Nutrient recommendations for vegans in the Philippines

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The following recommendations are general guidelines for your orientation. You do not have to follow them to the smallest detail. Also, these recommendations are important in the long term rather than in the short term. For example, there will be no negative consequences for your health if you do not take a vitamin B12 supplement for a few days or weeks (or months).

You can also download my presentation on the same topic held at VegFest Pilipinas (Manila, 19 November 2023) here.


  • µg = mcg = microgram = one thousandth (1/1000) of a milligram
  • mg = milligram
  • g = gram
  • IU = international unit

1) Vitamin B12

Choose one of the following options [1–4,121]:

  • 2–5 µg twice per day (from fortified foods or a supplement) [5–11]
  • 10–50 µg per day from a supplement [6,9–14]
  • 2000–2500 µg per week from a supplement [7,10,11,15–17]
For example, you can take half a tablet of these once per day: "DEVA Vegan Multivitamin". Premenopausal women who have low iron status can take the left one (which contains iron; red label). Men and women with adequate iron status can take the iron-free version (orange label). Half a tablet contains 50 µg of vitamin B12.   

Or you could take half a tablet of these, once per week. Half a tablet would contains 2500 µg of vitamin B12. These two brands are just examples.

These supplements are available on Shopee, for example.

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes recommend 2.4 µg/day. But this number is based on an assumption of consuming vitamin B12 several times per day. For example, consuming 0.8 µg three times per day (0.8 x 3 = 2.4) would result in about 1.5 µg of vitamin B12 absorbed in the intestine - about the same amount that will be absorbed by consuming 10 µg once per day.

2) Calcium

Ideally, consume calcium-rich foods every day. In technical terms: you should achieve to consume at least 600 mg of calcium per day [2,18–27,122]. How? Choose at least one of the following options every day [121]. These foods will provide you with some extra calcium:

  • 1 glass 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) [3,22,27–30]
  • other calcium fortified foods, for example juice, soya yoghurt, rolled oats, bread, ...) [22,27,29,31]
  • 1 cup of tofu made with calcium [22,27–30]
  • 1 to 2 cups of cooked dark green leafy vegetables, like:
    • pak choi (bok choy) [~90 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • Chinese flowering cabbage (choy sum) (Brassica rapa parachinensis)
    • moringa (malunggay, drumstick leaves, Moringa oleifera) [~190 mg mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • kangkong (water spinach, river spinach, water convolvulus, Ipomoea aquatica) [~50 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • mustard leaves (mustasa, crispy mustard, mustard cabbage, Brassica juncea) [~110 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • Malabar spinach (alugbati, vine spinach, Basella alba) [~120 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • taro leaves (dahon ng taro) [~90-110 mg mg calcium/100 g cooked, the oxalate content of taro leaves seems to be variable - see here and here
    • okra [~10-90 mg calcium/100 g cooked][32] (Probably okra leaves are also a good source of calcium [~290 mg calcium/100 g cooked [33]]. Okra seems to be low in oxalic acid [32]. This is good because oxalic acid reduces the bioavailability of calcium.)
    • sweet potato leaves (dahon ng kamote) [~30 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • Napa cabbage (pechay baguio, wombok, Brassica rapa pekinensis) (or 2 to 3 cups raw Napa cabbage) [~30 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • broccoli (brokuli) [22,27,30]
    • kale
    • Collard greens (Spring greens)
    • turnip greens
    • vegetable fern (pako, Diplazium esculentumAthyrium esculentum) [~40–1300 mg calcium/100 g cooked.[34,35]] (Vegetable fern leaves seem to be low in oxalic acid.[36])
    • pumpkin leaves (dahon ng kalabasa) [~ 40 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • Jute mallow leaves (dahon ng saluyot, Corchorus olitorius) [~40 mg calcium/100 g cooked] 
    • bitter melon leaves (dahon ng ampalaya, Momordica charantia) [~40 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
    • rapini (broccoli rabe, Brassica rapa Pangkat Ruvo)
    • dandelion leaves
    • nettle leaves
While spinach and chard are rich in calcium they are also rich in oxalic acid, which decreases calcium bioavailability. So, spinach and chard are not good calcium sources.
  • calcium rich water/mineral water which should provide at least 300 mg calcium per day – check the label [37,38]
  • ½ cup of dried figs + 3 oranges [22]

