The vegan diet is considered very healthy. If appropriately planned, it may even provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.1 However, if you do only eat plant-based food, it is important to consider that there are certain micronutrients and vitamins vegans should pay special attention to in order not to become deficient.
We must be very aware that it is not only absolutely necessary for our well-being to cover our daily requirement of all essential nutrients so that our metabolism functions smoothly and our body can keep us healthy. We should also pay particular attention to optimal nutrient combinations in order to actually be able to utilise these valuable substances through increased bioavailability.
Of course, it is not only important for vegans to prevent vitamin deficiencies and other nutritional gaps. Vegetarians and people who eat meat and dairy products should also make sure that their bodies are well supplied with all the essential nutrients. But our focus in this post is on the purely vegan diet. What are critical vegan nutrients that people on a plant-based diet should look out for to prevent deficiencies?
The bulk of essential nutrients we need every day can be obtained by eating a healthy plant-based diet with lots of fresh organic fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, herbs, and other natural foods. With other vitamins and micronutrients it is a bit more difficult. Below you will find an overview with background information on eight critical vitamins and other nutrients for vegans and what you can do to avoid a deficiency.
Critical vegan vitamins and nutrients
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A must for vegans
Taking care of an adequate supply of vitamin B12 is vital for vegans because the vegan diet unfortunately does not provide this vitamin in sufficient quantities. Therefore, supplementing with natural dietary supplements for vegans containing sufficient vitamin B12 is a good solution to cover your supply.
This position is maintained also in relevant literature, e.g. the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explicitely states that „vegans need reliable sources of vitamin B12, such as fortified foods or supplements.“2
Why vegans should pay special attention to vitamin B12
One of the reasons vitamin B12 is so important is that it is not synthesised in our body. This means our body cannot produce it on its own. Only certain microorganisms can synthesise vitamin B12. It is therefore of bacterial origin. Although it also occurs naturally in the earth, in view of today’s highly industrialised food production processes, the vitamin B12 content in our soil is close to zero.
As late as the 1950s, significant amounts of B12 could be found in soil samples and roots, so that back then a sufficient B12 supply could be ensured by eating unwashed vegetables. Nowadays, plant foods – whether washed or unwashed – are no longer a sufficient source of vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 sources
The only sources with significant levels of vitamin B12 are foods of animal origin. Vitamin B12 is synthesised by microorganisms in the rumen and intestines of ruminants such as cows and other grazing animals – only they can sufficiently provide themselves with the B12 produced in their guts. Other animals must also ingest it through food. In today’s agricultural industry, where animals are no longer allowed to roam in nature, vitamin B12 must be artificially added to animal feed so that the meat contains enough of it. Cows need to be supplemented with cobalt to synthesise B12 in the unnatural living conditions.
For these reasons, any person who excludes foods of animal origin from their diet should supplement with vitamin B12.3
Vitamin B12 deficiency symptoms
A vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to symptoms such as tiredness and anemia, hair loss, paleness, Hunter’s glossitis (inflammation of the tongue), paresthesia (tingling/numbness mainly in the arms and legs), muscle weakness, unsteady gait with an increased tendency to fall, gastrointestinal problems, difficulty concentrating and memory loss, headaches, as well as shortness of breath (dyspnoea). Serious nerve damage and complications at the neurological level can also result from a vitamin B12 deficiency.
Methylcobalamin vs cyanocobalamin: What’s the difference?
Both substances are forms of vitamin B12. Cyanocobalamin is a synthetic form of vitamin B12 that does not occur naturally. It is more commonly used in dietary supplements because it is cheaper than methylcobalamin. Unlike cyanocobalamin, methylcobalamin is a naturally occurring form of vitamin B12. Because cyanocobalamin is man-made, it must first be converted into methylcobalamin in the body before it can be absorbed. Methylcobalamin occurs naturally, so it’s already bioavailable and your body can absorb it more easily and quickly.
Based on all this information, it becomes clear how important vitamin B12 supplementation is, especially for vegans. Synergo basis not only provides more than the recommended daily minimum intake of vitamin B12 (4 µg = 155% NRV*) in the naturally occurring and more bioavailable form methylcobalamin from a vegan source (vitamin B12 vegan from fermentation). It also contains many other important substances such as folic acid, calcium, or iron, which together with vitamin B12 support important processes in the body such as haematopoiesis (blood formation), cell division, and the protection and function of nerves. We can therefore proudly say that Synergo basis truly is a vegan multi-nutrient.
