One and Done: The Best Multivitamin Guide for Vegans

by Lauren Armstrong — Registered Dietician, BSc Dietetics
August 31, 2020

Over one-third of Americans take a multivitamin (vegan or not). They have also been around for a while. We're talking about the early 1940s.

So how can a multivitamin fit into your vegan lifestyle?

If you're a picky vegan eater, you may be missing out on some prime vitamins and minerals that could be creating some deficiency side effects—adding a simple daily supplement that can provide you a handful of the 13 essential vitamins and 16 essential minerals.

Life can get way more simple when you only need to take one supplement to fill any vitamin and mineral gaps versus remembering to take multiple.

We’re going to break down what vitamins and minerals you should ensure are hanging out in your multivitamin, how much you need, and what to look out for.

What vitamins should I take as a vegan?

There are no regulations on which vitamins or minerals need to be present in multivitamins. The amounts of the vitamins available can also vary.

Certain types of multivitamins are created and sold.

Some of the most common include:

Vegans need to ensure that the multivitamin they choose contains nutrients that are harder to get via diet or more challenging to absorb.

Jen Mimkha, a vegan Registered Dietitian and owner of Prana Nutrition, mentions that she takes a multivitamin regularly. She also states, "All vegans need to take a B12 supplement. Other nutrients of concern on a vegan diet are vitamin D, iron, zinc, calcium, and iodine."

Is there a multivitamin for vegans?

Your options won’t be limited when you’re on the hunt for a vegan multivitamin. There are plenty to choose from that completely avoid animal products.

Instead, your focus should be on what vitamins and minerals it contains along with how much of each.

Multivitamin needs & sources for vegans

As Jen had mentioned, the vitamins and minerals that you need to keep an eye on as a vegan include B12, vitamin D, iron, zinc, calcium, and iodine.

Here are the recommended intakes of each and why a supplement may be needed.

Multivitamin #1 for vegans: Vitamin B12

An essential vitamin that is nearly impossible to add to a vegan diet, vitamin B12 is found in all animal foods and no plant-based foods. Some foods are fortified (nutritional yeast) or have traces of B12 (algae), but these may not be reliable enough to keep your B12 levels up.

Without vitamin B12, you could experience nerve damage, fatigue, and a condition called megaloblastic anemia.

Recommended Intake for the General Public

Age US Recommended Dietary Allowance (µg)
0 to 5 months 0.4
6 to 11 months 0.4
1 to 3 years 0.9
4 to 8 years 1.2
9 to 13 years 1.8
14 to 64 years 2.4
65+ years 2.6
Pregnancy 2.6
Breastfeeding 2.8

Multivitamin #2 for vegans: Vitamin D

A fat-soluble vitamin that is hard to find in large amounts beyond supplements or mushrooms grown in high vitamin D conditions. Vitamin D is the "sunshine vitamin" because you get it from the sunshine hitting your skin. That doesn't do us any good on cloudy days or in the cold winter months.

Vegan Health mentions that sunshine and supplementation is the best way to get your vitamin D needs in. Some dermatologists even recommend sticking with supplements for all of your vitamin D needs. This is due to the increased risk of skin cancer since vitamin D from the sunshine can be blocked by sunscreen.

Recommended Intake for the General Public

Age US Dietary Recommended Intake (IU) Upper Limit (IU)
0 to 6 months 400 1,000
7 to 12 months 400 1,500
1 to 3 years 600 2,500
4 to 8 years 600 3,000
9 to 70 years 600 4,000
>70 years 800 4,000
>14 years (pregnant and breastfeeding) 600 4,000

Multivitamin #3 for vegans: Iron

The issue with iron isn't that it can't be found in a vegan diet; it's that plant-based iron can be difficult to absorb in some individuals. Non-heme iron is the form that is found in plants (where heme iron is found in meat) and doesn't absorb as well as animal-based iron.

There are a few simple workarounds to increase that absorption. This includes:

As you'll notice from the recommended intakes of iron below, women eating vegan need to be more aware of how much iron they are getting daily. The iron that hangs out with your red blood cells gets lost during monthly periods, which puts you at higher risk for iron deficiency.

