Vegan Nutrients: Required Vitamins & Minerals for Vegans


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Centering your eating around whole plant foods and supplementing with three key vegan nutrients will provide everything your body needs for health and longevity.

Check to make sure that the following foods and nutrients are part of your daily or weekly regimen to maximize the health benefits of plant-based eating.

Whether you are considering making a switch to plant-based eating or have been vegan for some time, you have probably heard a lot of conflicting information about eliminating animal foods from your diet. Some will tell you that a whole-food, plant-based diet meets all of your needs without the need for supplementation. Others will question how you can possibly be healthy without eating animal products, and may mention hot-topic issues like protein, B12, and calcium, showing enormous concern for your health.

All of these viewpoints are well well-intentioned but can make your decision confusing, and suddenly make you wonder who to trust or second guess your decision.

Research studies continuously show that a whole-food, plant-based diet is not only healthy but is optimal and protective from the 15 leading causes of death worldwide.

Follow the guidelines below to make sure you are getting all of the essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need.

The Bottom Line: I Just Want the Recommendations

You may not want to sift through all of the science and research as to why the following need to be included in your diet. So, here you go! For more specific information and current nutrition science research, continue reading after the following list.

Eat a wide variety of fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day, take a B12 oral supplement daily or weekly, and consider supplementing with vitamin D, a vegan omega-3, and a vegan multivitamin.

If you are nutrient deficient in any areas, speak with your doctor before beginning a new supplement regimen. And always seek your doctor’s advice if you are pregnant or lactating to make sure you are getting all of the nutrients you and your baby need.


B12 is non-negotiable. This is the one vitamin you must supplement on a vegan diet. 

  • Choose an oral supplement – dissolvable or liquid spray, and take it separate from other vitamins to maximize absorption
  • Younger than 65 years old – 50 mcg B12 each day, or one 2,000 mcg supplement each week
  • 65 or older – 1,000 mcg B12 each day
  • These amounts are higher than the RDA of 0.4 – 2.8 mcg per day. The absorption of B12 is very low, so the amount you need to ingest (regardless of whether you are supplementing or getting through diet) is increased.

Vitamin D

Your body can make all of the vitamin D you need if you get 20-30 minutes of direct sun exposure each day during summer months. During winter months or if you avoid sun exposure, consider supplementing with a D2 or vegan D3 supplement.

  • 2,000 IU supplement daily

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Alpha linoleic acid (ALA) is an essential fat that we must provide through diet. ALA converts to the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. One serving each day of chia seeds, hemp hearts, flax meal, or walnuts will cover your daily need. At the moment, however, we are not sure if ALA converts well enough to EPA and DHA to maximize brain health. Until we know more, consider supplementing.

  • 250-500 mg of a combined EPA and DHA vegan supplement daily


Iodine is essential for thyroid function. You can easily meet your needs through diet by eating a couple of sheets of nori seaweed a day (the seaweed used when making sushi), or by adding iodized salt to food. If you avoid adding any salt to your food or don’t like seaweed or sushi, consider supplementing with a vegan multivitamin.

  • 150 mcg daily


Most iron in the human diet comes from plant foods. The iron found in plants, however, is not as readily absorbed as the iron found in animal flesh. Eat a variety of iron-rich plant foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, avoid drinking tea around meals, and include foods rich in vitamin C to boost iron absorption. A vegan multivitamin can be a good insurance policy as well.

  • 8-11 mcg per day


Incredibly important for bone health and many metabolic processes, calcium is a vital nutrient. Eat a wide variety of naturally calcium-rich and fortified plant foods as they are well absorbed, including dark green leafy vegetables, fortified plant milks and tofu, and almonds. Aim for at least 600 mg of calcium each day from whole plant foods, and get plenty of sunlight.

  • 600 mg per day


Zinc is essential for our immune system and DNA synthesis. Eat a variety of zinc-rich foods every day including beans, nuts, and whole grains, as well as foods fortified with zinc. Due to anti-nutrients found in foods that contain zinc, aim for 1.5 times the RDA if you eat a completely vegan diet.

  • 8-11 mg per day

Should I Take a Vegan Multivitamin?

