Supplement considerations for vegetarians and vegans

As a vegetarian or vegan you probably have confusing messaging with regards to nutrition, all the time. Some say that you can get all your nutrients from plant sources while others say that this is impossible.

This blog post will set these doubts straight and provide you with information on what the experts say about nutrition and supplementation for those on a plant-based diet.

Vegetarianism is a general term encompassing a variety of diets that exclude the consumption of some or all animal products (1). Although ethical or religious reasons are the common reasons for individuals to be on a predominantly plant-based diet, there are other explanations for some others. Research reveals health improvement, medical intervention, or aberrant eating pathologies also as possible motives for this dietetic choice (1). 

Vegetarianism as a choice 

Market research surveys indicate that as of 2020, approximately 6 million German citizens follow a vegetarian diet (2). The same surveys also found that almost 1 million Germans are on a vegan diet.  

Many of these individuals may adopt a vegetarian diet as a means of losing or controlling their weight. Population studies have also indicated that vegetarian and vegan diets can offer protection from the development of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, especially in men (2).  

On the other hand, dancers and endurance sports athletes may consume plant-based diets in an effort to meet the high carbohydrate demands of their sports (1). In fact, a 1996 UK national survey into dancers’ health reported that 30%-40% of those surveyed, reported being vegetarian (3).  

Adequate nutrition with a vegetarian diet 

Whether one is a vegetarian or a vegan, plant-based foods are the major sources of nutritional intake in these diets. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to have a balanced health, well-being, and physical performance through a well-managed vegetarian diet. Management includes the quality and timing of dietary intake. With careful planning, one can receive adequate amounts of the daily nutritional needs through plant sources. 

The scientific recommendation is for a dietary macronutrient composition of 55% carbohydrates, 20% to 30% fat (including long-chain n-3 fatty acids), and 12% to 15% proteins (essential amino acids) (1). In its vegan diet position paper, the German Nutrition Society (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährung) describes the following micronutrients as critical: vitamin B12, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin D, calcium and the trace elements iron, iodine, zinc, and selenium (4). 

Although several of these nutrients can be found in a diverse plant-based diet, some nutrients like vitamin B12 can only be obtained through fortified food or dietary supplements. This blog post outlines only those nutrients that several national nutrition societies and scientific studies have recommended for supplementation by vegetarians and vegans.  

Supplements for vegetarian and vegans 

Vitamin B12 needed by vegans 

Also known as cobalamin, vitamin B12 is a water-soluble vitamin (5). It plays a role in several physiological processes including mediating the body’s energy-yielding metabolism, nervous- & immune-system function, psychological function and the formation of red blood cells (6). 

Why do vegans need vitamin B12 supplementation?  

Vitamin B12 is produced solely by microorganisms (7). The form that is available to the human body, methylcobalamin, occurs almost exclusively in animal-derived foods (4). Lacto-ovo-vegetarians can, therefore, receive their daily recommended dose of vitamin B12 from dairy and eggs. For vegans, on the other hand, the story is not that simple. 

Although fermented plant-based foods, such as sauerkraut, may contain traces of vitamin B12, it is unclear whether this form of vitamin B12 can be utilised by the human body (4; 1). Moreover, the levels are so low that adequate intake is not possible.  

Shitake mushrooms, sea algae and spirulina also do not contain vitamin B12 in a form that can be used by the human body (4; 1). Thus, vegans cannot ensure their supply of vitamin B12 with conventional foods, including from fermented foods (1; 4; 7).

An adequate supply of vitamin B12 can only be ensured by taking a vitamin B12 supplement 

It is particularly notable that the liver stores a large amount of vitamin B12 that is reutilised through enterohepatic circulation. Because of this, the clinical symptoms of a deficiency only become evident after years of vitamin B12-free nutrition (4). Thus, vegans should regularly have their vitamin B12 supply checked. 

Why should I consider PlantaCorp’s vitamin B12?  

