Eat your veggies (but still take a vitamin).
As a long-time vegan (I do not eat or wear anything that comes from another animal), I am often asked how I get my… well, choose your vitamin: protein, Vitamin D, B-vitamins, Iron, etc…
I like to keep my life simple and that includes my vitamin regimen. Here is my strategy and thoughts on why (and, by the way, I recently had a full run of blood-work completed and all my vitamin and mineral levels are perfectly fine).
My strategy, in sum, is: I take a cheap vegan multi-vitamin every morning during the week and I skip taking vitamins on the weekend.
Let’s break that down:
Why take a vitamin at all if being vegan is so healthy (even a cheap one)?
I probably do not need to take vitamins. It is mainly for peace of mind. Vegan or not, I love food and tend to eat a wide variety of colors and types. I love grains, fruits, vegetables, pasta, legumes, you name it… (just don’t name okra or eggplant–so gross!).
I have not found any credible, peer-reviewed evidence showing that taking vitamins (even for non-vegans) offers any benefit for people who generally eat well and spend moderate time outdoors anyway (taking vitamins does, however, make your pee turn funny colors and I guess that’s cool). Also, despite the claims of certain health stores and vitamin chains, there is no scientifically accepted, peer-reviewed double-blind studies showing that any vitamin in any form has better absorption rate in the body than any other. In short, paying $60 for a pack of vitamins or powders will deliver the same effect as paying $4 for a pack of vitamins or powders.
That is why I buy the cheapest vegan multivitamin I can (I am fond of Deva brand because I can usually find the 90-packs of mini-pills at a cheap price on Amazon).
Why take the weekends off?
Again, mostly for peace of mind. Many vitamins, like Vitamin C, are water-soluble. If you get more Vitamin C than you need, your body will usually flush the excess out (which is why vitamins make your pee turn funny colors). That is probably why Vitamin C is pushed so hard as a cold-remedy. There is no credible evidence I am aware of to support its effectiveness at preventing illness, but if you take way too much, marketers know you will likely urinate the rest–all you lost, besides Vitamin C, is money.
(I should mention it is still possible to have too much water-soluble vitamins. It is just difficult to make it happen without overdosing on supplements.)
There are some vitamins, however, that are not water-soluble (vitamins A, D, E, and K). That means if you take too much of these, your body will not flush the excess and you will likely suffer from vitamin toxicity, which can create all kinds of health issues. Non-water-soluble vitamins are stored in fat and used only as needed. The excess is not usually flushed.
I feel better knowing I let my body flush or pull vitamins from storage for a couple days each week. I do not actually know if this is an effective strategy (I said I do it for peace of mind) but all I can tell you is I have never been diagnosed with a vitamin deficiency after close to two decades of being vegan.
Do vegans need special vitamins?
To be clear: there is no vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that exists in animal form that can not also be found in a plant-based form (where do you think the animals get their vitamins?), with one exception, and it is not protein, which can be found in peanut butter, spinach, beans, and just about everything else.
Only vitamin B12 is elusive for vegans but for an interesting reason: our society is too clean. B12 is normally found in soil and would normally be ingested by eating fresh fruit, for example (traces of soil would be on the skin of the fruit). With our modern highly industrialized and sanitized food system, it is difficult for vegans to get enough B12 naturally. However, it is found in almost every vegan product–most alternative milks are fortified with B12, as well as Orange Juice, tofu, veggie burgers, soy cheese, etc.
A cheap vegan multivitamin is a perfect solution.
What makes a vitamin vegan, anyway?
Not all packaged vitamins are vegan. Gel caps are usually made with gelatin, which comes from animals. The smooth coating on a vitamin (or any pill) is sometimes created from animal-based glycerin or gelatin. Sometimes, even the source of the vitamins themselves can be animal-based. For example, if there are Omega-3 fatty acids in the multivitamin, they are almost certainly fish-based. If it is cheaper for a vitamin manufacturer to source some or all of their product from dead animal meat factory waste, then you better believe that is where it will come from (enjoy those $60 GNC pills made of $3 hot dogs).
In other words, in the case of vitamins, make sure the product is actually labeled “vegan”.
Incidentally, you do not have to be vegan to take vegan multi-vitamins. They are the same vitamins, except the vegan ones do not require any murder of anything that feels pain.
That is my vegan vitamin regimen in all its glorious detail. In a nutshell: Take a vegan multivitamin five days per week.
Hope that helps. Here’s to your health (and weekends off)!