Nutrient recommendations for vegan adults

The following recommendations are general guidelines for your orientation. You do not have to follow them in the minutest detail.

1) Vitamin B12

Choose one of the following options [1–4]:
  • 2–5 µg twice per day (from fortified foods or a supplement) [5–12]
  • 10–50 µg per day from a supplement [6,10–15]
  • 2000–2500 µg per week from a supplement [7,11,12,16–18]

2) Calcium

Consume at least 600 mg of calcium per day [2,19–28]. You can achieve this by choosing at least one of the following options every day:
  • 1 glass (~250 ml) of calcium-fortified plant milk, for example, soya milk. The label should state that it contains 120 mg of calcium per 100 ml (just like cow’s milk) [3,23,28–31]. This will provide about 300 mg of calcium.
  • Other calcium-fortified foods, for example, calcium-fortified juice, soya yoghurt, rolled oats, or bread, which would also provide about 300 mg of calcium per day (check the label; different products are available in different countries) [23,28,30,32]
  • 1 to 2 cups of cooked dark green leafy vegetables:
    • pak choi (bok choy)
    • kale
    • Collard greens/Spring greens
    • broccoli raab
    • turnip greens
    • mustard greens
    • broccoli [23,28,31]
    • dandelion leaves
    • nettle leaves
    • Napa cabbage (cooked)
    • (Spinach and chard [called silverbeet in Australia and New Zealand] are not good calcium sources, as the bioavailability is low.)
  • 2 to 3 cups of raw Napa cabbage
  • 1 cup of tofu made with calcium sulfate [23,28–31]
  • calcium-rich water/mineral water which should provide at least 300 mg calcium per day – check the label [33,34]
  • ½ cup of dried figs + 3 oranges [23]
  • 6 nixtamalized corn (maize) tortillas (Ø ~15 cm) (These are available in Mexico and several Central American countries like Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.) [35–42]
The official dietary intake recommendations in many countries is about 1000 mg of calcium per day [109].

3) Vitamin D

In summer:

  • 15–30 minutes of direct sunshine on your skin every day ... or more sunshine (e.g., 1 or 2 hours) less often (e.g., several times per week). If you live far from the equator, sunshine around midday (about 9 am to 3 pm) is more effective, i.e., your shadow should not be much longer than your height. Avoid excessive sunshine exposure. Avoid sunburn!
  • take a vitamin D supplement – like in winter. Do not avoid the sun completely even if you take a daily vitamin D supplement. Sunshine has other health benefits apart from stimulating vitamin D synthesis. 

In winter (“vitamin D winter”):

  • ~25 µg (~1000 IU) vitamin D per day from a supplement [2,3,23,28,43–50]

“Vitamin D winter” is when your body cannot make vitamin D from sunshine, and this depends on where you live on this planet (latitude).

“Vitamin D winter”:

  • Between 35° north and 35° south: No “vitamin D winter” at all – you can make vitamin D all year long from sunshine on your skin [51]
  • Between 35° and 40° north: December and January
  • Between 40° and 50° north: November to February
  • North of 50° north: October to March (or longer)
  • Between 35° and 40° south: June and July
  • Between 40° and 50° south: May to August
  • South of 50° south: April to September (or longer)

4) Iodine

Choose one of the following options [2,3,45,52–60]:
  • 100–150 µg per day from a supplement
  • eat seaweed like nori or wakame, several times per week
  • use iodized salt (1 teaspoon contains 40–240 µg of iodine – check the label) [61–63]. Avoid excessive salt intake.

5) Omega-3 fatty acids

Choose one (or a mix of several) of these options (more or less) every day [19,30,64–69]. The following recommendations are for men – who generally consume more calories. For women a little less is sufficient.
  • ~10 walnuts (=20 walnut halves; ~40 g) [64]
  • 1–2 teaspoons of linseed oil (flaxseed oil) [64]
  • 2 tablespoons of ground linseeds (flaxseeds) [64,70,71]
  • 1–2 tablespoons of chia seeds [69,72–74]
  • 1–2 tablespoons of hemp seed oil [64]
  • ¼ cup of hemp seeds, or 1–2 tablespoons of shelled hemp seeds
  • 2–3 tablespoons of rapeseed oil (canola oil) [64]
Optional recommendation:
Use half of the above recommendations – and add a vegan EPA/DHA supplement:
  • 200–300 mg EPA/DHA every two or three days (or every day if you like) [64,67–69,75–77]
Current evidence does not clearly indicate that the average vegan would really benefit from EPA/DHA supplements. A benefit (for example, for brain or heart health) is possible but very uncertain.

6) Iron

Eat legumes on a daily basis [26,78,79].

In men, iron deficiency is very uncommon. In premenopausal women, iron deficiency is relatively common (because of blood loss during menstruation).  

Additional tips (especially for premenopausal women):
  • Consuming vitamin C at the same time as iron-rich foods increases the absorption of iron from plant sources [78,80–83].
  • Drinking coffee or tea with meals lowers the absorption of iron from plant sources [80–84].
  • Cooking tomato sauce (or other sauces that are slightly acidic) in cast iron cookware will enrich the sauce with iron [83–86].

7) Zinc

Eat legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds on a daily basis [2,30,87,88]. They are good sources of zinc. 

8) Selenium

Choose (only) one (not both) of the following options [45,89–91]:
  • Eat 1 or 2 Brazil nuts per day [92–95]. But do not eat large amounts of Brazil nuts regularly.
  • Take a supplement that contains 50–60 µg (not more) of selenium per day [92,95–100].
If you live in the United States, Canada or Venezuela you can ignore these recommendations [101–104]. If you live in Finland (where selenium is added to fertilizer) and you consume plenty of non-organic grains, you can probably ignore these recommendations, too [53].
If you live in any regions in China which have soils extremely high in selenium – do NOT use selenium supplements, and do NOT eat Brazil nuts. If you live in any of the regions of China with extremely low soil selenium levels, do take a selenium supplement (as recommended above) – unless there are local measures being taken to fortify certain foods with selenium (and you eat those foods).

9) Vitamin A (provitamin A)

Eat plenty of dark green leafy vegetables, orange-coloured fruits, and orange-coloured vegetables [3,45,105].

Great beta-carotene (provitamin A) sources are, for example: cooked carrots, carrot juice, pumpkin, orange coloured sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables, orange coloured fruits like mangoes, papayas, and kakis as well as red bell peppers.

10) Protein

Protein is important for healthy muscles and healthy bones.
  • Eat legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds on a daily basis [3,106–108]. Legumes include soya products (tofu, tempeh, soya milk, soya flour, soya mince, etc.), all kinds of beans, lentils, and peas as well as peanuts and peanut butter. Pistachios, hemp seeds, quinoa, and amaranth can also add relevant amounts of protein to your diet.
  • Eat enough calories. Most vegans eat enough calories. But if you do not eat enough calories your body will use the protein you eat as calories (for "energy production"), and you might end up with too little protein and you might lose muscle mass.

Healthy vegan lifestyle


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