Good sources of key nutrients for vegans in Bangladesh

The following recommendations are general guidelines for your orientation. You do not have to follow them in exact detail. The most important is to at least consume some vitamin B12. If you want to optimize your diet, follow the recommendations below.
[The numbers in square brackets are references. 😇]

Vitamin B12

In the pictures below you can see a vitamin B12 supplement which is commonly available in Bangladesh. It contains 200 ”g (= mcg = micrograms) per tablet. The cost should be about 240 Taka for 30 tablets. It's called "Neuro-B". 

If you are vegan, you can choose one of these options [1–4]:
  • About 1/4 tablet (50 ”g vitamin B12) every day (cost: 60 Taka per month) [5, 6,10–15]
  • 1 tablet (200 ”g vitamin B12) every other day (cost: about 120 Taka per month) [7,11,12,16–18]
If you want to make it cheaper, you can also nibble a little bit off the tablet every day and in this way consume only 1 tablet per month. That means, you would take ...
  • ... about 1/30 (one thirtieth) of a tablet (i.e. about 6 or 7 ”g vitamin B12) every day. Of course, you cannot do this precisely. But if you nibble off a small bit off the tablet every day, and you end up using 1 or 2 or 3 tablets per month, this would only cost you about 8 to 24 Taka per month [5, 6,10–15].

You can take vitamin B12 supplements with or without your meals.

This is another vitamin B12 supplement available in Bangladesh (thanks, Samira!). This supplement contains 500 micrograms (= 500 ”g = 0.5 mg) of vitamin B12 per tablet. That means: take four of these per week (all at once or on different days - as you like).


Choose at least one of the following options daily. These foods are rich in calcium and have good calcium bioavailability:
  • tofu made with calcium
  • Chinese cabbage (China kopi, pak choi, bok choy) [~90 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • Napa cabbage (nati shak, petsai) [~30 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • China shak (saishin, choy sum)
  • mustard greens (mustard spinach, sarisa shak, shorshe shak) 
  • Malabar spinach (pui shak) [~120 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • turnip greens (shalgom)
  • radish greens (mula shak) 
  • water spinach (kolmi shak) [~50 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • broccoli
  • moringa leaves [~190 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • moringa leaf powder [~200 mg calcium/10 g] (Gopalakrishnan et al. 2016)
  • sweet potato leaves
  • sweet bitter melon leaves (lau shak)
  • pumpkin leaves (pumpkin shak, kumra shak)
  • Jute mallow leaves (Jute spinach, pat shak) [~40 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • bathua leaves (lambsquarters, lamb's quarters, Chenopodium album) [~260 mg calcium/100 g cooked]
  • helencha leaves (Enhydra fluctuans) [~90 mg calcium/100 g cooked - but it can also be high in lead (Murtaja et al. 2014)]
  • calcium-fortified bread - not very widely available, however
These foods are good sources of calcium - but only if you eat some of these on a daily basis and in medium-sized to large portions, for example about 1 cup (about 200 g) of tofu per day or about 1 to 2 cups of dark green leaves vegetables (the ones listed above) per day (1 to 2 cups is the volume of the cooked vegetables).

Note that data shak (amaranth leaves, "stem spinach") and palong shak (spinach) are not good sources of calcium because they are high in oxalic acid (which reduces calcium bioavailability). Boiling them and discarding the cooking water will probably at least somewhat decrease the oxalic acid content. In any case, data shak and palong shak are very healthy foods that are rich in many nutrients which can help keeping your body, including your bones, healthy.

A note on official calcium recommendations (given by nutrition societies):

In many (especially "western" countries), the dietary reference intake for calcium is about 1000 mg/day for adults (in Bangladesh, the same amount has been suggested, see Table 1 in Bromage et al. 2017). The Nutrition Society of Bangladesh's website is currently unavailable. The 1000 mg/day recommendation is based on the so-called "estimate average requirement", which is 800 mg/day, to which a certain amount is added (mathematically) in order to make sure that those people with higher calcium needs (not everyone has exactaly the same needs) will also get enough (EFSA 2015). In some countries, the intake recommendation is lower, for example, 700 mg/day (for adults) in the United Kingdom (BDA 2023NHS 2020, BNF 2005). The exact amount of calcium that would be ideal is being controversially discussed. But, in my opinion, for the time being it would be a good idea to aim for least ~600 or 700 mg/day, and maybe the recommended 1000 mg/day would be even better.

