When it comes to our health, we each make a lot of important choices. We choose how we spend our time, what we do for work, and most importantly, what we put in our bodies. As adults, we are able to eat just about anything we want, but many of us choose to follow certain diets in order to improve our health. One popular diet is vegetarianism, which is a dietary choice to avoid meat products completely.
According to a recent study, over 3% of the American population is vegetarian. That may not sound like much, but that’s more than 7 million people. That same study showed that around 10% of the population followed a vegetarian-inclined diet in which they mostly avoided meat, but did not completely eliminate it from their diets.
There are many reasons to become a vegetarian. When asked why the follow a vegetarian diet, the most common response amongst vegetarians is “to improve overall health”. And many studies have shown that vegetarian diets can help to improve overall health.
However, at the same time, there are certain gaps in the diet of vegetarians (especially in strict vegetarians) that can be difficult to fill. This may sometimes lead to nutrient deficiencies.
What Are Supplements for Vegetarians?
There is a whole class of supplements that are quite useful for vegetarians for a variety of reasons. Mostly, some supplements for a vegetarian diet consist of products that help fill the nutritional gaps that can sometimes be left by a fully vegetarian diet. If you don’t eat meat, and particularly if you don’t eat any animal products, it can be a challenge to get adequate amounts of certain nutrients in your daily diet.
Most of the supplements we will cover are either vitamins, like B2, B12, D and A, or minerals, like calcium and iron. Other nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids and protein, are equally important. These various nutrients are generally harder to obtain from a vegetarian diet, when compared with a standard diet.
How Can Supplements Help Maintain a Vegetarian Diet?
Whether you’ve chosen a vegetarian diet for ethical reasons, health reasons, or personal reasons, you’ll have to make some significant changes. Especially in the modern Western world, meat is a huge component of almost every meal – so if you’re used to that, it will be a big switch to begin eating vegetarian.
Another important aspect that you’ll have to keep in mind is where you’ll get certain nutrients. Like it or not, animal products can sometimes be our primary source of many important nutrients.
In essence, supplements can sometimes make it easier to reach the USDA official dietary recommendations for nutrients on a daily basis, while still following a meat-free or even animal product-free diet.
Why Should You Consider Supplements if You’re a Vegetarian?
- Vegetarians are more prone to nutritional deficiencies – although there are some significant health benefits to following a vegetarian diet, there are also some risks. Namely, vegetarians are often more prone to nutritional deficiencies when compared to the average person. Vitamins A, D, B12, and B6 are commonly deficient, as are zinc, calcium, omega-3s, and more.
- Vegetarians may be at a disadvantage in athletics – if you’re an athlete, strength trainer, runner, etc. who follows a vegetarian/vegan diet, it’s possible that you’re at a disadvantage to your meat-eating peers. For one, athletes may need more protein than the average person, and it can be difficult to get enough protein while following a restrictive diet.
- Supplements make your diet easier – as mentioned, it is possible to obtain adequate nutrition from a carefully planned vegetarian diet without supplements. However, the key phrase there is carefully planned.
Supplements to Consider If You’re A Vegetarian
What is Protein Powder?
Protein powder is one of the most popular supplements out there, both for vegetarians and for meat-eaters alike. Basically, protein powder is a powdered health supplement that contains a high concentration of protein, generally in the 15-25+ gram per serving range. There are various types of protein powder, ranging from whey protein (made with milk) to soy protein and other plant-based protein sources. So, even if you’re a vegetarian, there is still a perfect protein powder for you!
Why is Protein Powder Important?
Protein is a vitally important macronutrient, and unfortunately it can be difficult for vegetarians to get enough protein in their diet. There are plenty of protein-rich vegetarian foods, but even so, it can be a challenge to reach adequate levels without the help of supplements.
The USDA recommends between 46 and 56 grams of protein per day, but that amount varies depending on your weight, gender, and lifestyle. A single serving of high quality protein powder can provide around half of your daily protein needs, making it much easier to obtain the rest through your diet.
How to Take Protein Powder
Protein powder is powdered and needs to be mixed into water, milk, or a nutritional shake. Making shakes is the most common way to take protein supplements, but if you’re in a rush you can also just mix it into a drink. You can use protein powder at any time of the day, with or without food.
