Daily Nutrient Recommendations for Vegans
These recommendations, itemized by Jack Norris, Registered Dietitian and the President and Executive Director of Vegan Outreach, address the nutrients that are of more concern in vegan than omnivore diets, but they are not everything we need to know about eating for optimal health. If you would like general information on eating healthfully as a vegan, Vegan For Life, by Jack Norris and Ginny Messina, contains a comprehensive discussion and menu planning for vegans.
Vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin)
n/a - Not applicable. Infants should be receiving breast milk or commercial formula which contains the necessary amounts of vitamin B12.
In foods, B12 is measured in micrograms (aka "µg" or "mcg"). 1,000 µg = 1 mg. There is a large difference between amounts taken twice daily and once daily because beyond 3 µg (for adults), absorption drops significantly. Amounts much larger than these are considered safe, but it's probably best not to take more than twice the recommended amounts. Large doses of B12 can trigger acne-like symptoms in a small percentage of people.
These recommendations are for cyanocobalamin only. There is not enough research on other forms of vitamin B12 to recommend specific dosages from supplements. For more information, see Alternatives to Cyanocobalamin: Methylcobalamin & Dibencozide.
The USA daily recommended intake for calcium is 1,000 mg for adults up to 50 years old, and 1,200 for adults over 51 and older. The UK's recommended intake is 700 mg. Evidence to date does not indicate that vegans have lower calcium needs than non-vegans. Only a few leafy greens are high in absorbable calcium: kale, mustard greens, bok choy, turnip greens, collards, and watercress. If you are not eating at least 3 servings of those foods a day (one serving is 1/2 cup cooked), then you need to be eating calcium fortified non-dairy milk (or another calcium-fortified food), calcium-set tofu, or taking a calcium supplement of 250 - 300 mg/day to ensure you are getting enough calcium. Some research indicates that it is prudent to keep calcium intakes lower than 1,400 mg per day. Calcium supplements are best taken with meals, especially for those people prone to kidney stones.
On days when you do not get enough sunlight:
Amounts somewhat larger are considered safe, but it's best not to take more than twice the recommendations without a doctor's supervision.
75 - 150 mcg every few days.
Without diet planning, vegans and vegetarians have low omega-3 intakes and blood levels; and in some cases, older vegans have close to no DHA in the blood. It is not clear whether these lower blood levels are harmful (and it is not likely to be well understood any time soon). Because DHA supplements are relatively expensive we suggest two options for vegetarians under Step 1.
Step 1: DHA Supplement
- Option A – If you want your DHA levels to be the same as non-vegetarians, supplementing with 300 mg per day will likely accomplish that.
- Option B – If you just want some insurance that you are getting a source of DHA in case your body isn't efficient at making it, supplementing with 200 - 300 mg every 2-3 days will provide that. Vegetarians over 60 years old should err on the side of Option A.
Caution: Too much omega-3s can result in bleeding and bruising. If you have reason to believe you have problems with easy bleeding or bruising, or are already consuming plenty of omega-3s, consult a health professional before following these recommendations or adding more omega-3 to your diet.
Step 2: Minimize Omega-6 Oils
- Do not prepare food with oils high in omega-6 such as corn, soy, safflower, sunflower, most vegetable oil blends (typically labeled "vegetable oil") and sesame oil. Instead, use low omega-6 oils like olive, avocado, peanut, or canola. Only cook canola under low heat and for short periods.
Step 3: Add some ALA
- Add 0.5 g of uncooked ALA to your diet daily (see chart). This would be the equivalent of:
- 1/5 oz English* walnuts (3 halves)
- 1/4 tsp of flaxseed oil
- 1 tsp of canola oil
- 1 tsp ground flaxseeds
*English walnuts are the typical walnuts for sale in grocery stores. They are distinct from black walnuts.
The vitamin A content of foods is now stated as retinol activity equivalents (RAE). 900 RAE for men; 700 RAE for women. Good sources: carrot juice, kale, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, cantaloupe
3 - 4 servings of high lysine foods which include:
- legumes - 1/2 cup cooked
- peanuts (1/4 cup)
- beans - garbanzos, kidney, pinto, navy
- peas - split or green
- soyfoods - edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy milk (1 cup), soy meats (3 oz)
- seitan - 3 oz (85 g)
- quinoa - 1 cup cooked
- amaranth - 1 cup cooked
- pistachios - 1/4 cup
- pumpkin seeds - 1/4 cup roasted
Cross-sectional studies have found similar rates of iron deficiency anemia in vegetarians as in meat-eaters. Anecdotally, vegan men and non-menstruating women do not have much difficulty getting or absorbing enough iron, but vegan menstruating women sometimes do. Iron tips:
- Eat foods high in vitamin C at meals to significantly increase iron absorption - citrus fruits, strawberries, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, swiss chard, brussel sprouts), bell peppers (yellow, red, and green), and cauliflower.
- Do not drink coffee, or black, green or herbal tea with meals; they inhibit iron absorption.
Good sources are legumes, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, bread, tempeh, miso, multivitamin or zinc supplement.