Main source of calcium for average omnivores in Bangladesh:

"Fish, milk, vegetables, and rice are important sources of calcium in Bangladesh, the first 3 by virtue of their nutrient density and rice by its high consumption" (Bromage et al. 2017). When they say fish, they mean small fishes that are eaten with the bones, for example, Chapila fishes.

Other calcium sources:

Apart from the vegan sources listed above, and supplements, this is an interesting suggestion: "Home fortification by way of micronutrient powders may be an effective option for improving calcium status in Bangladeshi children. Locally, there are proven concerns around these powders’ palatability in comparison with tablets, their ease of distribution, and to what degree calcium will interfere with iron absorption [large amounts of calcium, e.g., 1000 mg tablets taken with meals, can decrease iron absorption]. A less expensive alternative may involve the addition of locally sourced calcium salts (slated lime [I think, it should be "slaked lime", i.e., calcium hydroxide]) to rice while it is being cooked. Traditional fortification of corn with lime has been shown to increase the amount of calcium within and absorbed from [so-called nixtamalized corn] tortillas among Mexican women and has been implicated in reduced rates of preeclampsia among the Mayan Indians of Guatemala since 1980 [Nixtamalization has been used for thousands of years in central America, long before Europeans arrived]. We observed that home fortification of rice with lime is practiced in Chakaria [in Cox's Bazar District, Bangladesh], where it is promoted by the local nongovernmental organization Social Assistance and Rehabilitation for the Physically Vulnerable (SARPV) to prevent and ameliorate rickets. Any antirachitic [prevening or treating rickets] effects of liming on rice have yet to be studied, however, and there is a need for research on the food composition, bioavailability, efficacy, and acceptability of lime-fortified rice." (Bromage et al. 2017).

The Dietary Guidelines for Indians (NIN 2011), include these vegetables as potential calcium sources: amaranth leaves, cauliflower greens, curry leaves, knol-khol leaves, Agathi leaves, and Colocasia leaves (NIN 2011), and in an article about Bangladesh I found these green leafy vegetables listed: jute leaves, helencha leaves (Enhydra fluctuans), bathua leaves (Chenopodium album), and danta shak [data shak, amaranth leaves] (Knight et al. 2023). The article by Knight et al. also states that "[l]ocal [..] plant-source foods that are naturally high in calcium could be promoted [...]. [...] Study objective 2: To identify good food sources of calcium for the target population [...]. To answer study objective 2, the best food sources of calcium selected for each target population were those providing at least 5% of the calcium in the target group's Module 2 diet (i.e., nutritionally best diet). The best food sources of calcium were identified from this diet instead of the maximized calcium diet because these foods were also consistent with an overall nutritious diet in which the intake of multiple nutrients was optimized. [...]" Apart from green leafy vegetables (and fish and milk), the article also lists these foods as relevant calcium sources: water gourd, green banana, and potato. In addition, they conclude by highlighting "a need to promote an increase in the consumption of locally available calcium-rich foods from current levels or the development, provision, and promotion of alternative food sources of calcium, such as calcium-fortified products, to ensure population-level dietary calcium adequacy" (Knight et al. 2023).

Insufficient intake of calcium in Bangladesh:

Very low calcium intake is common in Bangladesh: Some studies show "significant calcium inadequacy among young, urban Bangladeshi women" and calcium intake is often as low as ~200 mg/day (Bromage et al. 2017). This shouldn't be a reason for vegans in Bangladesh to think that such a very low calcium intake is just fine.

How can you consume an adequate amount of calcium in Bangaldesh?
The best option is to eat plenty of the foods recommended above (see the list) and to consider taking a supplement that contains ~300 mg of calcium per day (take it with a meal). It's good to also follow the other recommendations in this post because other nutrients are important for your bones too (including vitamin D, protein, iodine, zinc, and vitamin B12).

Vitamin D

Get ...
  • ... about 15–30 minutes of sunshine (directly on your skin) every day – or more sunshine less often. Avoid excessive sunshine though, because it can increase your risk of skin cancer (and it can accelerate skin aging).

If you do not get enough sunshine ...
  • take a vegan vitamin D supplement with about 1000 IU (25 ”g) per day [2,3,23,28,43–50]
Do not avoid the sun completely because sunshine very likely has other health benefits apart from being a source of vitamin D.
Do not take more than 2000 IU (50 ”g) of vitamin D per day unless a medical doctor has prescribed this to you.
In Bangladesh there is no “vitamin D winter” at all, i.e. your body can produce vitamin D from sunshine on your skin throughout the year [51].


