Vitamins can be a controversial subject in the vegan community. There are people who don’t want to take supplements, or admit that vegans should take supplements. I understand this, vegans don’t want to give meat eaters the satisfaction of being able to argue that there are flaws in a vegan diet. All vegans have experienced the ‘well, where do you get….’ argument many a time.
But this argument is incredibly flawed. I can tell you where I get most of my vitamins from, because I have educated myself on what vitamins I needed and how to get them. Being vegan makes you more aware of your diet generally, and often makes you more careful of getting a variety of nutrients. Even at my unhealthiest I was aware of what I was eating. Most people who have asked where I get my protein from, will never be able to answer the question ‘but where do you get your vitamin E?’, and trust me, it’s not from chicken.
So many meat eaters do not have the awareness that most vegans do of what they could potentially be lacking in their diets. The meat eaters who use possible vitamin deficiency as a stick with which to beat vegans, are far more likely to be deficient in vitamins than we are.
I do take daily vitamins. You can get vegan multivitamins, which are absolutely fine for most people. I know The Vegan Society sell a multi-vitamin, Veg 1, as well as Holland & Barrett, which I believe is just called Vegan Multivitamin. The main reason I don’t take a multivitamin is because I don’t need them. The majority of my vitamins come from my diet. I have taken them previously, but there was a rather strange incidence once where my pee turned orange. Of course I assumed I was dying at first, but it was just caused by the amount of vitamin C and beta carotene I was getting in my diet at that time. As soon as I stopped taking the multivitamin, it stopped.
So now I just take two vitamins, which cover the things I am actually lacking in my diet. B12, and vitamin D.
Vitamin D is extremely difficult for anyone in the UK to get in the long, cold winter months, vegan or otherwise. It is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world. It is almost impossible for an adult to get enough of it from food sources alone. A vitamin D deficiency can influence your immune system, your energy levels and your bone, teeth and muscle health. It is incredibly important in the absorption of calcium in your body. It is in some fortified foods, like cereals. However, these are usually from non-vegan sources.
This is one of those things that most new vegans do not know they need to look out for. A lot of cereals seem to be vegan, however, if they are fortified with vitamin D then it is best to avoid as this is most likely from an animal source. This is also true when it comes to vitamins. Check carefully when buying vitamin D supplements that they say they are suitable for vegans. Many will not be. With any tablet, it is also important to ensure no gelatine is in the capsule. At the moment I use Holland & Barrett Mushroom Vegan Vitamin D.
B-12 is another vitamin that many people are deficient in. Again, vegan or not. A vitamin B-12 deficiency can be awful, and is often misdiagnosed as a variety of other possible illnesses, or not realised to be a possible root cause of an illness. It can affect your nervous system, your mental health, your energy levels, your muscles etc It is therefore incredibly important to ensure you have enough B-12, and B-9 (folate), in your diet. Vegans can get this from a number of fortified foods, but I find it far easier to get it from a daily supplement.
Most B supplements are fine for vegans, but still check the packaging. I have read that it is better to take in a spray or liquid, as it is absorbed better by the body. However, these can be much more expensive than the tablet, and the most important thing is just ensuring you are getting enough B-12, in whatever form. I am currently using the Holland & Barrett B-Complex Sublingual Liquid, which may or may not be because they were buy one get one free when I went in there recently.
I am not attached to either product I take. While I will always supplement B-12 and D, but the actual product I take varies, and will often depend on what is on offer. If what you can afford is a basic vegan multivitamin then that is absolutely fine. I choose to limit my intake to just those I know I am not getting in my diet, but that is just a personal choice.
There is no shame as vegans in admitting that we may need to take vitamins. I truly believe that both vitamins I take should be taken by meat eaters as well. These are things missing in most western diets generally, not just vegan ones. Even if being vegan was the sole cause for me missing these vitamins from my diet then I wouldn’t care. I am lucky enough to live in place and time where I have easy access to vitamins. If taking a tablet a day is the price of veganism then fine. Rather that than the torture and death of millions of animals.