It has gotten a bad rep for years now, either shrugged off as a less nutritious type of supplement or simply tasting worse than the rest. Of course I am talking about veganism and the supplements specifically marketed towards that demographic.
While it’s true that the amount of ingredients at the disposal of the supplement company is limited when creating these supplements, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are of lesser quality or nutrition. In fact, some vegan versions of certain supplements are made from healthier and more nutrient dense sources!
So whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian, flexitarian, paleotarian, carnivotarian or any other kind of terian, vegan supplements should be considered for use just as much as any other type of supplement by all.
In this article we will be talking about a few vegan supplements in particular that everyone can be benefiting from and which ones might
actually be better.
What Are Vegan Supplements?
There are basically two ways we can classify a vegan supplement as such. The first, and broader, way is literally any supplement that does not contain any animal-based products. All of these supplements are vegan by default, even if they don’t have a vegan label on them. They aren’t trying to market to vegans but vegans can use the product. The other more specific type of vegan supplement is one that is directly marketed towards vegan consumers. These supplements are more along the lines of foods and replacement supplements that are normally not vegan, but are now vegan due to a change in ingredients.
The biggest product that is specifically marketed to vegans that we are going to talk about is protein powders, an extremely popular product that almost everybody who is into fitness uses regularly. The real question is, are these products as good as dairy, beef, egg, or any other non-vegan protein powder?
Are Vegan Protein Powders Better?
Whether it’s from soy, pea, brown rice, hemp or any other plant, vegan protein powders are becoming very popular in the past few years. Of course dairy protein powder will always be on top, but considering vegan protein powder for at least a scoop or two a day would actually be a good idea from a nutrition standpoint. While some contain a bit more sugar and fat, most vegan powders usually contain just as much protein per scoop as whey or casein, at about 20- 25 grams in a 30-40 gram scoop.
What pea, hemp, chia, quinoa and other vegan protein sources have that dairy sources don’t are a plethora of vitamins and minerals in that same scoop. On average most vegan powders have 3-5 times more fiber, 3-5 times more unsaturated fats (the healthy fats), and 50-100% of the daily recommendations of vitamins A, C, D2, K, B1- 12, iron, iodine, zinc, selenium, and other minerals that most dairy protein powders usually have none of. So besides having just as much protein, vegan powders are essentially a multivitamin too.
Finally, the majority of vegan protein blends usually contain no extra fillers or artificial ingredients that crowd an ingredients label. Besides some stevia, natural fruit flavors and maybe guar gum, these powders are a great addition to everybody’s protein arsenal, whether you are a vegan or not.
Beyond protein powders, many ingredients are needed by vegans due to their diets, but just because omnivores can get these ingredients more readily, doesn’t mean supplementing with them isn’t still a good idea.
Most notably, vitamin B12 which is very important for proper nervous system functions, preventing anemia, fatigue, and creating healthy blood cells. Since this vitamin is primarily found in animal products it is important for vegans and vegetarians to take a B12 vitamin or drink every day (as B vitamins are water soluble and flush out of the body
These vegan supplements are sometimes sourced from types of algae and seaweeds, which are nutrient powerhouses. Spirulina and chlorella, for example, are two very good vegan sources of vitamin B12 that come in pill or powder form. Besides containing over 60% protein by weight, they also contain a ton of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and vitamins A, C, E, K, Niacin, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, and more. I recommend everybody reading this article try to include one or both of these superfoods somewhere in their diet.
Omega-3’s are another example of an essential part of our diet that vegans/vegetarians (and everyone else for that matter) should supplement with to get enough of. Without going into too great of detail, Omega-3 fatty acids are made up of EPA and DHA, and work wonders in the body from increasing mental capacity/slowing the mental aging process, lowering LDL and raising HDL cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, preventing clots that can cause strokes or heart attacks, decreasing inflammation throughout the body, helping eyesight, decreasing symptoms of depression, ADHD, and somehow even more benefits I don’t have room to list!
Since the highest levels of EPA and DHA are found in fish, vegans are more likely to suffer from a deficiency. While whole food plant based Omega-3’s exist in nuts/seeds, they are in the form of ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) and have to be converted in the body to EPA and DHA to have all these benefits. The problem is that the conversion rate is around 10%, meaning for
every gram of ALA consumed, only 100mgs are usable by the body as EPA or DHA.
Luckily, we are now discovering vegan forms of pure DHA and EHA, also found in certain forms of algae (since fish and crustaceans get their Omega-3’s from algae at the lowest level) usually sold under the name algal oil. While fish oil is a very beneficial supplement for those who are not vegan, replacing maybe half of your dose (or swapping out a fish oil for algal oil every other day) will limit the risk of heavy metals such as mercury that could possibly be in the fish oil due to biomagnification.
Take Home Message
While there are numerous other healthy ingredients & supplements made for vegans that we can all benefit from, I’ll leave that up to your further research to discover!
Nonetheless, as you can see, vegan supplements are definitely not just for those who do not consume animal products. They are just as healthy, if not more healthy, than some other supplements we are buying. Of course I’m not advocating you change your diet to stop eating meat and animal product containing supplements. However, simply diversifying your portfolio of healthy ingredients you put in your shaker or pills you take on a daily basis, you will maximize your general health by getting the best of both worlds.
As for those who do partake in a vegan or vegetarian diet, don’t let the smaller selection of supplements out there deter your ambitions. All the nutrients you need are out there if you take the time to read articles like this one to educate yourself about them.