Strong deficiencies depending on region, season, and lifestyle
In the category of critical vegan vitamins, vitamin D is often neglected. Although vitamin D is naturally contained in some foods or the foods have been fortified with it (e.g. many dairy products), the amounts obtained through these foods hardly meet our daily requirements. The reason for this is that up to 90 percent of our vitamin D should be synthesised by our bodies (i.e. made by ourselves) when exposed to sunlight.
Depending on region, season, and personal lifestyle, severe deficiencies may occur. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in certain regions. And this is independent of the diet, but dependent on the geographical location and the extent of the solar radiation there. Also people who spend little time outdoors are at risk. Additional risk factors are the little exposure of body surface during the cold season and the use of sunscreen. All of these circumstances can lead to a greater vitamin D deficiency than one might think.
For vegans who normally have fewer vitamin D-fortified foods to choose from, it can be even more difficult to meet their vitamin D needs.
What does our body need vitamin D for?
Vitamin D is necessary for our immune system, for heart muscle function, muscle function in general, a healthy intestinal flora, the metabolism of bones and teeth (important for calcium absorption) and for our mental well-being.
Vitamin D deficiency symptoms
However, if there is a lack of vitamin D in the body and appropriate supplementation does not occur, various symptoms and diseases can manifest, such as fatigue, diffuse bone and muscle pain, muscle weakness, listlessness, or depressive mood. In the worst case it can lead to cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, rickets (disease of the growing bone with disturbed mineralisation), or even autoimmune diseases and more.
Vitamin D vs Vitamin D3: What’s the difference?
The umbrella term for the two forms vitamin D2 and vitamin D3 is vitamin D. Vitamin D2 occurs in plants, vitamin D3 is mostly formed in animals, including humans, when exposed to sunlight. Research suggests that vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is better absorbed by our bodies (i.e. more bioavailable) than vitamin D2 – making it the preferred form of supplementation. It’s also important to know that most sources of vitamin D3 are of animal origin! Therefore, pay particular attention to vegan quality when supplementing. Some seaweed are natural vegan sources of plant-based vitamin D3.
There is ample scientific evidence to support the need for vitamin D (ideally D3) supplementation. Synergo basis provides you with an appropriate daily dose of vegan vitamin D3 (15 µg = 300% NRV*). It also contains calcium and, together with vitamin D3, can not only support your bone and dental health, but also serve your body well in many other areas, such as your immune system, cardiovascular health, or a healthy intestinal flora. At the same time, it contains vitamin K2 because when taking vitamin D, you should always ensure that you have an adequate vitamin K2 supply. It is also important to note that physical activity is recommended to promote good vitamin D absorption.
In plant-based diets such as veganism or vegetarianism, reference is often made to a possible protein deficit. We now know that this is a myth. Whether vegan or vegetarian – if you eat a healthy and balanced diet with lots of legumes, nuts, seeds, and fresh vegetables, you don’t really have to worry about your protein supply.4
Why are proteins essential nutrients?
About a fifth of our body consists of protein compounds, the so-called body proteins. Proteins are molecules made up of amino acids in their smallest parts. Proteins are chains of amino acids. Over 100 different amino acids are known and they fulfil important functions in our body. They are the structural basis of our DNA, as building blocks they are also essential for the maintenance of all body tissues and for a strong immune system. In addition, they are the natural building blocks of enzymes that are important for our digestion and they initiate many important biochemical reactions in our organism.
Nine amino acids are considered essential. This means that our body cannot produce them itself and they must be ingested exogenously (through diet or dietary supplements). There are also semi-essential amino acids. Depending on certain circumstances such as growth, illness, physical activity, or advanced age, the human organism cannot produce them sufficiently either. The rest of the amino acids can be produced by the body itself by converting other amino acids.
When we ingest food proteins, they are broken down into their individual amino acids during digestion and then converted into body proteins during metabolism. We use up protein all the time, so we need regular supplies.
How can I ensure a high-protein vegan diet?
Individual vegetable protein sources never contain the full spectrum of all nine essential amino acids. But our diet typically does not consist of just one vegetable. If we eat a varied plant-based diet, a complete supply of all important amino acids can be ensured.
Supplementation is also a reasonable way for vegans and vegetarians to optimise their protein intake.
Synergo basis provides vegan multi-nutrients in an optimal combination, including amino acids from plant sources. Synergo basis contains all essential amino acids (valine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, threonine, lysine and histidine) as well as all semi-essential amino acids (arginine, asparagine, cysteine, glutamine, glycine, proline and tyrosine) in a balanced ratio, so that it provides you with a base of amino acids. It is an excellent vegan supplement. However, you should additionally ensure that you consume high-quality plant-based protein sources on a daily basis.