A Band-Aid is great for a scratch, but it won’t take the place of a tourniquet. Similarly, a vegan multivitamin can be a good insurance policy and addition to a well-planned, healthy diet, but never as a substitute for healthy eating. 

Make sure your multivitamin is vegan, and be aware of the following terms when making your choice (these terms apply to all supplements and foods):

  • Gelatin comes from animal collagen, a protein that makes up connective tissues, such as skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones.
  • Carmine/cochineal is a common food coloring. It comes from crushed beetles.
  • Shellac is a glaze that comes from beetles. It is often found on hard candies and sprinkles.
  • Casein and whey are milk products. Often found in high-protein foods and supplements.

What Does This Look Like in Real Life

Here is how I personally meet my nutrient needs every day.

  • at least 1 serving of walnuts, hemp hearts, or chia seeds every day
  • at least 2 tablespoons of flax meal every day
  • every meal has at least one dark green veggie or fruit; usually both
  • whole grains every day
  • I love beans and tofu!
  • 2,000 mcg oral B12 supplement 1-2 times each week
  • 250 g vegan omega-3 daily
  • 2,000 IU vegan vitamin D3 if I don’t spend time in the sun or during the winter
  • Vegan multivitamin daily

Essential Vegan Supplements: the Science

Choosing whole, plant foods as the foundation of each of your meals will provide your body with antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. No matter how perfectly you structure your meals, however, there are three key nutrients you need to supplement with on a daily or weekly basis: vitamin B12, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Vitamin B12

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The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) [11]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 0.4 cg
  • 7-12 months (AI): 0.5 mcg
  • 1-3 years: 0.9 mcg
  • 4-8 years: 1.2 mcg
  • 9-13 years: 1.8 mcg
  • 14+ years: 2.4 mcg
  • during pregnancy: 2.6 mcg
  • while nursing: 2.8 mcg

*Absorption of B12 is low, so in order to meet these requirements, you need to consume much higher quantities than listed in the RDA list above. See supplementing suggestions later in this section.

What does B12 do: Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is essential for nervous system health, cellular function and replication, formation of red blood cells, DNA and cell metabolism, and protein and fatty-acid metabolism. [1, 2, 7]

While all people should be aware of B12 in their diets, special populations, including those taking certain medications (metformin, for example, is a common diabetes medication that affects the absorption of B12), the elderly, women who are pregnant or lactating, and vegetarians and vegans, are at higher risk for deficiency. [3, 4]

Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria. Our ancestors got all they needed by eating food straight from the earth. Today, however, the water we drink and foods we eat are sprayed and cleaned to purposefully kill bacteria.

Animals may ingest bacteria while grazing, so those consuming a diet including animal products may get enough B12 from food. Even those eating meat should watch for signs and symptoms of B12 deficiency, however, as feed and soil continue to be sprayed with bacteria destroying chemicals.

Symptoms of B12 deficiency can include dizziness, tremors, tingling sensations, blurred vision, and fatigue, and prolonged deficiency can lead to anemia and nervous system damage [6, 9]. 

Recovery from common symptoms has been seen within one month of supplementation, and oral supplementation has been shown to be “as effective as intramuscular administration [4]” for correcting B12 deficiency. [5]

But my friend is vegan, says she’s never taken a B12 supplement, and she’s fine! Symptoms of B12 deficiency can take years to develop; upwards of 60 months. [15] While those starting out with adequate B12 stores may be covered for years, eventually those stores will run short.

Making sure you are covered. While the RDA for B12 is set at 2.4 mcg per day for adults under the age of 65, some of the B12 you ingest is lost due to poor absorption. You can get your daily B12 from fortified foods by eating at least three servings a day, each containing 190 percent of the daily value (according to the nutrition label). I find it easier to supplement. [9]

Supplementing with B12. You can opt for a daily or weekly cyanocobalamin supplement, depending on which fits your lifestyle better.

  • Under age 65: 50 mcg each day or 2,000 mcg each week.
  • 65 or older: 1,000 mcg each day

B12 supplements should be chewable or in the form of a liquid spray. The B12 will bind with proteins produced on your tongue, which will help it get through your stomach and into your gut where it can be absorbed. 