PlantaCorp’s liquid liposomal formulation contains vitamin B12 in the form of methylcobalamin. This is also the biologically active form of vitamin B12 (8).  

Furthermore, the small size of our liposomes improves its physical and chemical stability. This results in an improved compatibility and oral bioavailability. 

Interested?

Vitamin D supplementation for all 

This fat-soluble vitamin, is one of the few nutrients dependent on sunlight for synthesis. However, since the UVB rays of the sun also causes skin cancer (melanoma), it is advised to obtain most of one’s vitamin D from food, fortified-food or supplements (9).  

What is the role of vitamin D in the body? 

Vitamin D has several important roles in the body: it supports the growth and development of bone (in part through the absorption/utilisation of calcium and phosphorous), functioning of the immune system and cell division (6).  

Which foods contain vitamin D? 

Animal-derived foods such as meat and egg yolks naturally contain vitamin D (9). Some cereals, milk and juices may also be fortified with vitamin D. However, even in those who consume these products, a vitamin D deficiency can exist. This is because one does not consume enough of these products to reach the daily recommended dosage of vitamin D. Vitamin D supplementation is therefore recommended for all populations. 

Is PlantaCorp’s vitamin D3 supplement vegan? 

Yes! Our vitamin D3 supplement is fully vegan. What’s more, our white label supplement contains 1 000 IU(25 mcg) of vitamin D per daily dose. The EFSA recommends a minimum of 15 mcg/day of vitamin D populations for all adults (10). Thus, our liquid liposomal white label vitamin D3 supplement is fully compatible with EFSA recommendations as well.  

This could be your liposomal D3+K2 product

Contact us today to find out how you can add our 13-times more bioavailable vitamin D3 supplement to your product portfolio. 

Iron is recommended for vegetarians 

Although a micronutrient, iron has macro-health consequences. An adequate blood store of iron results in reduced tiredness & fatigue, better cognitive function and a well-functioning immune system (6). 

Why is iron supplementation important? 

Anaemia that is caused due to an iron deficiency is, unfortunately, very common. 1.74 billion people were found to be anaemic in 2019 (11).   

Two dietary forms of iron exist- heme iron and non-heme iron. Of the two forms, heme iron is found in meats, fish and poultry. Non-heme iron that is found in grains, vegetables and fruits is less bioavailable and less easily absorbed by the body (1; 7). Dairy products contain only negligible amounts of iron and are not considered a viable dietary source of the nutrient. 

Additionally, plant phytates and some polyphenols are considered anti-nutrients. They prevent the absorption of certain nutrients, including iron. Anti-nutrients of plant origin can be found in black tea, coffee, red wines, and some leafy greens (1; 7). 

Although vegetarians and vegans generally do not appear to suffer adverse health effects because of reduced iron absorption, it is recommended that iron intakes for vegetarians be increased by 80% over the general daily recommended average. This is to overcome the afore mentioned bioavailability issues (7). 

Iron sufficiency may be achieved by choosing whole-food iron sources and reducing the consumption of inhibitor-containing foodstuffs such as tea, coffee and cocoa. The incorporation of soaked, sprouted and/or fermented foods in the diets, is also recommended (7).  

In cases where individuals might be prone to iron deficiency, for example females with large menstrual blood losses, iron supplementation might be necessary. 

The case for liposomal iron supplementation 

As mentioned earlier, the absorption of iron along with a plant-rich diet is a very tricky thing. One needs to incorporate enough iron-rich foods in every meal and be sure to exclude foods that can inhibit iron absorption at the same time. One of the reasons we recommend our liquid liposomal iron supplement is to overcome these problems.  

Since the iron is enveloped by the liposomes, it can potentially be absorbed better by the intestines and it is protected from the inhibiting effect of the diets. This is based on a double-blinded clinical trial we performed with our liquid liposomal iron supplement. It was found to be 398-times more bioavailable than powdered non-liposomal iron. More interestingly, our iron formulation was 9-times more bioavailable than a competitor’s non-liposomal, high-dose iron bisgluconate-vitamin C combination product.  