Typical serving sizes range from 15 to 25+ grams of protein. If you mix that with milk, you can easily get up to 30+ grams of protein in a single serving! If you’re a vegan, choose animal product-free supplements, like soy protein or other plant-based proteins.
Protein Powder Side Effects
Being a food product, protein powder does not generally cause side effects. With that said, some people report feelings of upset stomach, diarrhea, etc. Also, some protein powders are dairy based, so if you are lactose intolerant, then steer clear.
What is Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 is one of the eight b-vitamins that are essential for good health. B-vitamins serve a lot of purposes in the body, but primarily they are used to help your body convert food into energy. B12 is vitally important for our good health, but unfortunately a B12 deficiency is fairly common, particularly among vegetarians.
Why is Vitamin B12 Important?
B12 is a very important component of overall health, and most sources of B12 are meat-based. In fact, a lot of the primary sources of vitamin B12 are animal products, so if you are a vegan you will find it extremely difficult to get adequate B12 in your diet. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause some unwanted side effects.
How to Take Vitamin B12
Follow the dosage instructions on the vitamin b12 product you’re using for best results, and avoid taking more than recommended.
Vitamin B12 Side Effects
Vitamin B12 can sometimes cause some minor side effects, including headache, itchy skin, swelling, and anxiety.
What is Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is an important nutrient that is often called “the sunshine vitamin”, due to the fact that the primary source of vitamin D is the sun itself. There are some food sources of vitamin D, but most of them are meats, and even for meat-eaters, getting enough vitamin D from your diet can sometimes be quite difficult.
Why is Vitamin D Important?
Vitamin D plays many roles in the body. It’s important for everyone, but since the primary food sources of vitamin D are meat-based, vegetarians are more prone to a deficiency.
Vitamin D deficiency can have some negative health effects, and we should all work hard to avoid it. During the summer months (or year-round if you live in a very sunny area), you may not have trouble getting enough vitamin D due to regular sun exposure.
How to Take Vitamin D
Vitamin D comes in capsules, usually in softgel form. It’s often mixed with an oil, such as olive oil, in order to improve absorption. You’ll want to closely follow dosage instructions on the product you choose.
Vitamin D Side Effects
Taking too much vitamin D can lead to fatigue, weakness, headache, dry mouth, and other health concerns.
What is B-Vitamin Complex?
A B-vitamin complex is a supplement that contains all eight B vitamins, which are B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6, B7 (biotin), B12, and folic acid. All eight of these nutrients work together to support the body.
Why are B-Vitamins Important?
B-vitamins are naturally found in some foods, but many of the best sources are animal products. Multivitamins will also contain B-vitamins, but generally not in amounts large enough to cover your full daily value.
People on restrictive diets are generally more prone to deficiencies in some B-vitamins, namely B12, B6, and B1. All the B-vitamins may provide benefits to vegetarians.
How to Take B-Vitamins
B-vitamins come in capsule form, and are best taken daily with a meal. It’s important to follow the dosage instructions on the product you choose, as taking too much B-vitamins can lead to side effects.
B-Vitamin Side Effects
The most common side effects associated with B-vitamins are gastrointestinal issues, including nausea, constipation, and abdominal pain.
What is Iodine?
Iodine is a common mineral that is found in seafood, seaweed, and in iodized table salt. It’s important for thyroid function, which affects the metabolism and energy levels of the human body. Some people may be at risk of iodine deficiency. Namely, those who avoid meat and seafood products, and those who use natural sea-salt and/or restrict their intake of iodized salt.
Why is Iodine Important?
Vegetarians and vegans are more prone to iodine deficiency, because some of the best sources of iodine are seafood. Interestingly, another reason is that certain vegetables actually act to counteract iodine.
How to Take Iodine
Iodine comes in tablet form. It’s available in a pure, synthetic form, or in seaweed supplements such as powdered kelp. Regardless of which form you choose, you’ll want to take the supplement as directed, and do not take too large of a dose. Iodine is best to take with food.
Iodine Side Effects
Common side effects of iodine include nausea, stomach pain, runny nose, headache, and a few others.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, meaning that they are essential, but the body cannot make them naturally. Thus, we need to obtain adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids from our diets. The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful.
Why are Omega-3 Fatty Acids Important?
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for everyone. As mentioned, the human body cannot make them, so they must be obtained through the diet and/or supplements. Some of the best food sources of omega 3’s are animal products, like fish, eggs, etc. So, it can be difficult for vegetarians – and especially for vegans – to get enough in their diets. There are some vegan sources of omega-3, but the best natural food sources tend to be animal products.