On the subject of proteins, it should also be mentioned that an excessive intake of protein from animal sources can have a negative effect on the acid-base balance in the body. The reason for this is that the metabolism of animal proteins produces uric acid – a metabolic waste product that the body has to eliminate. If it is present in too large quantities, it contributes to acidification of our organism.
Although the amounts of iron in foods of plant and animal origin are actually not very different (many plants have even more iron than meat in terms of quantity), vegans should pay special attention to this trace element because the percentage absorption of plant iron is lower than that of animal iron. Iron from plant sources is only absorbed by the body between 1 and 20 percent. This is because plant foods only contain non-heme iron, which has a lower bioavailability than the heme iron found in animal products (particularly red meat) of which 25 to 30 percent are absorbed. It is therefore important to pay attention to iron in the vegan diet and possibly supplement it in order to achieve the recommended iron amounts per day.5
Why do we need iron?
Iron is a very important nutrient as it contributes to the formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin (also known as the red blood pigment in red blood cells) and it supports the all-important transport of oxygen to all our cells. When iron reserves are low, the oxygen supply in the organism slows down. Iron is also involved in the functioning of our immune system and nervous system, in DNA synthesis and in cellular respiration and thus in energy production.
Women should also ensure an adequate iron supply
Since women of childbearing age have monthly iron losses through menstruation, this trace element is required in larger amounts by all women of childbearing age but especially by vegan women of childbearing age.6
Iron deficiency symptoms
Various symptoms can indicate an iron deficiency. These primarily include loss of performance, tiredness, or hair loss. Severe iron deficiency also leads to anemia, which can manifest as palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, and pale skin.
Iron in the vegan diet
Various sources rich in iron can be found among plant foods. Of particular note are soybeans, seeds (pumpkin seeds, sesame, etc.), nuts, tofu, dark chocolate, spinach, collards, and whole grains.
If the necessary amounts of iron are not covered with a vegan diet, there is a risk of developing deficiency symptoms and diseases. It is important to note, however, that iron deficiency is also common in non-vegans.
Iron supplementation is one way to prevent deficiency, both to meet our daily requirement for this essential nutrient and to increase iron storage.
Synergo basis is a special vegan-friendly dietary supplement that builds on optimal nutrient synergies. Among other things, it can help you meet your iron needs. In addition to 5 mg iron per daily dose, it also contains vitamin C and vitamin A, both of which are great enhancers for better absorption/bioavailability of iron.7
Why is calcium important for our health?
Calcium is the mineral that makes up the largest proportion in our body in terms of quantity. Most of the calcium in the body is found in bones and teeth. That is because calcium is essential for their formation and maintenance. But we also need it for blood clotting and it is essential for the function of every cell in our body because it stabilises cell walls and is involved in signal transmission in the cell as well as in the transmission of stimuli in the nervous system and muscles. This means we need calcium to see, hear and feel touch on our skin. Calcium also allows our muscles to contract and relax by constantly changing the levels of calcium in our muscle cells. This biochemical process is called the calcium cycle. It is worth mentioning the interaction with magnesium which is crucial for muscle relaxation.
Calcium and the vegan diet
In the vegan diet, we find great sources of plant-based calcium in foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. In most cases it is possible to achieve the recommended intake levels through these foods. However, it must be taken into account that calcium absorption can be inhibited due to phytates and oxalates in these same foods. Oxalates in beets, nuts, beans, green leafy vegetables, or tea can bind to calcium and make it difficult to absorb. In whole grain products, legumes, seeds, and some nuts, it is the phytates (phytic acids) that can reduce the absorption of iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
Calcium deficiency symptoms
The following symptoms can be caused by a calcium deficiency: dry skin, muscle cramps, heart problems, bone decalcification or osteoporosis, limited mobility, and an increased susceptibility to fractures.
How can vegans ensure adequate calcium intake?
Vegans are advised to consume the above food groups in their diet, paying special attention to how they are prepared. Practices such as soaking legumes, grinding seeds, and cooking oxalate-rich vegetables (spinach) can improve absorption of the calcium they contain.8
An additional way to prevent a calcium deficiency is to provide extra calcium through dietary supplements such as Synergo basis. With 242 mg of calcium from the seaweed Lithothamnium calcareum, it contains a good plant-derived calcium base to supplement the amount that may be missing in a vegan diet.
