By Jill Levy
Vegetarian diets tend to supply a variety of important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, especially fiber, magnesium, potassium and vitamin C. They may also be relatively low-calorie diets compared to diets that include more processed foods, which is why they are often associated with healthy weight management.
That being said, any diet that excludes food groups — such as meat, dairy and fish — runs the risk of contributing to a low intake of certain nutrients.
Supplements can be a beneficial addition to a vegetarian diet because they help ensure that you’re meeting your needs for specific nutrients, which is important for supporting healthy energy levels, a positive mindset, a healthy immune system and so on.
What is the best vitamin supplement for vegetarians? Some of the most important vegetarian supplements include B12, calcium, zinc and iron — since these essential nutrients are most abundant in animal-derived foods.
Vegetarian vs. Vegan
The terms vegetarian diet and vegan diet may be confusing to some people because it’s not always clear how the two differ.
While both are considered “plant based diets,” a vegan diet is a bit more restrictive overall — since a vegan diet excludes all animal products including meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products and even honey.
A vegetarian diet on the other hand typically doesn’t include meat, poultry or fish/seafood, but may include dairy and eggs (there are different names to describe each type of vegetarian diet, such as a lacto-ovo diet that includes more variety).
Overall, the exact eating habits of vegetarians can vary widely, so this term actually covers a spectrum of diets.
Since both are forms of plant-based diets, ideally anyone following these eating plans should focus on filling up on healthy plant foods such as fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. This is the best way to ensure you’re meeting your needs for various nutrients, although vegetarian supplements can also be helpful.
Related: What Are the Best Vegan Supplements?
Below are some potential benefits of following a vegetarian or vegan diet, assuming there’s an emphasis on eating whole, unprocessed foods:
1. Can Help With Maintenance of a Healthy Weight
Plant-based diets are believed to help people maintain lower body mass indexes and may help support an overall healthy weight, which has been tied to overall health.
A high intake of fiber from plant foods such as veggies, fruits, whole grains and legumes can also help keep you feeling full between meals, which is a smart strategy for controlling calorie intake without deprivation.
2. Can Support Metabolic Health and Healthy Blood Sugar Levels (Already In the Normal Range)
A nutrient-diet diet that is high in beneficial foods like veggies, fruits, herbs and spices can help promote healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range.
3. Helps Support Cardiovascular Health
Plant-based diets are associated with healthy levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, plus they can help promote healthy blood pressure levels.
What Might Be Missing In the Diet
If you follow a plant-based diet, it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “What vitamins should I take if I don't eat meat?”
Taking vegetarian supplements can help to ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need to support a healthy you, even if you choose to avoid foods like meat, fish, eggs and poultry.
When most or all animal products are avoided, there’s research suggesting that people may be more prone to running low in some of the following nutrients:
- Protein/certain amino acids
- Vitamin B12
- Omega-3 fatty acids
While supplements should not be used to replace a healthy diet, some of the best supplements for vegetarians can complement a well-rounded diet rich in nutritious, plant-based foods.
Top Minerals and Vitamins for Vegetarians
Certain vitamins and minerals seem to be especially beneficial for those following vegetarian diets.
Some of the best vitamin supplements for vegetarians include:
1. Vitamin B12
Among the best supplements for vegetarians is vitamin B12, which is often recommended for those who avoid animal products because it isn’t found in plant foods, with the exception of some algaes and nutritional yeast.
B12 is important for many functions including facilitating the normal production of red blood cells, cell metabolism and DNA synthesis, as well as supporting healthy cognitive function.
How do vegetarians get B12? The best way is by taking a vegan B12 supplement (such as in the form of methylcobalamin), which is usually made via bacterial fermentation. B12 can be taken as a capsule, caplet or in other forms.
2. Vitamin D
The human body synthesizes vitamin D when bare skin comes into contact with sunlight. However, because many people don’t spend enough time outdoors in the sun year around, low levels are a growing concern — especially because there aren’t many dietary sources of vitamin D.
A vitamin D supplement can help to raise levels among those who spend most of their time indoors and avoid foods like milk, dairy and fish.
Calcium helps to support skeletal health and cardiovascular health, yet for people who avoid dairy products and don’t regularly eat other calcium sources like leafy greens and nuts/seeds, it may be difficult to get enough.
You can find calcium as a stand alone calcium supplement, or take it as part of a multivitamin.
For example, Ancient Nutrition’s Men’s Fermented Multi and Women’s Fermented Multis are vegan-friendly formulations that feature real food, fermented ingredients and contain many of the essential nutrients that your body needs, including calcium.
Although a certain form of iron is found in some plant foods such as leafy greens and seaweeds, the best sources of highly-absorbable iron are animal-derived foods including meat, organ meats and dark meat poultry.
To help ensure you’re getting enough to support healthy energy levels, taking an iron supplement or multivitamin that includes iron is wise if you stick to a plant-based diet. This can help to support cognitive health and reduce fatigue, and supports healthy fertility, prenatal and postpartum health among women.
Like iron, zinc is most abundant in foods like seafood and meat, although you can also get it from some legumes, nuts, whole grains and seeds.
To help support healthy digestion and a healthy immune defense, consider a zinc supplement such as Ancient Nutrients Zinc + Probiotics which packs in 20 mg of enzyme-activated zinc paired with 2 billion CFUs* of probiotics.
In addition to the vitamins and minerals above, some of the best supplements for vegetarians include:
1. Omega 3s (Vegetarian Version)
Omega-3 fatty acids provide support for a healthy cardiovascular system and for healthy cognitive function, yet it can be hard to acquire enough if fish and seafood are excluded from your diet.
Algal oil is one of the most common vegetarian/vegan omega-3 supplements because it provides both DHA and EPA, two types of omega-3s that are thought to be most easily absorbed and used by the body. You can also help meet your needs by consuming plant sources such as flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, olive oil and walnuts.
2. Plant Protein
Regardless of the type of diet you follow, protein is important for functions including building muscle mass and supporting health energy levels. Ancient Nutrition’s Plant Protein+ supplement is a vegan protein powder made from a blend of seven superseeds, including hemp, chia, pumpkin, sunflower and others, that makes it more convenient to consume a serving of plant-based protein each day.
It comes in three delicious flavors — chocolate, vanilla and berry — and offers 15 grams of protein per serving, along with a blend of botanicals that can support healthy body composition, fat metabolism, increased muscle recovery, sexual function, a positive mindset and much more.
3. Keto Plant Protein
If you follow a low-carb, plant-based diet, Keto Plant Protein makes a great addition to your diet, considering it provides essential amino acids and is also low in both sugar and carbs.
Ancient Nutrition’s unique formula features organic protein from sunflower, pumpkin and watermelon seeds and other seeds to help boost energy and reduce fatigue, help improve focus and mental stamina, and to support healthy energy levels.
Ancient Nutrition’s Organic SuperGreens powder is an easy way to consume a variety of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants — including vitamin C, vitamin A and iron— from real superfoods that can otherwise be hard to incorporate into your diet.
This delicious blend, which can be mixed into water or juice, features ingredients like beetroot juice, spirulina and alfalfa grass powder to help meet your nutrient needs while supporting healthy detoxification, healthy weight management and a healthy immune system.
- Vegetarian diets are plant-based and tend to exclude most or all animal products, including meat, fish, poultry, and sometimes dairy, eggs and honey, depending on the specific type of diet.
- Vegetarian supplements can be beneficial because they help to fill in gaps in one’s diet by providing key vitamins and minerals that may be hard to come by.
- Some of the best supplements for vegetarians include: vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium iron, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, protein powder and supergreens.
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.