My favorite, and the one my family and I personally take, is the Nature’s Bounty

Do not count on B12 found in multivitamins because certain other vitamins, especially vitamin C, can destroy B12. [8] In fact, if you take a multivitamin, do not take it at the same time as a B12 supplement for this reason. Spread them out to avoid counteractions.

Supplement recommendations are specific to cyanocobalamin, which is more stable and we have more studies conducted on it. Methylcobalamin is the other common form and is already in its biologically active state. However, it does not convert as readily to hydroxycobalamin. Cyanocobalamin converts to both the methyl and hydroxy forms, which is why it is commonly chosen for those with B-12 deficiencies over the methyl form.

I personally take the Nature’s Bounty B-12 supplement.

And do not worry when you see the high doses of B12. Currently, there is no upper limit toxicity for B12. Your body will absorb and use what it needs, and the rest will be lost through urination.

Foods naturally containing B12: chlorella, Nori seaweed

Foods fortified with B12 (be sure to check the nutrition labels): plant-based meats, plant-based milks, nutritional yeast, tempeh, tofu 

Summary: Vitamin B12 is critical for the health of those following a vegan diet. Supplement with a chewable or liquid spray supplement containing 50 mcg daily or 2,000 mcg each week if you are under the age of 65; 1,000 mcg per day if you are 65 or older.

Vitamin D

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The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) [14]

  • 600 IU (15 mcg) per day

You may have heard a lot recently about vitamin D. Given the COVID-19 epidemic, immune system health has been front and center, and vitamin D has been talked about a lot.

Here is why

Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption (which is why you will see it added to a lot of other fortified foods, although in very small amounts), bone formation, and helps prevent cramps and muscle spasms (by helping maintain sodium and potassium levels). It “regulates the functions of over 200 genes and is essential for growth and development” (Zahid, 2010), helps reduce inflammation, aids in glucose metabolism, and is incredibly important for immune system health. [17, 20, 27]

According to Dr. Zahid Naeem (2010), vitamin D deficiency can result in a range of health concerns, including “obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, osteoporosis and neuro-degenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D deficiency may even contribute to the development of cancers, especially breast, prostate, and colon cancers” (2010). Vitamin D deficiency may also play a role in heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases, and birth defects. [18, 27]

Vitamin D is incredibly important!

There are two types of vitamin D; D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 is the form that has been prescribed by doctors for years to patients with vitamin D deficiency. It’s plant-based and inexpensive, which is also why it is the form typically found in fortified foods. [19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26]

Vitamin D3 is animal-derived, most often coming from lanolin (sheep’s wool), which is why vegans normally choose D2. However, the D3 version is more bioavailable and has recently become the form recommended by professionals.

Good news for vegans! There are forms of D3 that are sourced from lichen, making them vegan-friendly. Look at labels when choosing your supplement, and, if you are looking online, be sure to add the word “vegan” to your search.

Make sure you are covered. While the RDA for vitamin D is set at 600 IU each day, this depends on a lot of factors, including where you live, what season it is, how much time you spend in the sun, and even your skin tone (due to higher amounts of melanin in the skin). [27]

Supplementing with vitamin D. Take one, 2,000IU vegan D3 supplement daily during winter months if you live in higher latitude cities (above 40 degrees latitude), and year-round if you don’t get direct midday sun exposure. [16, 19, 20, 21, 22]

*Vegan versions of D3 are more expensive than both D2 and non-vegan versions of D3, possibly as much as double the cost depending on the supplements you choose. If cost is a concern, choose a D2 supplement. While D3 is currently the more recommended form, D2 was prescribed for years by doctors.

My favorite vegan D3 supplement is from Doctor’s Choice.

Vitamin D from the sun. You may produce all of the vitamin D you need from the sun. Use the following criteria, and supplement if you don’t hit these targets: [16, 27]

  • Caucasians, under the age 60: 15 minutes of direct, midday sun exposure, without sunblock (as long as you live below 30 degrees latitude).
  • Older than 60 or with those with darker skin: 30 minutes of direct, midday sun exposure, without sunblock (as long as you live below 30 degrees latitude).
  • Living above 40 degrees latitude: you may not produce vitamin D from the sun during the months of November through February due to indirect sun rays.
  • Living above 50 degrees latitude: direct sun exposure may not produce vitamin D for as much as six months out of the year!

