Can You Be Vegan Without Supplements?

There’s always a nutritional concern when it comes to vegan diets.

Is a vegan diet versatile enough to get all the nutrients our body needs?

While nutritional experts share different opinions, I’ve come to discover that vegans do need supplements. Not because there’s no supply of food available to meet the nutritional demands of every vegan, but because (1) — some are not available through plant-based foods, and (2) — people with a busy lifestyle may not eat enough of the right foods.

Hence, finding themselves in a position where they’re nutrient deficient.

(If you wish to avoid the most common “vegan” deficiencies, feel free to read this short guide.)

This being said — people assume vegans require a very diverse supply of supplements to survive, but there’s no evidence that supports that notion.

There are only two supplements vegans may need.

The Dangers Of B12 Deficiency

As you know, B12 plays a crucial role in the production of red blood cells and DNA, as well as in regulating our nervous system. Without B12, we wouldn’t be able to survive.

It’s not unusual to find people with B12 deficiency— especially older folks. When you get older your body gradually loses some of its ability to absorb vitamins and requires you to adapt by either feeding yourself more or taking supplements.

Vegans if not careful, may also be surprised with low levels of b12. The symptoms may take years to show up, and they could be devastating.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency Symptoms

Here are some common symptoms caused by vitamin b12 deficiency:

Pale or Jaundiced skin: When your body lacks vitamin B12, it may affect your body’s red blood cell production. This may also be due to a disruption in your DNA, where your body lacks the ‘coding’ information for building up cells.

Short of breath and dizzy: With a shortage of red blood cells your body may find it difficult to get enough oxygen to your blood. Assuming you’re in a state of anemia derived from b12 deficiency.

Disturbed vision: Another symptom may occur when the harm done to the nervous system ends up causing damage to the optic nerve.

Mood changes: B12 deficiency has been linked to mood and brain disorders like depression and dementia.

Weakness and fatigue: Just like a shortage of breath and dizziness, you may feel unusually tired and weak, because your body can’t effectively create enough red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body.

Glossitis and mouth ulcers: Glossitis is manifested when your tongue is red and swollen. Studies show that this could be an earlier sign of b12 deficiency.

Sensations of pins and needles: B12 plays a role in the production of myelin, an insulating layer that protects our nerves. B12 deficiency may lead to nerve damage and create a sensation of pins and needles.

I just gave you eight reasons to be wary of vitamin b12 and take this matter seriously.

How You Should Get Your Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is not made by plants; It’s made by microbes inhabiting the earth.

And in the sanitized world we live in today, we now chlorinate the water supply to clean off any bacteria. This has consequently removed B12 from the water… but it has also eliminated the cholera bug, which is a great thing.

Given the current state of affairs, a reliable source of vitamin B12 is imperative for anyone eating a plant-based diet.  

And even though you can obtain vitamin B12 from fortified foods, you may not be able to consume enough b12 to meet your daily recommended intake. You would have to consume 4.5 mcg of B12 across three or more meals. 

This is inevitable because our vitamin b12 receptors can only absorb 1.5 mcg at once, and it takes them between four to six hours to distribute the b12 before they’re active again.

Given this phenomenon, the easiest way to obtain vitamin b12 is through a supplement.

The Dangers Of Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency can affect everyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re vegan or not.

Vitamin D is essentially a hormone your body produces when your skin is exposed to sunlight. As a vegan, you can find it in fortified foods like vegan milk.

But the best way to obtain it is by getting exposed to the sun.

Low levels of vitamin D are actually common on a worldwide scale.

A study made in 2011, shows that 41,6% of adults (in the US) are vitamin D deficient. This number is superior in Hispanics and Afro-Americans. Apparently, the amount of melanin you have on your skin can affect the amount of vitamin D you produce.

But that’s not everything.

Here are other factors that may increase your risk of vitamin D deficiency:

  • Being elderly: the more you age, the more difficult you will find in absorbing any type of vitamin. That is the natural course of life.
  • Being overweight or obese: Excess weight may reduce the liver’s capacity to convert vitamin D into 25-hydroxyvitamin D (calcidiol), which is the major form of vitamin D in the blood.
  • Living far from the equator where there is little sun year-round.
  • Always using sunscreen when going out.
  • Staying indoors.

Other than the first two, the other three are self-explanatory.

Now, let’s look at ways in which you can acquire vitamin D.

Getting Vitamin D From the Sun

This is hands down the most natural source of vitamin D.

It’s so natural there’s no limit to how much sunlight you can get because your body has a way to regulate the production of vitamin D.

This immediately makes the “sun” a more appealing idea than simply giving your hard-earned money to a supplement company you never heard about.

Furthermore, the sun may have effects beyond vitamin D.

In fact, your body is capable of using the sun’s rays to activate chlorophyll by-products in your bloodstream to make Co-Q10. (A substance that provides energy to your cells)

There’s more. If you’re on a nutritious plant-based diet, the sun may maximize the effects of the green food you eat by releasing a burst of nitric oxide-releasing compounds that result in a drop in blood pressure and improvement in the artery function.

And while one may argue against the artificial nature of supplements, there are some serious risks to sun exposure. Too much exposure increases the risk of cataracts, something you can minimize by wearing dark sunglasses.

Sunlight can also affect how your skin ages, which can be accelerated by how much sun you get overtime. In fact, here’s an example of a truck driver who’s had prolonged sun exposure to one side of his face:

The New England Journal of Medicine, Unilateral Dermatoheliosis

Too much sun exposure will actually make you look older.

But worse than looking older, it is the actual diagnosed number of deaths every year due to skin cancer. The UV rays in sunlight are considered a class 1 carcinogen, just like any other processed meat.

Careful with Tanning Beds.

People who use tanning beds have an increased risk of getting skin cancer. Plus, there’s little to no vitamin D production in that method.

Not only that, but tanning is also considered dangerous for its addicting nature.

Harvard researchers suggest that tanning and the consumption of heroin light up the same biological pathways. Therefore tanning should be seen in the same light.

Given the dangers of sunlight (and tanning beds), is there a foolproof solution to acquiring vitamin D without any drawbacks?

YES! The solution is a Vitamin D supplement.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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