Disclaimer: I AM NOT A DOCTOR, NUTRITIONIST, OR MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL. These are vitamins I personally find helpful and/or have been advised to take by my doctor. Please consult a medical professional and do your research before taking supplements. Just because I take something doesn’t mean you should also, as everyone has different needs.
I have been following a vegetarian diet for about 9 years now. While I am slowly transitioning into a more free-flowing diet, the most common question I get about being vegetarian is “how do you get your protein?”. Another common one is “how do you get all the nutrients you need without eating meat?”. The answer I usually give is supplements.
Researching different vitamins and supplements can be overwhelming. It is hard to distinguish what is and isn’t necessary and what is and isn’t a complete gimmick. I am hesitant to share what vitamins and supplements I take because I am not a trained medical professional, but I want to briefly touch on what my doctor has recommended for me. I want to help steer people who are a little or totally confused about supplements in the right direction. So let’s dive in!
I live in the Midwest where sunlight can be rare in the Winter. Because of this, it’s very important for me to take Vitamin D. For a while, I was dramatically deficient and taking 5000 IU a day. But now that my blood testing has shown improvement with Vitamin D levels, I take 2000 IU a day. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin D is 400-800 IU per day, but you should consult your doctor about your own dosage needs. D3 supports immunity and helps the body absorb calcium and other minerals. It is not found in many foods in general, so it’s not a vitamin that only plant-based individuals should be taking. Taking D3 is beneficial for everyone! Sunlight is pretty much the only direct source of D3, so you should consider taking it if you live in an environment where sunlight is sparse.
I have been nearly anemic a few times while being a vegetarian. While it’s not 100% true, it’s common for vegetarians and vegans to be iron deficient. When I first became a vegetarian, I ate mostly vegetarian junk foods- hence why my iron was low. Having low iron results in feeling tired and fatigued. Iron is more rich in animal products, but plant-based folks can find it in beans, dark leafy greens, and legumes. Iron is important because it helps your body make red blood cells. I take about 20mg of iron a day, which is the dosage that is commonly sold over the counter. When I was borderline anemic, I was advised to take 65mg of ferrous sulfate (a form of iron used to treat anemia). Again, please consult your doctor about your dosage! I will mention that iron can be rough on a gut, so do some research on iron brands that are more gentle and easy to digest!
This is probably the most important vitamin for vegans and vegetarians to take. B-12 is not found in many plant-based ingredients and is much more common in animal products. B-12 helps keep nerve and blood cells healthy. It also helps make DNA. Being deficient in B-12 can cause anemia, nerve problems, soreness of the mouth and tongue, poor memory, and a multitude of other things according to the NIH (National Institutes of Health). I take small B-12 pills that dissolve under the tongue, but it this vitamin is available in many different forms including gummies and sprays. I try to take 500mcg a day, but dosages can be different based on individual needs!
I have struggled extensively with gut health in the past, so I try to take probiotics when I remember (lol). I currently take Culturelle when I need an extra boost. You can also get probiotics from fermented foods like sauerkraut and kombucha!
Turmeric root is a really great spice with anti-inflammatory properties. It can help alleviate joint pain, improve digestion, and boost your immune system amongst other things! I usually take turmeric in the form of a pill, but I also try to consume it in different ways. This includes in food, likes curries and other Indian dishes, and lattes- aka the golden milk drinks that have become super trendy over the past couple years. Black pepper helps with turmeric absorption, so pairing them together is great!
I don’t “take” protein, per se. But I think it’s important to think about protein when being vegetarian or vegan. While protein isn’t as abundant in plant products as it is in animal products, you can still find it. Protein can be found in beans and legumes- which includes tofu and tempeh- nuts, seeds, and veggies. You don’t have to take protein powders if you can find enough protein naturally, but it could be a good idea depending on your diet and lifestyle.
I’m not going to recommend any brands of supplements for you all. And this is, again, because I’m not a doctor. But I have been taking Ritual’s Essential for Women for the past few months, and I am really enjoying it! This vitamin has iron, B-12, and D3 along with omega-3, magnesium, and more. These capsules are vegan, gluten and allergen free, and have no colorants or weird synthetic fillers. They also have a great minty taste!
What I’ve found to be important to take on a plant-based diet is iron, B-12, and D3. Of course, like I have said 5000 times, everyone has different needs. You should 100% consult someone qualified to give you recommendations before starting any of the supplements I have mentioned. Make sure you are taking what you need and the right dose of it! When you receive recommendations from a trusted medical professional, make sure to look out for sketchy ingredients when researching different brands of vitamins. If you’re vegan, look out for vitamins coated in gelatin. Also, check out the sugar content and look for any other weird flavorings, colorants, and fillers that vitamins may contain. I’m here for everyone making informed decisions and living their healthiest, happiest life.