Can you have too much vitamin D? YES. The RDA is currently set at 600 IU daily, but research and recommendations land on 2,000 IU daily if not getting enough sun exposure. More is not better. Avoid taking more than 2,000 IU daily, and, as always, talk with your doctor or health care professional before beginning any supplement regimen.

Summary: Vitamin D is critical for health, regardless of dietary or lifestyle choices. Supplement with a 2,000 IU vegan vitamin D3 daily during winter months and on days that you do not get 20-30 minutes of direct, midday sun exposure.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids

The Adequate Intake (AI) for Omega-3’s: The RDA for polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) has not been established. Instead, we focus on Adequate Intake, which is assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy.

  • 200-300 mg DHA per day for breastfeeding women [American Academy of Pediatrics]
  • 1.1.g ALA per day for women (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
  • 1.6 g ALA per day for men  (PCRM)
  • At least half a percent of your calories from ALA (WHO and European Food Safety Authority)

Currently, there is no established upper limit (UL) for EPA or DHA intake.

These recommendations for general health are easily achieved by eating a single serving of flax meal, chia seeds, hemp hearts, or walnuts each day.

A lot about omega-3’s is currently still up in the air. There is much we don’t know, especially about supplementation and the role of omega-3 fatty acids for brain health.

Here is what we do know.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet. ALA is a short-chain fatty acid that converts (elongates) to the long-chain fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA are not considered essential because your body can make them from ALA. ALA, EPA, and DHA are vital for health, especially brain and nervous system health.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for the health of our brain and eyes, and are especially important during pregnancy and infancy for fetal growth and development. [29, 31]

Omega-3 fatty acids also are highly anti-inflammatory, are an integral part of our cell membranes, affect the function of cell receptors, help make the hormones responsible for blood clotting, and aid in the contraction and relaxation of artery walls. [36] 

Other possible benefits of omega-3 fatty acid consumption, either through diet or supplementation, include reduced risk of coronary artery disease and stroke, cancer prevention (due to anti-inflammatory nature), protection from cognitive decline including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, relief from dry eyes, rheumatoid arthritis, and depression. [29, 30, 32, 33, 34, 35]

Essentially, they are incredibly important!

Conversion of EPA and DHA from ALA is inefficient (roughly 8 percent to EPA and 0-4 percent to DHA in healthy individuals) and research shows that vegans often have low levels of DHA and EPA.

Those eating a diet high in Linoleic Acid (LA) also have lower conversion rates of ALA to omega-3 because the enzyme that converts ALA to DHA is the same enzyme that converts LA to omega-6.

Where do we get these fatty acids?

ALA is found in some nuts and seeds including, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp hearts, and flax meal, oils including linseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and microalgae. 

EPA and DHA are typically found in fish, especially fatty fish like salmon (which is why you’ll hear about how healthy salmon is – spoiler, it’s not!).

Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are required fats. Omega-6 fats, while important, are pro-inflammatory. This is a good thing when it comes to our body’s ability to heal from injury, but too much and our bodies become chronically inflamed. Omega-3 fats, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory, so these two fats help balance each other out.

A healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is between 1:1 and 4:1. [38, 40] Today, however, due to our love of processed foods and increased oil consumption, our current ratio is about 16.7-18:1. We are chronically inflamed! [39, 40]

The sensible thing to do would be to cut out processed foods and consumption of animal products to bring the ratio back to a healthy 4:1, but where’s the money in that?!

Instead, supplement companies jumped on the opportunity and now you hear about the need to supplement with high amounts of omega-3s as an anti-inflammatory agent. 

More, and better, clinical trials need to be conducted on the benefits of supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, however.

If you are eating a vegan diet that is based primarily on whole foods (not processed), your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids should be optimal. You will then be covered by adding a couple of servings a day of the nuts, seeds, or oils I mentioned earlier, at least from an anti-inflammatory standpoint.

There are groups, however, that may benefit from supplementation with a vegan omega-3, sourced from microalgae.

