)
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
There are a few good vegan iron-rich foods. However, iron absorption from those plant sources is low, so vegetarians would not get enough iron. As a result, vegetarians relying on plant-based foods for their iron requirements need to take about 1.8 times the RDA.
The RDA for iron is 8 mg per day for adult male and post-menopausal women, 18 mg per day for adult women, and 27 mg per day for pregnant women.
Adding iron supplements to your vegetarian diet will help you meet your iron requirements. However, when taking iron supplements, be wary of overdosage because high iron levels can do more harm than good.
Calcium is an essential nutrient that is important for bone and tooth health. It’s also important in heart health, muscle function, and nerve signaling.
Calcium deficiency can lead to:
- Fragile bones
- Weak teeth
- Brittle and thin nails
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle cramps
While calcium is available in plant-based foods, its absorption by the body is low. For this reason, most vegetarians don’t get enough calcium.
So, people on plant-based food need to take calcium supplements to meet their calcium requirements. The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1,000 - 1,200 mg per day for adults.
Iodine is an essential trace mineral. The body uses iodine to make thyroid hormones, which control the body’s metabolism.
While everyone needs iodine, infants and pregnant women need it more because the thyroid hormones produced from iodine are important for bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
Iodine deficiency can lead to:
- Swelling in the neck
- Unexpected weight gain
- Fatigue and weakness
- Hair loss
- Dry, flaky skin
- Trouble learning and remembering
- Problems during pregnancy
- Heavy or irregular periods
Because vegetarians have limited food options for iodine, they may not get enough iodine from their diets.
Vegans have very high risks of iodine deficiency, as studies show that vegans have up to 50% lower blood iodine levels than vegetarians. Vegans and vegetarians need supplements to fill their iodine nutritional gaps.
The recommended daily intake for iodine is 150 mcg per day for adults, 220 mcg per day for pregnant women, and 290 mcg per day for breastfeeding women.
Takeaway: Balance your vegetarian diet with expert-recommended supplements
Moving to a plant-based vegetarian diet has many health benefits. However, it also comes with the risk of nutrient deficiency.
A plant-based does not give some of the nutrients the body needs for proper functioning (such as vitamin B12). So, vegetarians need supplements to provide nutrients missing in their plant-based diets.
Supplements cannot take the place of a healthy diet. But they are effective in filling nutritional gaps when diets fall short.
Supplements expert recommends for vegetarians include vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3s, zinc, iron, calcium, and iodine.
Looking for where to get the best supplements to balance your vegan or vegetarian diet? Why Not Natural is the go-to place.
Why Not Natural provides clean supplements that work in the way your body craves. Our supplements are 100% natural and bioavailable. They contain no fillers, preservatives, artificial additives, sugar, or allergens. Also, they’ve all been independently tested for purity and potency.Want to enjoy a balanced and healthy diet without sacrificing your vegetarian dietary practice? Get Why Not Natural dietary supplements today to get the essential nutrients missing from your plant-based diet.