Choose one (not all!) of the following options [2,3,45,52–60]:

Either ...
  • ... use iodized salt (1 teaspoon contains about 20–240 ”g of iodine – check the label) [61–63]. In Bangladesh, about 1/2 (one half of) a teaspoon of iodized salt (per day) should have a suitable amount of iodine for one adult. ... But try to avoid excessive salt intake and try to consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day (including all salt in processed foods).
... or ...
  • ... take an iodine supplement with about 75–100 ”g per day.
You could also ...
  • ... eat seaweed, such as nori or wakame, several times per week - however, seaweed appears to hardly be available in Bangladesh.
Iodine is very important for pregnant or breastfeeding women and for children.
Both iodine deficiency and iodine excess should be avoided.
Iodized salt is just used in food preparation as you would use non-iodized salt.

Iodized salt in Bangladesh (photo from July 2022)

Omega-3 fatty acids

Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, and they are commonly available and quite affordable in Bangladesh.

Choose one of these options every day [19,30,64–69]. Theses recommendations are for men, who typically eat more food (and more calories) than women. For women a little less is sufficient.
  • About 1–2 tablespoons of chia seeds per day [69,72–74]
  • About 1–2 tablespoons of tokma seeds (basil seeds, Ocimum basilicum) per day
  • About 1–2 teaspoons of linseed oil (flaxseed oil) [64]
Or you can choose one of the following options. But these are probably more expensive:
  • About 2 tablespoons of ground linseeds (flaxseeds) [64,70,71]
  • About 10 walnuts (= 20 walnut halves;  about 40 grams) per day [64]
Hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, and canola (rapeseed) oil are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but these aren't commonly available in Bangladesh.

Vegan EPA/DHA supplements do not seem to be availble in Bangladesh, and there isn’t much evidence for recommending that average vegan should take such a supplement. However, just for information, for those vegans who have access to such a supplement and who wish to take it:
  • Use half of the above recommendations (for example, half a tablespoon of chia seeds per day) – and add a vegan DHA supplement containing about 200–300 mg DHA every two or three days (or every day if you like) [64,67–69,75–77].


Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts) are good sources of iron [26,78,79].

Iron is especially important for menstruating women and children.

Additional tips:
  • 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 [80–84].
  • Cooking tomato sauce (or other sauces that are slightly acidic) in cast iron cookware increases the amount of iron in the sauce [83–86].


Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts), whole grains, and nuts are good sources of zinc [2,30,87,88].

These foods are especially rich in zinc:
  • Sesame seeds - These should be ground up. Otherwise you might not be able to digest them well.
  • Cashew nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds


In some parts of the world (for example much of Europe), the soils are low in selenium. But this seems to be less of a problem in Bangladesh. 

These foods are probably quite good sources of selenium in Bangladesh: 
Especially ...
  • Sesame seeds - These should be ground up. Otherwise you might not be able to digest them well.
But also ...
  • Cashew nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Coconut "meat"
... and also (if available) ...
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Pistachios
  • Macadamia nuts
Sesame seeds, peanuts, and cashew nuts are probably the cheapest option in Bangladesh.

Vitamin A

Dark green vegetables, orange-coloured fruits and orange-coloured vegetables are good sources of provitamin A which the body can convert to vitamin A [3,45,105].

Great provitamin A sources are, for example: 
  • cooked carrots
  • carrot juice
  • pumpkin
  • orange-coloured sweet potatoes
  • any dark green leafy vegetables
  • mangoes
  • papayas
  • red bell peppers


Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas, soybean chunks, ...) are the protein staples of vegan diets. In addition, whole grains, nuts and seeds will supply protein [3,106–108]. 

Legumes and grains together (for example, rice and beans, bread and lentils, etc.) supply "complete protein" (like animal-source foods). We don't have to necessarily eat the legumes and grains at the same meal. 

You should also consume 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 then you might lose muscle mass.

The "limiting" amino acid (protein building blocks) of vegan diets is lysine. But legumes are rich in lysine. That's why legumes are a great "replacement" of animal-source high-protein foods (meat, fish, eggs, dairy). Grains are rich in the amino acid methionine. 

What if you are overweight?

... and want to lose weight (body fat) ... Have a look here.

What if you are underweight?

... and want to gain weight (some muscle and maybe some body fat too) ... Have a look here.

These recommendations have recently been published in the scientific literature


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