  • Pregnant and lactating women: 200-300 mg DHA/EPA per day  [American Academy of Pediatrics]
  • Developing brain (children up to age 8): 50-60 mg per day
  • The diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) 250-500 mg per day
  • If you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or dementia (1 or more parents or grandparents with the disease) 250-500 mg per day

*These recommendations are for brain health. To reduce inflammation, lowering the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids to a healthy range is the best recommendation.

*There is no reviewed benefit of supplementing with more than 500mg EPA/DHA per day or for those eating fish.

*There is no indication that there is a risk to taking higher doses.

*Amounts in studies vary widely. The best recommendation currently is to be somewhere in the 250-500 mg per day range, but not above.

Vegan Foods naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA

  • Ground flax seeds (flax meal), chia seeds, hemp seeds (hemp hearts), and walnuts
  • Linseed oil (flaxseed oil), canola oil, and soybean oil
  • Microalgae

Vegan foods fortified with EPA and DHA

  • Some soy products, including soy milks and tofu
  • Plant-based infant formulas

*note that fish get their omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) content from eating microalgae.

Eat a serving or two of any of these foods daily. Sprinkle seeds into your oatmeal in the morning, add walnuts to salads, or stir some hemp hearts into a bowl of quinoa.

Summary: ALA, EPA, and DHA are essential for health, especially nervous system and brain health, and have a wide range of benefits. Lower the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids by cutting out processed foods and animal products. Include plant-based sources of ALA in your diet every day. Until we know more about whether or not ALA can convert to enough omega-3 for optimal brain health, supplementing with less than 500 mg per day of a combined EPA and DHA vegan supplement is recommended (Greger, p. 410).

Check Your Diet: Essential Nutrients to Make Sure You Get From Food


Iodine Sources

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): [42, 70]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 110 mcg
  • 7-12 months (AI): 130 mcg
  • 1-8 years: 90 mcg
  • 9-13 years: 120 mcg
  • 14+ years: 150 mcg
  • during pregnancy: 220 mcg
  • while nursing: 290 mcg

Tolerable Upper Limit Intakes (UL): [42]

  • 0-6 months: not established
  • 7-12 months: not established
  • 1-3 years: 200 mcg
  • 4-8 years: 300 mcg
  • 9-13 years: 600 mcg
  • 14-18 years: 900 mcg
  • 19+ years: 1,100 mcg

What does iodine do: Iodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which regulate protein synthesis and are essential for metabolism. The World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) recommend higher daily intakes for infants and during pregnancy because iodine is also essential for proper skeletal and nervous system development. [42]

Vegan iodine sources: Nori or dulse seaweed, Irish sea moss, kelp or algae supplements, and iodized salt.

Many countries, including the United States and Canada, have iodized salt programs. Iodine is added to table salt at 45-76 mcg per 1/4 teaspoon. [43] This practice is voluntary, however, so check your labels to see if the salt you have or are buying is iodized, as well as the amount of iodine per 1/4 tsp.

Salt added to pre-packaged foods (when you see sodium on the nutrition label) is not iodized.

Vegans [45, 46, 47] and pregnant women [44] include groups that may consume insufficient amounts of iodine. A well-planned diet, however, will meet the needs of both of these groups. [46]

Certain foods, called goitrogens, can interfere with the thyroid’s ability to uptake iodine. These include common vegan foods such as soy and cruciferous vegetables. Generally, these are only of concern if eaten in combination with a diet eliminating salt or in areas where iodine deficiency is high. [42]

A note on salt. Sodium intake should be kept to 1,500 mg or less per day. While important, a high sodium intake can cause a range of health concerns, high blood pressure and risk of stroke topping the list. [48] It doesn’t matter if the salt you choose is black salt, pink Himalayan sea salt, or any other fancy salt you may hear about. Salt is salt. Any special nutrients found in the various forms of salt are in such small quantities that they are inconsequential when compared to whole foods. So, if you are going to salt, it may be a good idea to choose an iodized salt to make sure you are covered.

Supplementing with iodine: many vegan multivitamins include the RDA of 150 mcg per day. Few vegan foods (seaweed being the exception) contain iodine, so making a concerted effort to reach the RDA for your group (age, pregnant, lactating) is important. 1/2 tsp of most brands of iodized salt will provide this amount, so unless you are following a zero salt diet you should be covered without the need to supplement. 

