What Supplements Are Best for a No-Meat Diet?

Spoonful of chia seeds
Spoonful of chia seeds (Image: AD077/iStock/Getty Images)

It can be tricky getting all the nutrients you need for optimum health from plant-based sources alone. Because some vitamins and minerals are more plentiful in animal foods or better absorbed from them, your diet may fall short in a few essential nutrients. To cover your nutritional bases, talk to a doctor or dietitian about incorporating either a multivitamin and mineral supplement or individual micronutrient supplements into your no-meat diet.

Vitamin B-12

You don’t need a lot of vitamin B-12 -- adults require just 2.4 micrograms daily -- but it’s important for nerve health and proper metabolism. This vitamin comes mainly from animal products like meat, poultry, shellfish and organ meats; the few vegetarian sources include fortified cereals and nutritional yeast. If you have a B-12 deficiency, you may feel tired, have anemia or experience numbness in your arms and legs. Your doctor may recommend you take a B-complex supplement because, according to the National Institutes of Health, vitamin B-12 is best absorbed in concert with other B vitamins. With serious deficiencies, your doctor may recommend B-12 injections.

Vitamin D

You need vitamin D to help you absorb calcium for the manufacture of strong bones and teeth. Your body can make vitamin D from moderate exposure to the sun, but this nutrient also comes from oily fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, cod liver oil, fortified milk and eggs. Vegetarian sources include fortified orange juice and plant milks and some mushrooms. If you’re a vegan whose diet contains no meat or animal products of any kind, you may need to supplement with vitamin D. Adults need at least 600 international units daily, while older people need 800.

Essential Fatty Acids

People who don’t eat meat tend to have lower levels of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, writes registered dietitian Jack Norris on VeganHealth.org. These fatty acids help protect against heart disease and cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. When you’re following a no-meat diet, your body can convert some ALA from plant sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts into EPA and DHA. However, to boost your essential fatty acids, you may choose to take a supplement. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled that intakes of up to 3 grams a day of EPA and DHA are generally recognized as safe.

Zinc Needs

The mineral zinc is more plentiful in animal foods than in plant-based ones, although legumes, nuts and oatmeal are good sources for a no-meat diet. Vegetarians may have a greater need for zinc, however, because the phytates in plant foods can reduce absorption by as much as 50 percent, Norris reports on VeganHealth.org. A zinc deficiency can cause hair loss and reduced immune function, so if you are experiencing any symptoms, discuss supplementation with your doctor. Women need 8 milligrams per day, while men require 11 milligrams.

Ingredients to Watch Out For

When purchasing supplements for a no-meat diet, be aware that manufacturers may use animal products for some of their ingredients. Avoid supplements whose labels list gelatin, lanolin or stearic acid, all of which may come from animal sources. Opt for supplements clearly labeled “vegetarian” or “vegan.”

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