Additional note: In many countries, a calcium intake of around 1000 mg/day is recommended. The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (PDRI) estimate the average calcium requirement to be 600 mg/day, while the calcium intake recommendation (which is the average requirement + a safety margin) is 750-800 mg/day.

3) Vitamin D

In the Philippines you can get enough vitamin D from sunshine – but only if you regularly expose your skin to sunshine. Very generally speaking, about 10 minutes (midday) to 30 minutes (morning or evening) of direct sunshine on your skin per day should be sufficient. Or you can get more sunshine less often. Avoid sunburn.

You can also take a vitamin D supplement instead – but do not avoid the sun completely.
If you take a vitamin D supplement, take:
  • ~10–25 µg (~400–1000 IU) vitamin D per day [2,3,22,27,47–55]
Do not take more than 50 µg (2000 IU) per day, unless a medical doctor advises you to do so [122]

The Philippines are located at a latitude of around 18° north to 6° north. This close to the equator your body can produce vitamin D from sunshine all year round [56].

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes recommend – "in the absence of adequate exposure to sunlight" – an intake of ... 
  • 5 µg/day for adults under 50 years, ...
  • 10 µg/day for adults between 50 and 60 years, ...
  • and 15 µg/day for adults 60 years and older [122].

4) Iodine

Choose one of the following options (or a mix of these options) [2,3,49,57–65,121]:
  • 70–150 µg of iodine per day from a supplement – no more than 200 µg/day
  • Seaweed – such as guso (Eucheuma cottonii), lato (arosep, sea grapes, green “caviar”, Caulerpa lentillifera), nori, or (well-rinsed) wakame – several times per week
100 µg of iodine can be found in:
    • ~50–200 g of fresh guso (Guso seems to be relatively low in sodium – which is good.) [66–69] ... or ...
    • ~50–200 g of fresh lato (Lato seems to be relatively high in sodium – avoid eating large amounts of lato especially if you have high blood pressure.) [68,70] ... or ...
    • ~1–2 sheets of nori (~ 2.5 g) (Nori seems to be low in sodium – which is good.) ... or ...
    • ~0.5–30 g of dried wakame (Use small amounts – like a small handful – rinse-well, steam or boil, and discard the water. Wakame is likely also high in sodium.)
  • Iodized salt (1 teaspoon of iodized salt contains 40–240 µg of iodine – check the label [71–73].)
Avoid excessive salt intake, especially if you have high blood pressure. The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes recommend to consume less than 2000 mg of sodium (5 g of salt) per day [122]. All other foods you eat also contain smaller amounts of iodine.

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes recommend an iodine intake of 150 µg/day, and the upper level for long-term intake is 1100 µg/day.

5) Omega-3 fatty acids

Choose one of these options every day [18,29,74–79,121]. The following recommendations are for men – who generally consume more calories. For women a little less is sufficient.
  • 1–2 tablespoons of chia seeds [79–82]
  • ~10 walnuts (=20 walnut halves; ~40 g) [74]
  • 1–2 teaspoons of flaxseed oil [74]
  • 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds [74,83,84]
  • 1–2 tablespoons of hemp seed oil [74]
  • ¼ cup of hemp seeds or 1–2 tablespoons of shelled hemp seeds
  • 2–3 tablespoons of canola oil [74]
Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes recommend an alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid found in the plant foods listed above) intake of 0.5% of calories - just like in many other countries. The above recommendations are for 1% of calories and are meant for people who do not consume the so-called long-chain omega-3-fatty acids (found in fish and some microalgae-based supplements; see below). 

