FAQ # 2 – Do I Need to Take Supplements on Plant-Based Diets?

Vegan nutrition is a fascinating subject and if you do a search on the interweb you will find a huge amount of information on this topic. You will find people who have been vegan for 20 years, have never taken anything and they feel great. You will find adverts for all sorts of nutrition powders that promise all sorts of health benefits. How do we get down to the crux of the issue and work out what it is that we really need?

First of all, of course, I am not a scientist, nor nutritionist. But what I can do is refer you to some people who are leading the way in assessing peer-reviewed studies and getting that information out there. Asking your local doctor is not the best course of action. The average amount of time spent studying nutrition is only 6 hours. As a general rule, we can’t trust their suggestions or recommendations. I am also not going to tell you what I have found out on this blog because I think it is really important that you get the information yourselves from the many wonderful resources out there.

“But why should I do this?” you might be thinking. “I thought a plant-based diet was extremely healthy.” Yes, it is. It really is a wonderful healthy way to live, however, we ALL , no matter what diet we follow, need to be more knowledgeable about what our bodies need. Let’s look at the diet of most omnivores. They consume many animal products and as a result we have a health care crisis where the biggest cause of death in the US would be easily preventable with some basic education about nutrition and how to make changes.

The American Dietetic Association’s position on a vegan diet is

It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

The only thing that irritates me about the above stance is the comment ‘appropriately planned’. This leads the reader to conclude that this diet is the only one that needs proper planning, when we know that is not true.

So, if you are thinking about being vegan or eating a nearly or completely plant-based diet in the long-term, then there is some essential information you need to know. There are certain supplements that you must take. Failure to do so can lead to deficiencies that when severe lead to conditions that are irreversible.

The following resources are fantastic places to get started in learning about plant-based nutrition. The nutritionists are excellent and not your fly-by-night quack-like nutritionists like Gillian McKeith. Of course, as I always say, don’t take my word for it, look at their credentials and their work critically and decide if you think I am right or not. All of these nutritionists WANT to promote a plant-based diet for health or ethical reasons. They believe that in order for a plant-based diet to be a viable lifestyle option for people, it must have the most accurate and reliable information. Let’s also not forget that scientific studies and findings are being published all the time. Keeping on top of this information is daunting. Luckily these nutritionists look at these studies and distribute this information to the layman like you or I. Their information and recommendations are insurance policies to ensure we have all our bases covered. While we know that a whole-foods plant-based diet is an incredibly healthy way to live, we also know that French Fries and beer are also vegan. There are plenty of vegans out there who eat poorly. Just like meat-eaters who don’t eat vegetables, they are bound to be deficient in some way.

The absolute minimum you need to know can be found out by looking at Jack Norris’ website, Vegan Health. Here are his recommendations and what he personally takes. His advice changes from time to time depending on the latest studies which is (IMO) how it should be. Take this information and go shopping.

If you want to find out more, and I suggest you do, then you should buy a copy of Vegan For Health by Jack Norris and Ginny Messina. It’s an entertaining and informative read and as it was only released last year, it has all the up-to-date information that we need. I also suggest that you subscribe to Ginny’s and Jack’s blog. They often respond to the latest fad or health claim in the media and answer some very specific questions.

So, Ginny and Jack are great resources, but someone who I have only recently discovered is Michael Gregor. I must have had my head in the sand, because this guy is amazing!

Photo by by VancityAllie

He is well-published and well-educated and last year he started putting together an incredible bank of information at his new site Nutrition Facts. Michael is committed to posting a little bite sized informative video every weekday for the next year at least. He already has hundreds of videos. While I am not suggesting you watch all of them, I recommend subscribing to his feed (look at the bottom of this page and click on the RSS button) and watch one of these little 2 minute videos once a day to take away a little nutriton tidbit! Also, his blog is well-worth subscribing to as well.

So, what supplements can you take? Well, those people who are plant-based for ethical or allergy reasons will want to take supplements that are non-animal derived. Deva is a well established brand and not expensive. Your local health-food store should carry supplements that will usually state if they are derived from animals. If those are not your motivation, a local chemist or supplement store like GNC will have everything you need.

One last thing I want to address is the suggestion that if are taking supplements, then does that mean we no longer need to eat fruit sand vegetables? To that I say absolutely not. While supplements have their place, no supplements can supply us with the fibre and anti-oxidants that are so important to our health and well-being. I think the best way is to eat a whole-foods plant-based diet full of  a huge variety of fruit and vegetables and supplement.

If you found this post useful, please share.

Photo by  anolobb

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2 responses

  1. Great post! This question comes up a lot with new vegetarians and skeptics of the vegetarian diet. The implication that you pointed out is so glaringly obvious, yet unquestioned most of the time by meat eaters. The assumption that the average person is eating a well planned diet is absurd. My little hang ups with supplements are that we have no idea what supplements will or can do to us in the long term. The supplement industry is a relatively young industry and quickly becoming big business. I am frightened by anything with money as motivation. The other thing comes from finally reading The China Study, which is that our culture seems satisfied to break down diet into individual nutrients. And therefore, assume that a supplement can suffice. Sadly, it is this lack of bigger picture thinking, that each nutrient only has a single purpose, while ignoring the nano reactions occurring between nutrients when whole foods are combined, that is most shocking.

    • Hi, thanks for your comment! I agree with you 10000% percent. There are certain supplements which are unwise to take. But B12, is not found reliably in plant-sources so we must supplement for that. Most other things are in abundance in wholefoods plant-based diet. Although to be completely sure, one should make a special effort with calcium (or supplement for it) and vitamin D when you don’t get sunlight.

      Supplements for all other nutrients can never take the place of a rich and varied diet. As you say those checmical reactions going around with all those anti-oxidants and phytochemicals can never be replicated with supplements and frankly, who would want to?

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