How to Take Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Obviously, all vegans and most vegetarians will want to avoid these animal oil-based supplements.
Flaxseed oil is the next best option, offering a good balance of EPA and DHA in a vegan-friendly form.
To take the supplement, follow the instructions on the product you’re using. It’s best to take omega-3’s with food, and with plenty of water.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids Side Effects
It’s always possible that you may experience some minor stomach discomfort, nausea, gas, etc.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is an organic acid that can rapidly produce ATP, which is essentially energy for the body’s cellular function. Because of its ability to produce ATP, creatine is hailed as one of the most effective workout supplements.
Why is Creatine Important?
For vegetarians who exercise, creatine can be vitally important because of all the workout benefits it provides.
How to Take Creatine
Typically, creatine comes in powder form that must be mixed into water – although capsules are also available.
Creatine Side Effects
Creatine does cause some side effects. The most noteworthy is a bloating/weight gain effect, that comes from creatine’s tendency to cause the muscles to absorb more water than usual. Additionally, creatine can cause dehydration so be sure to drink plenty of water while using the supplement.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is an important dietary mineral that is found naturally in many foods, primarily in dairy products. It’s mostly known for its role in supporting bone health, but it also serves a number of other function. It’s important that everyone get enough calcium, and many folks on restrictive diets may not get adequate amounts from the foods they eat.
Why is Calcium Important?
Calcium, like many minerals on this list, is important for everyone – not just vegetarians. However, vegetarians are more likely to not get enough calcium in their diet. Vegans are particularly at risk, considering the best sources of dietary calcium are found in dairy products.
The calcium RDA for adults is around 1,000mg per day. Around ⅓ of that could be gained from a single glass of milk, but it would take over 2 cups of kale just to get that same ⅓ daily value. So, as you can see, it’s sometimes difficult for vegans to get adequate calcium in their diet.
How to Take Calcium
Calcium is found in tablet form, and should be taken with a meal. Avoid taking calcium at the same time as other supplements, as some other minerals can interfere with the absorption of calcium (if you take multiple supplements, space out your doses throughout the day). Beyond that, simply follow the instructions on the product you’re using. Keep in mind that there may be calcium in your daily multivitamin.
Calcium Side Effects
Common side effects of calcium supplements include nausea, diarrhea, weakness, and dry mouth. Taking too much calcium can potentially have some more severe side effects, so it’s important to follow dosage instructions and not take too much.
What is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is an important vitamin and one of the good supplements for a vegetarian diet. It’s a potent antioxidant, so it helps protect your cells from damage.
Why is Vitamin A Important?
Vitamin A is an important vitamin for all people, but the majority of meat-eaters get adequate amounts from their diet alone. Most food sources of vitamin A are animal fats, however, precursors for the nutrient are readily available in vegan foods. Vitamin A deficiency is not very common, but it is generally more common among those on restrictive diets..
How to Take Vitamin A
Vitamin A comes in capsule form, and is also added to most multivitamins. Follow dosage instructions closely, and take the supplement with food when possible.
Vitamin A Side Effects
Side effects can range from nausea to loss of appetite to hair loss, and more. Be sure to closely follow vitamin A dosage instructions to avoid side effects.
What is Iron?
Iron is a common mineral that is present naturally in certain foods, and available in nutritional supplements. It’s important for maintaining healthy energy levels due to its role in metabolic health. Unfortunately, iron deficiency is fairly common, particularly among the vegetarian/vegan community.
Why is Iron Important?
Iron is an important component of many functions within the body. Without it, we may become weak, fatigued, and we may suffer from headaches and other symptoms of iron deficiency. Some of the best food sources of iron are animal products, although there still are some iron-rich foods that are vegan. Iron deficiency is fairly common in the general population, and slightly more so in the vegan community.
How to Take Iron
Iron comes in pill/capsule form, and it’s very important to closely follow the dosage instructions of the product you’re using (or consult a doctor). Taking too much iron can cause serious side effects, so be sure to take no more than the recommended amount. It’s also best to take iron with food.
Iron Side Effects
Iron can cause some stomach discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, etc. Much more severe side effects are possible with higher-than-recommended doses of iron, so don’t take too much!