Optionally (there isn’t much evidence for recommending this for the average vegan):
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) [74,77–79,85–87,121]

6) Iron

Eat legumes daily or almost daily [25,88,89,121].

Iron deficiency is very uncommon in men, including vegan men.

Additional tips:
  • Consuming vitamin C at the same time as iron rich foods increases the absorption of iron from plant sources [88,90–93].
  • Drinking coffee or tea with meals lowers the absorption of iron [90–94].
  • Cooking tomato sauce (or other sauces that are slightly acidic) in cast iron cookware increases the amount of iron in the sauce [93–96].
Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (PDRI) recommend an intake of 12 mg/day for men, 28 mg/day for premenopausal women (because of blood loss during menstruation), and 10 mg/day for postmenopausal women [122]. The upper limit for long-term intake is 45 mg/day. The PDRI document states: "Requirements cannot be met by usual diet alone. Intake of iron-rich and iron-fortified foods and the use of supplements are recommended, if necessary." For many vegan premenopausal women iron requirements can likely be met by diet (especially legumes and dark leafy greens) alone. But some women require supplements, including women who eat meat.

7) Zinc

Eat legumes, nuts and seeds daily or almost daily [2,29,97,98,121].

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (PDRI) recommend an intake of 7 mg/day for men and 5 mg/day for women [122]. These recommendations are a bit lower than in some other countries (e.g., the United States). The upper limit for long-term intake in the Philippines is 45 mg/day (in the United States it's 40 mg/day). Many zinc supplements contain 50 mg in one single tablet. So, it's best not to take a whole 50 mg tablet daily. Instead you can just bite a small piece of the tablet of - if you want to take zinc tablets for some reason.

8) Selenium

In the Philippines the soils are generally high in selenium [99]. Therefore, vegans in the Philippines do not have to be concerned about low selenium intakes [99,100].

The seaweeds lato and guso are also rich in selenium.

Vegans who live in the Unites States or Canada do not have to be concerned about selenium [101–104]. Vegans who live in Europe should (ideally) pay attention to selenium [49,58,105–116].

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (PDRI) recommend a selenium intake of 38 µg/day for men and 33 µg/day for women [122]. The upper limit for long-term selenium intake in the Philippines is 400 µg/day. Be sure to be aware that the unit here is "µg" (micrograms), NOT "mg" (milligrams). Large of amounts of selenium can be very toxic.

9) Vitamin A

Eat plenty of dark green vegetables, orange coloured fruits and orange coloured vegetables [3,49,117]. Great beta-carotene (provitamin A) sources are, for example: cooked carrots, carrot juice, pumpkin, orange coloured sweet potatoes, any dark green leafy vegetable – and orange coloured fruits like mangoes and papayas as well as red bell peppers.

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (PDRI) recommend an intake of 700 µgRE/day for men and 600 µgRE/day for women [122]. The unit "µgRE" stands for micrograms of retinol equivalents. The upper limit for long-term intake is 3000 µgRE/day - this upper level is only relevant for supplements or certain animal-source foods. Provitamin A in plants is non-toxic. This technical information is not something that you need to pay attention to as long as you regularly eat good sources of provitamin A (see above). 

10) Protein

Eat legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds [3,118–120,121].

Eat legumes (mung beans, soya milk, tofu, beans, peas, peanuts, peanut butter, soya flour) or pistachios or hemp seeds or quinoa or amaranth daily.

Eat enough calories. Most vegans eat enough calories. But if you don’t eat enough calories your body will use the protein you eat as calories, and you might end up with too little protein and you might lose muscle mass. Not getting enough protein may also harm your bones.

Additional note: The Philippine Dietary Reference Intakes (PDRI) recommend a protein intake of 71 g/day for men and 62 g/day for women [122] - this is not something that you need to pay attention to if you eat legumes daily.

Healthy vegan lifestyle 🍒🍉🍈🍑🍅🍋🍎🍌🍆


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