In addition, the Synergo recipe also included those nutrients and vital substances that our body needs for the absorption and utilisation of calcium. Without vitamin D, calcium cannot be absorbed from the intestine. Vitamin K2 helps redistribute calcium in the body, so it helps get calcium where it’s needed, primarily in the bones and teeth. Magnesium in turn activates vitamin D. This means that without magnesium there is no effective vitamin D and without effective vitamin D there is no calcium intake. In combination with vitamin C, calcium has a stimulating effect and is extremely beneficial for muscle function. Synergo basis provides a synergetic combination and simultaneous provision of all these important nutrients.
Vegans have higher needs
An adequate supply of zinc is extremely important since the trace element zinc is involved in numerous metabolic processes in our body, e.g. in cell growth and wound healing. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory functions and plays a very important role in our immune system and in reproduction.
Zinc deficiency symptoms
Manifestations of a zinc deficiency can be diverse. Some of them are: increased susceptibility to infections and recurring infections, loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, hair loss (alopecia), poor wound healing, growth retardation or fertility problems, poor concentration, mood swings, depression, nail deformation, spontaneous miscarriage, sensitivity to light (photophobia), pale skin, or neurological defects.
What should vegans pay particular attention to to ensure an adequate supply of zinc?
The high amounts of fibre that vegans consume on a healthy plant-based diet can combine with zinc, thus interfering with zinc absorption.9 It is therefore recommended to increase zinc intake in a vegan diet by up to 50 percent of the generally recommended values.
In addition to consuming zinc-rich plant foods such as legumes, pseudocereals, nuts, and seeds, vegans should also consider zinc-rich dietary supplements such as Synergo basis to achieve an adequate supply of zinc.
The amounts of zinc contained in Synergo basis are high enough to help you easily cover these recommended doses together with your daily diet (Synergo basis contains 10 mg zinc = 101% NRV*). Zinc and vitamin C together are a strong duo against free radicals and oxidative stress and thus support the defense mechanisms of your immune system. Just like zinc, vitamin C in its natural (non-synthetic) form from acerola extract is also present in sufficient quantities in Synergo basis.
Omega 3 fatty acids
What exactly are omega-3 fatty acids and why are they important?
Omega 3 fatty acids (also linolenic acid) are a special form of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are essential because the body cannot produce them itself, but they fulfill many important functions for our health. Omega 3 fatty acids stand out in particular because they are of great importance for our metabolism. As building blocks of our cell membranes, they keep the cell membranes supple. They are also required for the production of various tissue hormones, they strengthen the immune system and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Omega 3 fatty acids are also part of the photoreceptor cells and the retina and are therefore important for keeping our eyes healthy. A sufficient supply of omega 3 also supports heart health and protects us from neurodegenerative diseases in old age.10
Omega 3 and Omega 6 ratio
Maintaining a healthy balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids is just as important as getting enough omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 6 is also a polyunsaturated fatty acid that performs important functions in the body, but it is much more common in our modern diet than omega 3.
Omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids compete for the same metabolic pathways in the body. While the messenger substances from omega 6 fatty acids such as linoleic acid and arachidonic acid promote inflammation, those from omega 3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect. Too much omega 6 blocks omega 3 fatty acids. It is therefore particularly important that you consume enough omega 3 fatty acids.
A maximum ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 of 5:1 is recommended for the overall diet – 1:1 would be even better. To achieve this, you can for example replace omega 6 rich oils with omega 3 rich rapeseed oil when cooking (safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil and pumpkin seed oil contain a particularly high amount of omega 6.) Also, Synergo basis contains a very good omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1:1.5, but it is important to include more natural omega 3 in your daily nutrition.
Why is it particularly important for vegans and vegetarians to ensure sufficient omega 3 intake?
Omega 3 fatty acids in their most effective form (DHA and EPA) are contained in fish. But don’t worry, even if you don’t eat fish, you can get enough omega 3 from plant sources. There are delicious plant-based foods that contain a particularly large amount of alpha-linolenic acid (i.e. omega 3). Your body then converts alpha-linolenic acid into the biologically active forms DHA and EPA.
But please note: the less omega 6 fatty acids your diet contains, the better your body can convert the alpha-linolenic acid into the biologically active omega 3 form EPA and DHA.
Good plant-based omega 3 sources
Significant sources of alpha-linolenic acid are flaxseed/flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts/walnut oil, hemp oil/hempseed and chia seeds.
Why vegans should put a special focus on selenium
The trace element selenium occurs in tiny concentrations, but these tiny amounts are essential for us and other living beings. Like other minerals, selenium is found in the soil of our planet. Soil selenium concentration varies greatly from region to region as a result of volcanic eruptions that occurred far in the past. With global warming, the selenium concentration in the soil is falling.