Should I supplement if I am on a plant-based diet? 

While dietary components and availabilities can vary with geographical location and culinary cultures, the key to all balanced diets is a variety of food types. They must contain all the necessary nutrients in adequate amounts to enhance the overall health of the individual (1).  

Well balanced or appropriately planned vegetarian diets require a good understanding of key nutrients found in food sources, the appropriate method of preparation and the combination of foods that maximize nutrient absorption. Apart from nutrient sufficiency, it is also important to have an adequate calorific intake to meet everyday energy requirements.  

Where needed, vegetarians should seek the advice of qualified dietitians and primary care physicians to receive support with dietary planning and supplementation. 

The vegetarian and vegan food supplements market 

At the end of 2021, the plant-based food market was valued at 35.6bn USD (12). Of this, the vegan food market share was 15.77bn USD. With more individuals adopting a plant-rich lifestyle (for example, 15% of the Irish and English population are non-meat eaters (12)), the market for supplements that can address their special needs is also growing.  

Our Business Development officers will be happy to provide you with more information on the liposomal products outlined in this article.  

Key takeaways 

  1. Apart from religious or ethical reasons, individuals can choose a primarily plant-based diet can for health improvement, due to medical intervention, or aberrant eating pathologies.  
  1. A balanced health, well-being, and physical performance through a well-managed, carefully planned vegetarian diet is possible.  
  1. Some nutrients like vitamin B12, vitamin D and iron can only be obtained from animal-based foods. When adequate plant sources of these nutrients are available, they are insufficiently bioavailable due to plant fibres or chemicals. Supplementation of these 3 key nutrients can, therefore, be considered necessary for vegetarians and vegans 

References 

  1. DD, Brown. Nutritional Considerations for the Vegetarian and Vegan Dancer. 1, 2018, J Dance Med Sci., Vol. 22, pp. 44-53. 
  2. Weikert C, Trefflich I, Menzel J, Obeid R, Longree A, Dierkes J, Meyer K, Herter-Aeberli I, Mai K, Stangl GI, Müller SM, Schwerdtle T, Lampen A, Abraham K. Vitamin and Mineral Status in a Vegan Diet. 35-36, Aug 31, 2020 , Dtsch Arztebl Int., Vol. 117, pp. 575-582. 
  3. Brinson P, Dick F. Fit to Dance: The Report of the National Inquiry into Dancer Health and Injury. London : Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, 1996. 
  4. Richter M, Boeing H, Grünewald-Funk D, Heseker H, Kroke A, Leschik-Bonnet E, Oberritter H, Strohm D, Watzl B. Vegan diet. Position of the German Nutrition Society (DGE). German Nutrition Society (DGE). s.l. : Ernahrungs Umschau, 2016. pp. 92–102 Erratum in 63: M262. 
  5. The Linus Pauling Institute’s Micronutrient Information Center. [Online] [Cited: 01 03, 2022.]
  6. EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods (v.3.6). EFSA. [Online] [Cited: 11 10, 2021.]
  7. Rogerson, D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. 36, 2017, J Int Soc Sports Nutr, Vol. 14. 
  8. Vitamin B12: Fact sheet for health professionals. National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. [Online] [Cited: 07 19, 2022.]. 
  9. Moriarty C. Vitamin D Myths ‘D’-bunked. Yale Medicine. [Online] 2018. [Cited: 07 20, 2022.]  
  10. Dietary Reference Values for the EU. EFSA. [Online] [Cited: 11 12, 2021.] 
  11. Gardner W, Kassebaum N. Global, Regional, and National Prevalence of Anemia and Its Causes in 204 Countries and Territories, 1990–2019. Supplement_2, 2020, Current Developments in Nutrition, Vol. 4, p. 830.
  12. Wunsch, Nils-Gerrit. Veganism and vegetarianism worldwide – statistics & facts. [Online] 12 9, 2021. [Cited: 07 19, 2022.]