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How to be vegan: essential nutrients, supplements and medications

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When you choose to go vegan, whether that’s for a month or permanently, there are a lot of things to consider. This includes whether you’re getting all your essential nutrients from your diet, and you might be considering if your medication is vegan.

Essential nutrients that are harder to get from a vegan diet

If you’re following a vegan diet, you should be able to get most of the nutrients your body needs. But, even if you are following a healthy, balanced diet there are some nutrients that are harder to get.

These include:

Calcium

This is needed for strong bones and healthy teeth. Most non-vegans will get their calcium sources from dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. But there are plenty of other sources suitable for vegans, according to the NHS these include:

  • Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and okra but not spinach
  • Fortified, unsweetened soya, rice and oat drinks
  • Sesame seeds and tahini

For your body to regulate the amount of calcium in your body, you also need vitamin D. Between March to September you should be able to get vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. You can also get it from fortified fat spreads, breakfast cereals and unsweetened soya drinks.

Iron

Your body needs iron to produce red blood cells. A vegan diet can be high in iron, but iron from plant-based food isn’t absorbed as well as iron from meat.

Good sources of iron for a vegan diet are:

  • Pulses
  • Wholemeal bread and flour
  • Breakfast cereals fortified with iron
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables such as watercress and broccoli

Vitamin B12

This vitamin is needed to help maintain healthy blood and nervous system. According to The Vegan Society vitamin B12 is made by micro-organisms and isn’t products by plants. So, the only reliable sources of B12 for vegans are fortified foods or supplements.

This could include:

  • Some alternatives to milk products or vegan spreads
  • Nutritional yeast flakes and yeast extracts
  • Breakfast cereals

It’s best to try to eat these foods twice a day and aim for at least 3mcg (micrograms). Or take a supplement, The Vegan Society suggest you take either 10mcg daily or at least 2000mcg a week.

The Nutri Within Vitamin B12 supplements are suitable for vegans if you’re looking to take a supplement.

Omega-3

This is a fatty acid found primarily in oily fish. The NHS suggests it can help maintain a healthy heart and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten as part of a healthy diet.

Vegan sources of Omega-3 are:

  • Flaxseed (linseed oil)
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Soya oil and soya based foods such as tofu
  • Walnuts

According to the NHS, the evidence suggests that the omega-3 you get from plant-based sources may not have the same benefits as those in oily fish. However, you can still look after your heart by following a healthy, balanced diet that includes at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, cutting down on foods high in saturated fat and watching how much salt you eat.

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Being vegan and taking medication

All medicines in the UK must currently be tested on animals before they are considered safe for humans. However, according to the Vegan society being vegan is to avoid using animals as far as is practicable and possible. So, it’s recommended that you take all medication prescribed to you by your doctor.

You can discuss with your GP, or pharmacist, to provide you with a medication that doesn’t contain animal ingredients or lactose. But this may not always be possible.

For more advice on medication, nutrients supplements and being vegan come in-store and speak to a member of our healthcare team.

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References

www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/the-vegan-diet
www.vegansociety.com/resources/nutrition-and-health/nutrients/vitamin-b12