Vegetarian and vegan diets are associated with a lot of health benefits. For example, studies have found that vegetarians have a lower body mass index, reduced fasting glucose, insulin resistance, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol, and a reduced risk of fatty liver.(1) A plant-based diet is also associated with a reduced risk of chronic constipation, coronary artery disease, and type 2 diabetes.(2) Vegans, who eat no meat, seafood, dairy, or animal products of any kind, are also usually thinner, have reduced serum cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of heart disease.(3)
Another interesting benefit of vegan diets is that they lower insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1). In many studies of rodents where lifespan was increased through genetic or dietary measures such as calorie restriction, the lowering of IGF-I activity was the mechanism of action.(4) This could potentially mean that a vegan diet may benefit lifespan.
Despite these health benefits, vegan and vegetarian diets are associated with some nutrient deficiencies that can actually do more harm than good. Here are four plant-based supplements vegetarians and vegans need.
Taurine is an amino acid found in meats, fish, and dairy. Therefore, it is often deficient in people who eat a plant-based diet. Low taurine levels in vegetarians promote higher levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs), harmful compounds involved in poor blood vessel health, aging, and other problems.(5) Surprisingly, vegetarians actually have higher plasma levels of AGEs. Supplementing with taurine may reduce AGE levels in plant-based people.(5) Blood platelets also tend to aggregate (stick together) in vegetarians deficient in taurine. Supplementing with this amino acid can encourage healthy blood platelet behavior.(6)
Calcium is another nutrient that may be deficient on a plant-based diet, especially in vegans, who don’t eat any dairy. A study of whole-food plant-based diets found that these diets did not meet the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) for calcium for women ages 51 to 70.(7) Studies have also found vegans have lower bone mineral density. This could be due to low calcium intake, given that calcium plays an important role in bone health.(8)
When consuming calcium on a vegan or vegetarian diet, make sure to get calcium from sources that the body absorbs well. The absorption rate of calcium from cow’s milk, calcium-set tofu, and fortified nut milks is about 30%. Leafy greens have calcium, but they’re also high in oxalates, which block the absorption of this mineral.(9) Broccoli, Kale, and mustard greens are free of oxalates, so calcium from these vegetables is absorbed by up to 65%. An ideal way to complement calcium obtained from the diet is through supplementing with calcium citrate malate, an especially bioavailable form of calcium.
Multivitamins for Vegetarians and Vegans
A multi-nutrient formula containing B12, iodine, and iron—three nutrients often deficient in vegans and vegetarians—can support healthy levels of these vitamins and minerals. Iron from plants is less bioavailable compared to iron from meats.(10) Additionally, studies have observed inadequate iodine levels in vegans. For example, in one study, according to reported food and supplement intakes, vegans had the lowest probability of adequate iodine intake compared with other groups studied such as children, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and the elderly.(11) Iodine is found in seafood, which isn’t included in a vegan diet, and many vegans eat sea salt without added iodine.
Plant-Based Omega-3 Supplements
Because vegans and vegetarians don’t eat fish, they are often deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. These essential fatty acids support heart and brain health and play many other important roles in health. Flax oil is one of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3. Flaxseed oil is a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In the body, this is partially converted into the omega-3-fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).(12) ALA is also found in walnuts, which are a beneficial addition to a plant-based diet.
What Supplements To Take On A Plant-Based Diet
Vegetarian and vegan diets are loaded with fiber and phytonutrients. However, that doesn’t mean they satisfy all dietary requirements. Vital Nutrients offers a large selection of vitamins for vegetarians and other nutrients lacking in a plant-based diet such as taurine, calcium citrate malate, and flax oil. In addition, Multi-Nutrients with Iron & Iodine is a good multivitamin for vegetarians and vegans who want to ensure a healthy intake of nutrients required for optimal health.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.