What are the essential vegan supplements and vitamins? I researched online and soon my head was spinning with contradictory information. So I turned to Willow Jarosh of C&J Nutrition for help. Willow is probably one of the nicest people I’ve never met (we’ve only ever communicated by email). She is always game to give me extra clear, easy-t0-apply nutritional advice on any of my crazy nutritional questions – something I have found rare among dietitians and nutritionists! I thought she’d send a few bulleted notes on what supplements and vitamins to take, but instead she came back with a wealth of information that is so incredibly clear and helpful (thank you again, Willow!) If anyone is looking for a wonderful, accessible, super friendly dietician, I cannot recommend Willow and her company C&J Nutrition (co-owned with her colleague, Stephanie Clark) enough. Their knowledge is extensive and encyclopedic, even reaching into pregnancy nutrition. In fact, if you have a bun in the oven, you should check out a cookbook their recent cookbook titled Healthy, Happy Pregnancy Cookbook. Below Willow gives us the lowdown on the essential vegan supplements and vitamins.
Elettra: I take a daily woman’s multi vitamin and calcium-magnesium citramate from Thorne. Is this “enough” on my 30-day vegan challenge or should I take extra supplements? What are the essential vegan supplements and vitamins to look for?
Willow: As long as you’re careful to eat balanced meals (in terms of protein, carbohydrate, fat, fruit/veggie balance) and eat a variety of different types of foods throughout the week, a basic multivitamin or prenatal will cover your needs. The most important nutrient for a multivitamin to fill in for vegans is vitamin B12. Vitamin D and iron are also helpful to have extra support with, as vitamin D isn’t found in any plant foods except some mushrooms exposed to sunlight, and the most bio-available form of iron (heme iron) is found in animal foods. If you’re taking a prenatal, I’d recommend taking one that derives all of its vitamin A from beta carotene. One prenatal I love is this brand. You could also take a vegan DHA supplement. This is one of the omega 3 fatty acids. Plant sources of omega 3 (walnuts, flax, chia, etc.) provide the ALA form, which your body converts to the DHA/EPA forms. So as long as you’re including ALA-rich foods throughout your day, each day, you’re likely getting enough but it doesn’t hurt to take a vegan DHA/EPA supplement like this.
Also, look for vitamin D and calcium fortified dairy alternative milks (almond, soy, etc.) to boost your calcium and vitamin D intake. If you can’t get 1000mg of calcium from fortified foods and your diet alone, then your calcium-magnesium supplement will fill in your needs (you’ll likely need to take multiple capsules since they’re usually only 80mg calcium each).
I’ve heard that people need 30 grams of protein a day. Is that true? How do I accomplish this while on a vegan diet?
Most experts (including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) agree that you should be getting between 0.4 – 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. The range accommodates different activity levels, with a lower end for sedentary or lightly active men and women, a middle range for endurance athletes and avid exercisers, and a higher range for strength athletes. This means about 60 grams per day for a sedentary 150 pound person, 90 grams per day for an endurance athlete, and 109 grams per day for strength athletes.
With regard to 30 grams — this is the maximum amount of protein your body can absorb at one time. So it’s ideal to have your protein spread out throughout the day as opposed to in just one or two eating occasions. As for getting enough protein on a vegan diet, here are the protein counts of the major protein sources (and I added the dairy alternative milks so you could see how low most are):
• Cooked whole grains: 6-8 grams per cup
• Cooked lentils and beans: 15-17 grams per cup
- Peanut/almond butter: 8 grams per tablespoon
- Nuts/seeds: 3-6 grams per 1/4 cup (shout out to hemp seeds with 14 grams protein per 1/4 cup)
- Almond/rice/coconut milk: 0-1 gram per cup
- Soy milk: 7 grams per cup
- Tofu: 20 grams in 1/2 cup cubed firm
- Tempeh: 15 grams in 1/2 cup cubed
An example of a day of simple eating that meets protein needs would be:
• Breakfast: One slice of whole grain toast topped with 2 tablespoons nut butter (14 grams).
