Vegans & Vital Vitamins
There is no doubt that eating plant-based/vegan food will fill you full of vitamins and minerals. But a couple of these micronutrients might not be quite so easy to find and must be found in fortified foods or supplements.
Here is an overview of two of these vitamins - B12 and D.
When you choose to go vegan and eat only plant-based foods, one of the vitamins that you need to pay attention to is B12. “Since there are not naturally many plant-based foods high in vitamin B12, people who avoid most animal products, such as vegans and some vegetarians, may suffer from a deficiency,” says Cordialis Msora-Kasago, MA, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
B12 plays a role in the production of red blood cells and energy, and helps prevent nerve damage, helps maintain cognitive function, and other biological processes, says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. While most people in Canada get their fill of the nutrient, it is important to note that 10 to 30 percent of adults over the age of 50 still have trouble absorbing vitamin B12 . Vitamin B12 absorption is very dependent on the amount of hydrochloric acid in our stomachs. As we age, the level of hydrochloric acid decreases, so it gets more difficult to absorb the nutrient even when eating a lot of foods high in vitamin B12.
Much like other nutrients, the amount of B12 you need varies throughout your life, says Msora-Kasago. “Most adult men and women need 2.4 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12. During pregnancy and lactation, vitamin B12 requirements for women increase to 2.6 to 2.8 mcg respectively.”
It’s always better to get vitamins from whole foods when possible, so make sure to work some of the following foods that are high in vitamin B12 into your diet while also taking a reliable supplement.
Cereal: Approx. 6 mcg
Most grain cereals are fortified with different B vitamins. This can be a good choice for people trying to cut back on meat in their diet without skimping on foods high in vitamin B12. Top it with some fortified almond, soy, oat, or rice milk for a bonus 1 mcg.
Nutritional yeast: 1.5 mcg
This yellowish powder is technically a fungus, like brewer’s yeast, but it’s dairy-, gluten-, and soy-free and packed with nutrients, including B12. One teaspoon sprinkled on avocado toast will give you a B12 boost, and the flavour is mild. It’s also got other B vitamins.
Dairy substitutes: Approx. 1 mcg
Most milk alternatives, be it almond, coconut, soy or oat, are fortified with B12. A single glass of some oatmilks have 50 percent of your RDA. When you think about how many ways you use milk or a milk alternative—in your coffee, cereal, oatmeal (and that’s just breakfast!)—it adds up fast.
This vitamin has an impact on vegans and non-vegans alike. Vitamin D is essential for bone health – as calcium can only be absorbed by our bodies when the vitamin is present; also important for healthy immune function; aids in cardiovascular and prostate health.
This vitamin is not created in the human body. It is created when a chemical reaction takes place in the skin which is exposed to sunlight (approximately 10-30 minutes/day – depending on skin tone); note: sunscreen can interfere with the absorption.
The recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 400 international units (IU) for children up to age 12 months, 600 IU for ages 1 to 70 years, and 800 IU for people over 70 years. (*Mayo Clinic)
Like B12, as a person ages, it becomes more difficult to absorb vitamin D thus the increase in daily dosages.
It is found in few very foods. For plant-based/vegan eaters, the one main source is mushrooms that have been exposed to sunlight.
It is often added to foods such as plant-based “milks”, cereals.
D supplements – please note that there are 2 types of D – D2 and D3 – plant-based/vegan eaters should look for D2 as it is taken from yeast (D3 is from lanolin of sheep)
Without vitamin D your bones can become soft, thin and brittle. Insufficient vitamin D is also connected to osteoporosis and some types of cancer.
So perhaps a good solution is to take a walk or sit in the sun while sipping on a cold glass of plant-based "milk".
Just sayin' is all!
By Lou Hooper
For more information on my online course for new and/or struggling vegans entitled, “The Vegan Journey: A Beginner’s Pathway (tips/tools/support)”, please go to the menu item Vegan Support Pathway.