Can You Survive On a Vegan Diet Without Supplements?

Deciding to go vegan throws up many questions, especially surrounding your health. The all time favourite is, of course, “where do you get your protein?”. I think we’re slowly putting that one to bed now but another common question is “can you survive on a vegan diet without supplements?” … Well, let’s find out!

Can You Survive On a Vegan Diet Without Supplements?

Yes you can. But it’s not that easy and not recommended for most vegans. There are very few nutrients which are lacking in a well-balanced, plant based diet but one or two which you should be aware of if you want to be a healthy vegan!

Close up of a red apple, held in hand.

Paying attention to your nutrition is key to making the transition from omnivore to vegan. When you’ve grown up conditioned to think the consumption of meat and dairy is essential to your overall health, it can be a little scary taking that step.

Make no mistake, the animal ag industry wants you to be scared. They continue to inject dangerous misinformation and half-truths into the discourse.

This propaganda is then picked up by social media and is halfway round the planet before the truth has it’s trousers on!

They are very good at sowing the seeds of doubt in your mind. They’ve been practicing for decades, after all. Anything that threatens to upset their apple cart is seen as the enemy and they will stop at (almost) nothing to discredit and ridicule.

Using health issues as an information weapon is very effective. None of us want to make dietary decisions which may threaten our health. So ‘big ag’ plays heavily on these insecurities and they mobilise huge resources to spread outright lies about veganism.

Some care more about their health than others though, it has to be said!

Most vegans and wannabe vegans are more conscious of their health than their meaty counterparts. I know this is a massive generalisation and there are plenty of meat eaters who are health fanatics …

But the simple fact that you’re deciding to go vegan means you’ll probably have health concerns associated with making this change to your lifestyle. I’d be worried if you didn’t 🙂

So, let’s look at some specifics …

Some Nutrients Are Difficult to Get On a Plant Based Diet

The words 'tell the truth' stenciled on tarmac road.

Unlike the meat and dairy industries, I’m not in the business of lying to you. My goal is to bring you the truth, as I see it, based on many years of ‘walking the walk’, so to speak.

With that in mind, here’s the big 3 nutrients you should pay extra attention to when following this compassionate lifestyle we call veganism:

  1. Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids.
  2. Vitamin D.
  3. Vitamin B12.

There’s reams of information on the internet about nutrition. As long as you go to trusted, peer-reviewed sources you can learn an awful lot about your body’s needs.

I’m going to quickly summarise what I’ve learned about these three important groups of nutrients and why this is crucial information for vegans.

Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids

I’ve explored Omega 3s in a couple of other articles quite thoroughly so if you’d like to learn more, click here or here … the second article is a bit more in depth.

Omega 3s are very important for our overall health as they are integral to every cell in our body [1]. Some are termed essential because the body cannot synthesise them and so our diets must supply them.

Omega 3s are needed to maintain good eye health, brain function, skin health and supple joints, to name but a few. They have also been shown to improve child ADHD symptoms and to help with getting a restful night’s sleep.

Vitamin D

Most nutritionists and health experts agree that low vitamin D levels are common across the board; not just in those following a vegan diet [2].

It is more pronounced in those living in temperate climates because the main source of vitamin D is from the sun. Your skin synthesises vitamin D directly from sunlight … pretty wild!

Most food sources high in vitamin D are not vegan, like eggs, oily fish and red meat. So this is definitely something vegans should pay attention to.

If you can get 10 – 20 minutes of sunshine on your face every couple of days then you’re golden. If your skin tone is darker then you will need longer exposure, but always be careful not to let your skin ‘burn’ in the sun.

I’m writing this in early November in the UK and sunlight is in short supply. It is watery and very low in the sky so I’m making sure my family takes the supplements.

Vitamin D plays a vital role in the regulation of calcium and phosphate in the body. It is essential for maintaining good bone, tooth and muscle health.

Vitamin B12

While you can get most B vitamins from plants, this essential nutrient (also known as cobalamin) is not readily available in non-animal sources.

As such, vegans need to pay extra attention to vitamin B12.

This micronutrient is very important for maintaining a healthy nervous system function, the creation of red blood cells and the efficient release of energy from food, to name but a few.

A lack of B12 can lead to symptoms related to your nervous system like numbness or a tingling sensation in parts of your body, often going hand in hand with balance problems. Anemia, fatigue and cognitive problems can also manifest [3].

Vegan sources of B12 include yeast products, cremini mushrooms, tempeh and is often fortified in plant based milks/meats. So if you love marmite, your vitamin B12 levels are probably ok.

Otherwise, it’s worth supplementing.

To Supplement Or Not To Supplement? That Is The Question

A large selection of fresh vegetables.

If you’re super vigilant about your plant based diet and you educate yourself about the nutritional needs of your body, as well as which plants contain the micronutrients we all need then it is possible to be vegan and avoid using supplements.

However, most of us will want to take supplements to be sure we’re getting all the good stuff we need to function optimally. It’s not cheating, it’s just common sense.

Part of the problem is in these modern times where big agriculture is dominant, the nutritional quality of our food has reduced over the years.

This doesn’t only affect vegans. Everyone living in our consumer driven world is susceptible to the problem.

As soil quality diminishes, we’re seeing nutrient levels in our food decrease. From carrots to chickens and beetroots to beef!

So go organic when you can.

Be wary of supermarket organic food though. They’re allowed a certain amount of pesticides and can still call it organic. You’re better off going to someone like Riverford for a weekly box of veg which is brimming with goodness!

Along with paying more attention to the provenance of our food, supplements are important for all of us to maintain a healthy, vibrant glow

Avoid Returning To Meat-Eating After Trying Vegan!

It’s best to try not to be too ‘pure’ about going vegan. If you need to take supplements, so be it. Most of us do not have the luxury of being able to pull fresh veg out of the ground or enjoy 360 days of sunshine every year.

A woman walking down a train track into the sunset.

Many new vegans find it difficult to get the nutrition they need and come to the conclusion, sadly, that veganism is not for them. They switch back to the old ways, never to return to the fold.

It’s vitally important to read up on what your body needs to function properly, day to day. Vegans tend to be much more educated about their dietary needs than meat eaters … because we have to be!

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good and think that because you need some supplements then veganism cannot be natural and is not for you.

Vegans and non-vegans alike need to supplement, unless you’re really diligent!

Veganism Is The Future – It’s Becoming Ever More Clear

The sooner we all wake up and realise the old ways are killing our planet, the better. Many would argue it’s already too late to avoid some of the negative effects of climate change and I tend to agree.

Going vegan is one thing we can all do to make a difference for our children. Let alone make a stand against the insanity of the meat and dairy industries.

Most experts agree that reducing our meat intake is a critical piece of the climate puzzle. Most compassionate people agree that animal suffering is abhorrent.

Veganism addresses both of these points and the tides are turning.

More and more of us are moving over to this compassionate stance … because we care!

Do it for the animals, or do it for the planet … but just do it 🙂

I hope you found this article informative and it’s helped you come to some conclusions. Please share with your friends if so. Your comments are also very welcome below.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Rohan.


Sources:

[1] – Surette M. E. (2008). The science behind dietary omega-3 fatty acids. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne, 178(2), 177–180. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.071356

[2] – Sizar O, Khare S, Goyal A, et al. Vitamin D Deficiency. [Updated 2021 Jul 21]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK532266/

[3] – NHS UK. [Updated 2019 May 23, Retrieved 2021 November 4]. Health A – Z. Conditions. Vitamin B12. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamin-b12-or-folate-deficiency-anaemia/symptoms/

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