- Snack: 1/4 cup almonds and a pear (8 grams)
- Lunch: whole grain salad (1 cup buckwheat) tossed with 1/2 cup chickpeas, 1 tablespoon chopped dried apricots/figs, and 1 tablespoon sliced almonds (18 grams)
- Snack: fruit smoothie made with 1 cup soy milk, a banana, and a tablespoon hemp seeds (11 grams)
- Dinner: tofu stir fry (1/2 cup cubed tofu) over a whole grain (1 cup black rice) mixed with chia seeds (26 grams)
Protein total: 77 grams of protein for the day, which would meet your needs for your active lifestyle.
Complete protein: Protein is composed of smaller components called amino acids, 9 of which our bodies can’t produce on their own – these are called essential amino acids. For a food to be considered a complete protein, it needs to contain all nine. Science supports the concept that as long as you get all 9 essential amino acids throughout a day, not necessarily at a single meal, you’re good. Animal proteins are complete proteins but some vegan proteins that are complete are: quinoa, soybeans, amaranth, and chia (hemp is super close to being complete, too).
I am very active. I do yoga frequently, walk at least 3-5 miles per day, and do weight training 1-2 times per week, I also do a very intense dance class a few times per week. What would be the best post-workout vegan snack?
You want to aim for a combination of protein and carbohydrate in a 2-3:1 ratio, and this is really achievable via vegan foods since a lot of the vegan proteins have carbohydrate built in. Here are some examples:
- Smoothie with banana/berries, unsweetened almond milk, hemp seeds (and/or protein powder)
- Pear slices spread with almond butter.
- Dates stuffed with almonds (or almond/peanut butter) and a sprinkle of sea salt.
- Sweet potato toast (a 1/4 inch slice of sweet potato toasted in the toaster until soft and golden), spread with hemp seed butter, or almond/peanut butter, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- A handful of roasted chickpeas (either homemade or one of the brands like Good Bean).
I will obviously being ingesting a lot of fiber. What is the best way to balance meals to ensure I don’t have digestive issues?
Transitioning animal-based protein to beans and lentils does increase fiber. And, beans are packed with fiber as well as a type of sugar that can be especially gas-producing. Soak dried beans for 8-10 hours in water mixed with 1 tablespoon vinegar and then drain the water and rinse before cooking, and drain and rinse again after cooking and before eating. Rinse canned beans before eating. There are some anecdotal things you can do, as well, such as cooking beans with a piece of kombu seaweed and/or fennel, coriander, ginger, and cumin. Again, mainly anecdotal, but delicious nonetheless and therefore I’d consider it worth a try.
Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water (ie your urine should look like pale lemonade rather than apple juice) throughout the day, because fiber needs water to move smoothly through your system.
What are some great things to have in your fridge to help make quick vegan meals/that will help keep me full and not dreaming about roast chicken?
- Nuts, seeds, and nut/seed butters along with sprouted grain toast (like Ezekiel).
- A slice of Alvarado Street sprouted California Style bread and a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter delivers 9 grams of protein.
- Cashews and nutritional yeast are great to have on had to make a “cheese”y filling for stuffing into veggies or a dip.
- Canned beans are a lifesaver when it comes to a quick protein source to add to a meal that needs a protein boost.
- I’d like to use smoked paprika to satisfy bacon/sausage flavor cravings. The smoky flavor resembles the same flavors of bacon/smoked meats.
- Corn tortillas: Tostadas and tacos are so fast, and can be packed with protein-rich beans/lentils.
- Mushrooms, olives, nutritional yeast, and seaweed can all add umami flavor to dishes, making them seem “meatier”.
• Tempeh is nice to have in the fridge and if you crumble it and mix it with chile puree or BBQ sauce it makes amazing taco filling. So do lentils!
• Chia pudding with hemp seeds will last in the fridge all week and is a great super-fast snack.
Also, if you’re going to use a dairy alternative other than soy milk (which has almost as much protein as cow’s milk), you might consider an unsweetened, unflavored vegan protein powder (hemp protein and pea protein are some of my favorites). You can use these to boost the protein in meals/snacks like smoothies or oatmeal.
Also as an additional tip: Boost your iron absorption with vitamin C rich foods. For example, combine vegan sources of iron (beans, dark leafy greens, etc.) with vitamin c rich foods (citrus, bell peppers…). Iron from animal sources is more easily/thoroughly absorbed, but ingesting Vitamin C along with your plant-based iron will really help you to you can increase your absorption of iron.
If you want to try to make your own vegan coconut milk yogurt, it’s super delicious and easy, here is a video!