As a registered dietitian, one question that often comes up during my consults is whether there is any advantage to taking a vegan multivitamin. And if yes, which one I recommend.
Some vegan supplements are definitely worth taking. However, it’s not always clear whether vegan multivitamins fall within this category.
This article discusses the instances in which vegan multivitamins may be beneficial and how to pick the best plant-based multivitamins for your needs.
Do vegans need a multivitamin?
As a vegan, or mostly plant-based eater, you may benefit from supplementing your diet with a few key nutrients.
Why vegan supplements may be a good idea
Generally speaking, vegan diets tends to be naturally low in vitamin B12, vitamin D, long-chain omega-3 fats and iodine (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
Depending on how well-planned a vegan diets is, it may also provide low levels of iron, calcium, choline, zinc, folate and selenium (8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Getting these nutrients from food is more advantageous than getting them from supplements.
That’s because whole foods contain a mix of nutrients and beneficial compounds that work together in ways in which isolated vitamins and minerals cannot.
That said, supplements can be a helpful source of the nutrients difficult to get enough of through diet alone.
Why individual supplements may be better than vegan multivitamins
Multivitamins may feel like an easy alternative to taking several pills each day. However, there are several reasons why individual supplements may be more beneficial.
- Nutrients sometimes compete for absorption. For instance, high calcium levels in a multivitamin can reduce iron absorption. This can be problematic, especially if your iron levels are low.
- Many multivitamins provide superdoses of nutrients. Overly high intakes of certain nutrients can have negative health effects or reduce your body’s ability to absorb other nutrients (13).
- Levels may be too low for some nutrients. For instance, 25-100 micrograms of vitamin B12 is likely needed to meet your needs when taken in one daily dose. This is a fraction of what most vegan multivitamins contain.
- False sense of security. Multivitamins are often used as a back-up for a nutrient-poor diet choices. But they lack many of the nutrients and beneficial plant compounds found in foods, and can’t fully compensate for a bad diet.
For these reasons, you may want to consider only supplementing the nutrients you truly need rather than relying on a multivitamin to fill the gaps in your diet.
In sum Vegan diets are naturally low in certain nutrients. Multivitamins can help fill some of the gaps. However, they also come with certain downsides, which is why individual supplements may be preferable.
What vitamins should vegans supplement?
When it comes to supplementing nutrients individually, you may be wondering which vitamins and minerals healthy vegans should take.
Which nutrients to supplement will depend on various factors. For instance, your age, life-stage, and the quality of your diet. Generally speaking, vegan diets can benefit from the following supplements:
- Vitamin B12: A vitamin essential for the nervous system. Your body also uses it to make DNA, keep you energized and even to boost your mood and memory (14, 15, 16).
- Vitamin D: A vitamin that very few foods contain, whether vegan or not. Vitamin D contributes to improved mood, memory, immune function, muscle recovery and bone health (17, 18, 19, 20, 21).
- Long-chain omega-3s: Especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Your body can make these from alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) found in some plant foods, but only in small amounts.
- Iodine: Essential for the good functioning of your thyroid gland, which impacts your metabolism. Getting too little iodine can cause low energy levels, dry skin, memory loss, depression, weight gain, and tingling in your hands and feet (22).
In some specific cases, iron, calcium, choline, folate, selenium or zinc supplements may also be beneficial.
There’s a high chance you can get enough of some of these nutrients through simple diet modifications. So it’s best to speak to a registered dietitian knowledgeable about plant-based diets before starting a new supplementation regimen.
If you have difficulty finding a qualified nutrition professional in your part of the world, feel free to contact me so we can set up an appointment remotely.
In sum Some specific vegan supplements may help you meet your daily nutrient needs and are worth discussing with a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based diets.
Is there a multivitamin for vegans?
There are plenty of vegan multivitamins on the market.
That said, supplements — whether vegan or not — vary in quality.
For instance, many don’t actually contain what’s listed on the label and some become contaminated with unwanted compounds such as lead.
Independent laboratory reviews — for instance those found on Consumerlab — are a good way to check the quality of the supplement you consider buying before purchasing them.
