Supplements in a plant-based diet : are they essential?

3 minutes
Have multivitamins and greens supplements started catching your eye at the pharmacy? Are you worried your loved ones might see you as a bodybuilder if you start taking protein powder? It's time to talk about supplements!

Supplements in a plant-based diet : are they essential?

Are multivitamins and greens supplements starting to catch your eye when you pass by the pharmacy? Will your loved ones see you as a bodybuilder if you start taking protein powder?

My friend, it's time to talk about supplements!

Which ones are marketing? Which ones are useful? And which ones are NECESSARY?

We unravel that in the 3rd of 4 articles in this series. Let's dissect the main ones:


1- Protein powder: As discussed in the last newsletters, it is possible to easily meet our protein needs through plant foods. Protein powder, however, can be a convenient addition to our daily intake. It is super versatile and can be used in smoothies or as an ingredient in our usual recipes.


For example, you can replace part of the flour in pancakes or muffins to make them more protein-rich and filling. To get closer to the benefits of a complete protein, opt for powders that combine several different proteins (e.g. pea protein, soy protein, hemp protein, brown rice protein, etc.).


2- Iron: One mineral in particular is frequently insufficient in plant-based foods: iron. Not only are there fewer sources, but their absorption is lower. For this reason, the iron requirements of vegans are 80% higher.

For a woman whose needs are already significantly higher than those of a man (18 mg VS 8 mg - due, among other things, to menstruation), it becomes complicated to consume enough through food exclusively.

To overcome these disadvantages, here are 4 strategies:


1- Consume foods rich in iron every day:

  • Extra firm tofu and tempeh
  • Legumes
  • Oatmeal and enriched cereals for babies (yes!)
  • Cooked spinach* (absorbs iron less effectively when raw)


2- Accompany your iron-rich meals with a source of vitamin C (a pepper in a tofu stir-fry, and you're in business!): it facilitates absorption! 

3- Do not drink coffee or tea 1 hour before or after your meals rich in iron: they harm its absorption! 

4- Supplements: If you are concerned that you may be iron deficient, test your levels with a blood test before opting for a supplement. Too much iron can be toxic, so it's best to check first.

For other minerals, a balanced diet generally meets the needs well.


3- Vitamin B12: As vitamin B12 is found mainly in animal-source foods, vegans are generally recommended to supplement at a rate of 2.4 to 6 ug/day, divided into 2 doses to maximize absorption. If you occasionally consume eggs, dairy products, meat, or fish, there is no need to supplement with B12.

For other vitamins, a balanced diet generally meets the needs well.


The promising ones:

4- Creatine: Creatine is naturally present in meat, so plant-based foods contain less of it. It is safe and well studied and is useful for promoting more effective muscle mass gain when training with weights.

5- Caffeine: In addition to your daily coffee, caffeine can be consumed in supplements in the form of caffeine capsules or as a pre-workout drink. It allows you to have a better state of alertness and perceive physical efforts as being easier.

In summary, there are numerous supplements, but many are useless or effective only in specific contexts. A nutritionist can guide you more personally at this level if you want to explore everything further.

Click here to read the first article on veganism 101.
Click here to read the second article on veganism and fitness.

By Nicolas Leduc-Savard, Dt.P., M.Sc., Dietitian – Sports nutritionist 


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