I get the recommended daily amount of iodine from my multi-vitamin, found here.

*Because the amount of iodine found in seaweed can vary greatly it is recommended to be cautious with vegan iodine-only supplements.

Summary: Iodine is a critical nutrient for proper health. 1/2 teaspoon per day of iodized salt or a multivitamin containing 150 mcg is sufficient to meet the needs of most healthy adults. Increase that amount by 1/4-1/2  tsp of iodized salt or to 220/290 mcg per day if you are pregnant or nursing.


Vegan Iron Sources

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): [49, 51, 53]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 0.27 mg
  • 7-12 months: 11 mg
  • 1-3 years: 7 mg
  • 4-8 years: 10 mg
  • 9-13 years: 8 mg
  • 14-18 years: 11 mg (male) / 15 mg (female)
  • 19-50 years: 8 mg (male) / 18 mg (female)
  • 51+ years: 8 mg
  • during pregnancy: 27 mg
  • while nursing: 10 mg (14-18 years) / 9 mg (19-50 years)

Tolerable Upper Limit Intakes (UL): [49]

  • 0-12 months: 40 mg
  • 1-13 years: 40 mg
  • 14+ years: 45 mg

What does iron do: Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to body tissues. Iron is also involved in cellular functioning, DNA synthesis, and the synthesis of certain hormones. Adequate iron intake is necessary during all stages of life but is critical during infancy as it is necessary for physical growth and neurological development. [49, 50, 52]

Forms of iron: There are two forms of iron: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only found in animal products (meat, poultry, fish), while non-heme iron is found in plants (legumes, pulses, cereals, fruits, vegetables). Heme iron is highly bioavailable, meaning your body absorbs it well. Non-heme iron is less bioavailable and can be affected by certain foods. [52, 53]

Those eating a vegan diet consisting of whole plant foods may actually get more iron than those eating a traditional American diet. And, because a whole-food plant-based diet tends to provide more “fiber, magnesium, and vitamins like A, C, and E” (Greger, 2017), which help with the absorption of non-heme iron, vegans turn out to be “no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia than anybody else” (Greger, 2017). [61]

What can cause iron deficiency?

During certain stages of life iron requirements increase. These include times of rapid growth (infancy, childhood, and adolescence), pregnancy, and menstruation. Female adolescents are at high risk due to the combination of iron loss due to menstruation and a potential growth spurt. [54]

Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) increases the absorption of iron: Ascorbic acid will overcome the negative effect on iron absorption of all inhibitors, including phytates (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds) and polyphenols (tea, coffee, wine).

Foods that inhibit the absorption of iron:

  • Tea (primarily black tea, but also herbal teas) and coffee inhibit iron absorption to some degree, especially non-heme plant iron, due to the presence of polyphenols. Studies have shown no inhibition effects when coffee or tea was consumed one hour before eating a meal, but have been shown when drinking these beverages one hour after eating. [54, 55, 56, 57]
  • Phytates, found in some plant foods, are the main inhibitor of non-heme iron absorption. Phytates are found in many beans, seeds, nuts, and grains. Soaking these foods for 8-12 hours (depending on the item) prior to eating reduces phytic acid, and can be a strategy for improving iron absorption. [54]
  • Animal proteins and protein from soybeans decrease iron absorption.
  • Calcium can have negative effects on both heme and non-heme iron absorption, but this effect has been shown to be minimal when consuming a wide variety of foods. [54, 58]

Strategies for meeting iron requirements: [54, 55, 56, 57]

  1. Eat a diet consisting of a variety of iron-rich plant foods
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C with meals
  3. Do not drink tea and coffee with or after meals
  4. Soaking some foods, including beans and grains, reduces phytic acid and has been successful in improving the bioavailability of iron [54]
  5. Eat foods fortified with iron
  6. Eat foods that are iron-rich

Vegan iron sources: 

Foods that are naturally iron-rich: whole grains, beans, split peas, chickpeas, lentils, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, potatoes, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate.