In sum There are many vegan multivitamins on the market, however, they vary in quality. Independent laboratory reviews are a great way to evaluate the quality of your supplements before purchasing them.
What is the best vegan multivitamin?
Despite typically recommending individual supplements over vegan multivitamins, I realize that many vegans may prefer taking multivitamins.
After all, multivitamins may be cheaper, and can help minimize the number of pills taken each day. With that in mind, here are a few criteria to consider for those preferring multivitamins over individual supplements.
- Check the label. Make sure it includes the nutrients that are more difficult to get on a vegan diet. For more information on the vitamins and minerals I’m referring to as well as the daily recommended amounts needed, check out my vegan supplements article.
- Avoid iron, unless truly needed. If your iron levels haven’t been diagnosed as low, pick a multivitamin that doesn’t include any iron to avoid any negative health effects from getting too much iron.
- Avoid superdoses. Pick a multivitamin that provides only up to the daily reference intake (DRI) of each nutrient listed on the label. Many multivitamins exceed these daily recommendations, which can lead to negative health effects.
- Double-check whether your multivitamin has been independently tested. ConsumerLab is a good place to get independent reviews and testing reports for various vegan multivitamin and vegan supplement brands.
- Minimize additives and fillers. Try to pick a multivitamin that has as little additives and fillers as possible. This will help reduce the size of your multivitamin while helping you avoid ingesting unnecessary compounds.
In sum The guidelines above should help you pick the vegan multivitamin best suited to your needs.
Are whole food vitamins better for you?
Some vegan advocates recommend you make sure that your supplements are derived from whole foods rather than made synthetically in a lab.
Some go as far as to suggest that synthetic nutrients are dangerous. However, things are not always as they seem.
What is a whole food-based vitamin?
Whole food supplements are vitamins and minerals derived from dehydrated and concentrated whole foods rather than artificially made in a lab.
Vegan supplements made from whole foods are often referred to as plant-based supplements.
You can tell a supplement is made from whole foods by looking at its label. It may have a 100% natural stamp and will list food sources rather than synthetic vitamins and minerals on its label.
For instance, broccoli powder — a whole food form of vitamin C — rather than ascorbic acid, which is the synthetic form.
Counterintuitively, many “whole food” supplements actually contain a mix of food-derived and synthetically-produced nutrients.
Are plant-based supplements better than synthetic ones?
Since they are sourced from whole foods, plant-based supplements may contain beneficial plant compounds which synthetic supplements do not contain.
Moreover, synthetic supplements can be sometimes difficult for your body to absorb and your body may react to synthetic nutrients differently than to plant-based ones (23, 24).
For instance, the natural form of vitamin E appears to be absorbed twice as efficiently as synthetic vitamin E (25).
That said, nutrient levels in whole food supplements may be less consistent than in synthetically-produced ones. That’s because nutrient levels in whole foods tend to vary based on when and how they were grown as well as how they are transported or stored.
It’s also important to remember that most of the vitamins in your diet should come from what you eat, not the supplements you take.
So in the grand scheme of things, the small benefits of plant-based supplements may not justify their often much larger price tag.
In sum Whole food supplements may offer a slight advantage over synthetically produced ones. However, these small differences may not justify the often much steeper price tag.
To sum it up
Although individual supplements may preferable, vegan multivitamins can remain a convenient way to fill the some of the nutrient gaps in your diet.
The tips above are meant to help you pick the vegan multivitamin best suited to your needs. However, keep in mind that most of your nutrients should come from a well-planned, nutrient-dense diet, rather than in pill form.
Now that you know my thoughts on multivitamins, I’m curious to know yours. Do you take one, and if so, is it based on whole foods? Do you take any supplements in addition to it? I love to read your comments so let’s get chatting below!
Why not try natural veggies instead of supplement? They are more organic than consuming them in a capsule.
Alina Petre, MSc. RD. says
Hi Pete. Thanks for your comment! I agree, and hope I’ve made this point clear throughout the article. That said, there are instances in which supplements may be beneficial and in such cases, I believe it’s important to know how to pick the right ones for your needs 🙂
Joana Hetchman says
“Thanks for the information!! “
Alina Petre, MSc. RD. says
You’re welcome 🙂