If you avoid meat and other animal products, what do you do when it comes to supplements? Anyone following a vegan or vegetarian diet who wants to supplement certain nutrients needs to read labels carefully.
Vegan Digestive Enzymes
When digestive enzymes are in balance, the body does a better job of extracting nutrients from food and eliminating what the body cannot use. The three types of digestive enzymes work their magic on proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Medical researcher and vegan chef Suzannah Gerber adds, “When combined with certain probiotics, enzyme supplements can improve immune function.”
Studies that recently compared plant-based and animal-based enzymes, Gerber says, have found that “supplemental enzymes from animal sources are pH-sensitive. [P]lant-based enzyme supplements are more effective because they can withstand the acids in our stomachs,” she says.
Other Important Nutrients for Vegans
In general, vegetarians and vegans need to be sure they are getting enough of the nutrients commonly provided by meat, fish, and dairy foods. In addition to vitamins B12 and D, they include calcium, iodine, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. While some of them are provided by plant foods, and by fortified plant foods, supplementation may be necessary.
To avoid vitamin B12 deficiency, vegans may need to supplement two to three times a week. Calcium can be another tricky nutrient for vegans who don’t get enough from their diets: Many supplements get their calcium from oyster shells; others come in gelatin capsules. It’s worth looking for a vegan calcium supplement with magnesium and vegan vitamin D.
Since most omega 3s come from fish oil, look for vegan forms of their constituent fatty acids, DHA and EPA (docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid), which come from algae.
Consult Your Healthcare Provider
Discuss with your healthcare provider any nutrients you are considering taking in supplement form. Have your blood levels checked if deficiency is suspected. Learn to read labels to avoid animal products, and buy vegan supplements only from reputable suppliers.