In parts of Europe, selenium content in the soil can be low, so farm animals are often fed supplements to ensure their meat and milk contain the trace element selenium – in the same way vitamin B12 supplements are given to animals. This is the case in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria, where most people receive their selenium from supplemented animal products. Despite this, the average selenium intake is suboptimal – even in people who eat animal products.
Why do we need selenium?
Selenium plays a number of important roles in the body affecting the immune system, thyroid function and reproduction. It also helps form protective antioxidants that can prevent damage to cells and tissues. In addition, selenium plays a role in DNA synthesis, cell division, and cell growth. It’s also considered a natural weapon against cancer, as people with higher levels of selenium appear to be less likely to develop certain types of cancer.
Selenium deficiency symptoms
Selenium deficiency can increase the risk of infection and disease and is linked to a number of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as mood swings, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Deficiency has also been linked to reproductive problems, including male and female infertility, miscarriage, preeclampsia, fetal growth restriction (undersized unborn child), preterm labor, gestational diabetes, and birth cholestasis (a liver disease that can occur during pregnancy).
All people, but especially vegans, should ensure that they have an adequate intake of selenium. Because the selenium distribution of soils varies so much from region to region, it is difficult to create food tables that show how much selenium different foods contain. It is therefore advisable to ensure an adequate supply of selenium through natural food supplements. It’s important to note that selenium (like many other trace minerals) is toxic in excessive amounts. Up to 400 µg selenium per day are considered safe in the long term. With 61 µg selenium, Synergo basis contains 110% of the recommended daily minimum amount and thus provides a good basic supply of selenium.
Veganism can be extremely healthy if you make sure you eat a balanced diet and include plenty of fresh, organic vegetables, healthy herbs, seeds, nuts, and legumes in your meals. Then the vegan diet is rich in important micronutrients and excess alkalines and is therefore one of the best precautions for a long, healthy life.
However, the daily requirement of some micronutrients is difficult to cover with a purely plant-based diet. With this post, our intention is to provide a comprehensive overview of which nutrients and vitamins vegans should pay attention to and why.
A vegan multivitamin or more precisely: a vegan multinutrient like Synergo basis offers a comprehensive supplementation with carefully selected superfoods and natural plant-based micronutrients. The strength of Synergo basis lies precisely in the well thought-out composition of ingredients. This is important because many nutrients require other nutrients in order to be absorbed by the body and to fulfil their functions in the body. At Synergo, we specialise in these nutrient synergies. Do you have questions about Synergo basis? We are happy to help and advise you (contact the Synergo team).
Sources and references:
* NRV = nutrient reference values which are EU guidance levels on the daily amount of vitamin or mineral that the average healthy person needs to prevent deficiency (according to the EU food information regulation 1169/2011)
1 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and dietetics. 2015; 115 (5) 801-810. →
2 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and dietetics. 2015; 115 (5) 801-810. →
3 Joy Ngo, Gabriela Nicola Orejas. Pacientes vegetarianos: consejos dietéticos y necesidades de seguimiento. FMC. 2021, 28(7) 381-389. →
4 González Diaz Andrea, Sierra Rudiño, Yuris Paola. Nutrientes relevantes para suplementar en la dieta vegetariana vegana en adultos jóvenes. 2021. →
5 National Institutes of Health, 2019. →
6 Tume Peralta, Rodrigo Rafael, Soria Otárola, Claudia Paola. Ingesta de hierro dietario y estado nutricional del hierro en mujeres vegetarianas y veganas de Lima. 2021. →
7 MsC. Yusimy Cardero Reyes, Lic. Rodolfo Sarmiento González y MsC. Ana Selva Capdesuñer. Importancia del consumo de hierro y vitamina C para la prevención de anemia ferropénica
Importance of the iron and vitamin C consumption for the prevention of iron-deficiency anemia . Medisan. 2009. 13 (6) 1029-3019. →
8 Serralde Zuñiga A. E., Ceccatell P. Alberto, Meléndez Mler Guillermo. Micronutrimentos en vegetarianos. Revista de endocrinología y Nutrición. 2005. 13 (1) 33-38. →
9 González Diaz Andrea, Sierra Rudiño, Yuris Paola. Nutrientes relevantes para suplementar en la dieta vegetariana vegana en adultos jóvenes. 2021. →
10 González Diaz Andrea, Sierra Rudiño, Yuris Paola. Nutrientes relevantes para suplementar en la dieta vegetariana vegana en adultos jóvenes. 2021. →