Foods that are fortified with iron (check nutrition labels): breakfast cereals, vegan meat alternatives, and plant-based milks

Supplementing with iron: multivitamins will have varying amounts of iron but act as an insurance policy along with a diet high in iron-rich sources. If iron deficiency is of concern, talk with your doctor before supplementing with higher dose, iron-only supplements. [54]

Pro Tip: walnuts and an orange make a great snack! The walnuts provide iron and ALA, while the orange provides vitamin C, increasing the absorption of iron from the walnuts. 

Summary: Iron plays a crucial role in our central nervous system and is especially important during times of rapid growth. Eat a wide variety of iron-rich plant foods, eat citrus fruits with meals to increase non-heme iron absorption, and avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals.


Vegan Calcium

Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): [62]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 200 mg
  • 7-12 months: 260 mg
  • 1-3 years: 700 mg
  • 4-8 years: 1,000 mg
  • 9-18 years: 1,300 mg
  • 19-50 years: 8 mg (male) / 18 mg (female)
  • 51+ years: 8 mg
  • during pregnancy: 27 mg
  • while nursing: 10 mg (14-18 years) / 9 mg (19-50 years)

Tolerable Upper Limit Intakes (UL): [62]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 1,000 mg
  • 7-12 months: 1,500 mg
  • 1-18 years: 3,000 mg
  • 19-50 years: 2,500 mg
  • 19-50 years: 8 mg (male) / 18 mg (female)
  • 51+ years: 2,000 mg
  • during pregnancy: follow age range recommendation
  • while nursing: follow age range recommendation

What does calcium do:

Calcium is required for healthy bones, nerve transmission, muscle function, and contraction and vasodilation of our vascular system. About 99% of the body’s calcium is found in bone tissue. [62, 66]

Our bones go through constant remodeling throughout our lives. When new bone is formed, calcium is reabsorbed into the new bone tissue. However, during times of rapid growth, the formation of new bone can exceed the resorption rate of calcium, which is why the RDA for calcium intake is increased during these stages. [62]

Bone breakdown can also exceed bone formation in aging adults, increasing the risk of osteoporosis for the elderly and postmenopausal women. [62]

When we do not have enough available calcium to carry out normal metabolic processes our body may pull calcium from bone tissue. This can lead to the early onset of osteoporosis. [66]

A recent 2020 Epic-Oxford study showed that non-meat eaters, including pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans, may have higher fracture rates even when accounting for weight, activity, and calcium intake. [69] In a previous study, no difference in fracture rates between meat-eaters and non-meat eaters was demonstrated when those avoiding meat consumed 525 mg calcium per day.

Further study is necessary, but a possible explanation may be that vegans tend to get less vitamin D in the winter. Taking vitamin D alone has not shown benefits with concern to fracture risk, but taking vitamin D in combination with calcium has.

Strategies for meeting calcium requirements:

Greens and Beans! Dark green leafy vegetables, like kale, broccoli, and bok choy are rich in calcium, and our bodies absorb the calcium from these foods about twice as well as the calcium in milk. [67] Beans are also loaded with highly available calcium!

Get plenty of exercise. People who exercise tend to maintain calcium in their bones. Weight-bearing exercises (sports, running, jumping, lifting weights) are best for younger populations that don’t have increased fracture risks. For elderly populations, resistance exercise (low impact weightlifting exercises like exercise machines, free weights, and yoga) has shown the most benefit without increasing fracture risk. [77-80]

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, so get 20-30 minutes of direct sunlight each day, or consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

Watch your salt intake. Salt increases calcium loss through your kidneys. Avoid processed foods and keep your sodium intake to less than 2 grams (2,000 mg) each day. [81]

Oxalates, found in some plant foods, especially spinach, chard, and beet greens, [64, 65] can bind to and lower the absorption of calcium from these foods. [63, 64, 65, 67], so they are not your best sources of calcium, even though they are incredibly healthy for other reasons (so eat them! Just don’t count on them for calcium :))

Foods that are naturally calcium-rich:

  • bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, collard greens, rhubarb stalks, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, and fortified plant milks or juices.
  • navel oranges, white beans, almonds, tahini, molasses

Foods that are fortified with calcium (check nutrition labels):

  • Calcium-fortified plant milks, calcium set tofu, orange and apple juices

Supplementing with calcium: supplementing with calcium is not recommended as there appears to be a connection between supplemented calcium and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and death. [67]

Summary: Calcium is vital for bone health and is involved in many metabolic processes. Eat a wide variety of naturally calcium-rich and calcium-fortified plant foods as they are well absorbed. Aim for at least 600 mg of calcium each day from whole plant foods, and get plenty of sunlight.



Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): [70, 71]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 2 mg
  • 7 months-3 years: 3 mg
  • 9-13 years: 8 mg
  • 14-18 years: 11 mg (male) / 9 mg (female)
  • 19+ years: 11 mg (male) / 8 mg (female)
  • during pregnancy: 12 mg (14-18 years) / 11 mg (19+ years)
  • while nursing: 13 mg (14-18 years) / 12 mg (19+ years)

Tolerable Upper Limit Intakes (UL): [70, 71]

  • 0-6 months (AI): 4 mg
  • 7-12 months: 5 mg
  • 1-3 years: 7 mg
  • 4-8 years: 12 mg
  • 9-13 years: 23 mg
  • 14-18 years: 34 mg
  • 19+ years: 40 mg
  • during pregnancy: follow age range recommendation
  • while nursing: follow age range recommendation

What does zinc do: zinc is an essential mineral that is involved in immune function, protein synthesis, wound healing, and cell division. Zinc is also vital for growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. [71, 76]

Zinc deficiency: signs of zinc deficiency can vary, and may include diarrhea, hair loss, weight loss, loss of appetite, and impaired wound healing. One of the more interesting and easily noticeable signs, however, is taste abnormalities or loss of taste. [71-73]

Zinc found in plant foods is not as well absorbed as zinc from animal foods due to the presence of phytates, which bind to and lower absorption. Because of this, vegans and vegetarians have been shown to have lower levels of zinc in their blood.

Strategies for meeting zinc requirements: eat a variety of zinc-rich foods every day including beans, nuts, and whole grains, as well as foods fortified with zinc. [75] Soaking nuts, seeds, and grains overnight can also reduce phytic acid, increasing the absorption of zinc. [74]

Vegan zinc sources: oatmeal, brown rice, wheat, tofu, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peas, pumpkin seeds, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds

If you want to make sure you’re covered, consider a supplement. I like this one from Nature’s Bounty. 50mg is quite a bit, so I take 1/2 a tablet each day.

Summary: Zinc is an essential mineral that a well-planned, healthy diet vegan diet can supply. Eat a variety of zinc-rich plant foods every day.

Looking for Supplement Brand Recommendations?

Here are the supplements I personally take:


Vegan D3

  • Doctor’s Best Vitamin D3 2500 IU with Vitashine D3
  • One capsule every night before bed if I didn’t spend much time in the sun

Omega-3 Fatty Acid

  • Freshfield Vegan Omega 3 DHA Supplement
  • One capsule every night before bed


  • Deva Vegan Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement
  • One tablet every night before bed
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Vegan Nutrients Conclusion

Eating a primarily whole-food, plant-based diet is the key to health and longevity. Basing your meals around fruits, vegetables, whale grains, healthy fats, and plant-based protein sources will cover the majority of your nutrient needs. 

Supplement with B12 daily or weekly, add a vegan vitamin D supplement if you don’t spend time in the sun, and consider adding 250mg of a vegan EPA/DHA supplement.

Regardless of diet, anyone who is unable to meet nutrient recommendations through diet alone should consider taking supplements. Still, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regimen.

Now you know what vitamins and minerals you need to make sure you’re getting on a daily basis. Read Supplements for Vegan Athletes and Fitness Enthusiasts to learn which supplements are vegan and will help you reach your goals!

What are your go-to supplements?


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*Author's Note: The content on this website is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. The content of our articles is not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. It's always best to speak with your doctor or a certified medical professional before making any changes to your lifestyle, diet, or exercise routine, or trying a new supplement.

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Matt Walter, CHN, M.A.T
I studied Food Science and Human Nutrition at Washington State University and interned as a Strength and Conditioning Coach for the WSU football team. I am a Certified Holistic Nutritionist and former personal trainer and competitive CrossFit athlete. My mission is to make embracing and adopting a healthy vegan lifestyle simple and fun!

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