Answer: A well-planned vegan diet offers a range of benefits such as lower risk for heart disease, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes, but it may also leave you short of certain nutrients.
Vegans who eat a variety of minimally processed whole plant foods—including whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits and herbs—tend to get enough vitamin A, C and E…the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and folate…and the mineral magnesium.
Studies also show that typical protein intake among vegans is adequate, although some women may have marginal intake. Make sure that you include plenty of vegan protein sources including legumes, soy foods, nuts and seeds in your daily diet. Whole grains and vegetables also provide protein.
Even a well-planned vegan diet, though, can still fall short on a few nutrients of concern—omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc and iodine.
Since I eat a vegan diet, let me share my own supplement plan with you. I’ll mention my favorite brands, but please note that I am not a spokesperson nor do I benefit from any of these brands mentioned here. Here are the supplements that I personally take…
Multivitamin: I take a multivitamin and mineral preparation every other day as “insurance” that I meet my needs for nutrients such as iodine and zinc. On the days that I take this supplement, I skip my B-12 (see below). I like the Garden of Life brand because it uses whole foods rather than synthetic sources and produces a wide range of vegetarian and vegan supplements.
Vitamin B-12: I take 250 mcg of B-12 every day. I alternate getting this amount with my multivitamin—on the days I take my multivitamin, I skip taking B-12. (While 250 mcg is higher than the RDA, many vegetarian nutrition experts, including the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, recommend this amount because supplements are less bioavailable than food sources.)
Omega-3 fatty acids: I make sure to get at least two grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, plant omegas) per day by eating walnuts, flax, hemp, chia and soy. The human body converts ALA into EPA and DHA, the long-chain omega-3s needed by the human body and found in abundance in fatty fish. But because only a small percentage of ALA converts to EPA and DHA, I think it’s important to get a direct source of EPA and DHA in my diet. So I take about 500 mg of supplemental vegetarian EPA and DHA every other day. The brand I like is Nature Made, one of the few supplement companies that produce a vegan EPA/DHA combination—theirs is made from algae.
Calcium and Vitamin D: I take a daily supplement of 800 mg calcium and 1,000 IU vitamin D. I like the Garden of Life brand.
Probiotic: I am a strong believer in the benefits of a healthy gut microbiome, so I eat plenty of probiotic-rich fermented foods such as cultured plant-based yogurt, kimchee and pickles…and I take a daily probiotic supplement. The brand I prefer is Garden of Life.