Age US Dietary Recommended Intake (mg) Upper Limit (mg)
0 to 6 months 0.27 40
7 to 12 months 11 40
1 to 3 years 7 40
4 to 8 years 10 40
9 to 13 years 8 40
14 to 18 years (male) 11 45
14 to 18 years (female) 15 45
19+ years (male) 8 45
19 to 50 years (female) 18 45
>50 years (female) 8 45
≤18 years (breastfeeding) 10 45
>18 years (breastfeeding) 9 45
Pregnancy 27 45

Multivitamin #4 for vegans: Zinc

It's not hard to get in zinc with a vegan diet; you can find it in sources such as:

The issue is our beloved plant-based foods can create absorption issues due to a compound called phytates. Some researchers even believe that vegetarians and vegans need 50% more zinc.

If you're not getting enough zinc, you'll notice complications such as poor wound healing, hair loss, and impaired immune function.

Recommended Intake for the General Public

Age US Dietary Recommended Intake (mg) Upper Limit (mg)
0 to 6 months 2 4
7 to 12 months 3 5
1 to 3 years 3 7
4 to 8 years 5 12
9 to 13 years 8 23
14 to 18 years (male) 11 34
14 to 18 years (female) 9 34
≥19 years (male) 11 40
≥19 years (female) 8 40
14 to 18 years (pregnant) 12 34
19 to 50 years (pregnant) 11 40
14 to 18 years (breastfeeding) 13 34
19 to 50 years (breastfeeding) 12 40

Multivitamin #5 for vegans: Omega-3

Regular intake of omega-3s, especially EPA and DHA, has shown to:

Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids like ALA but not the more beneficial DHA or EPA.

Non-vegans usually get their DHA and EPA from fish oil. But vegans can get the essential nutrients they need from an algal oil supplement (algae is how fish get their omega-3s in the first place!).

Health organizations differ in their recommended daily dosage of omega-3's. Most recommend somewhere between 250-500mg per day.

Multivitamin #6 for vegans: Iodine

Your thyroid needs iodine to function correctly and keep your metabolism regulated. Too little or too much iodine creates an issue called goiter, which is when your thyroid gland becomes enlarged.

Some plant-based foods may cause goiter due to their counteracting iodine. They include:

These foods contain a component called goitrogens, which is the reason behind the counteracting. Therefore if you're not eating enough iodine and large amounts of these goitrogens, you can make your iodine deficiency go from bad to worse.

Iodine can only be found in a few foods, including dairy products (cows are given iodine supplements), sea animals, and seaweed. Another significant way to get iodine in is through table salt (as long as it's iodized, check the packaging!). The kicker is that you need ¼ teaspoon of salt to consume around 76 µg of iodine, but that also contains 580 mg of sodium. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg, equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt.

Age US Dietary Recommended Intake (µg) \ Upper Limit (µg)
0 to 6 months 110 N/A
7 to 12 months 130 N/A
1 to 3 years 90 200
4 to 8 years 90 300
9 to 13 years 120 600
14 to 18 years 150 900
19+ years 150 1,100
≤18 years (pregnant) 220 900
≥18 years (pregnant) 220 1,100
≤18 years (breastfeeding) 290 900
≥18 years (breastfeeding) 290 1,100

Just because these nutrients are more difficult to get in on a vegan diet, doesn't mean that it's impossible. "Other than B12, there is no specific nutrient that needs to be supplemented as long as the diet is planned appropriately," says Mimkha. "I test all of my client's micronutrient levels twice a year to make sure they aren't deficient in anything. If they are, then we supplement as needed."

What to look out for

Don't be fooled. A multivitamin isn't always considered vegan. There are ways that animal products can sneak into these pills or capsules.

"Vitamin D3 is often made from sheep's wool (lanolin), and omega-3 supplements are typically fish-based unless it's specifically stated as vegan on the label," says Mimkha. Also, be sure to check what kind of capsule it comes in. "Gelatin capsules are derived from animal products," she states.

Read labels carefully when choosing a multivitamin or opt for one specifically labeled a vegan product.

Not all vegan multivitamins are equal

Not all multivitamins are the same, and not all multivitamins are necessary for a vegan diet.

There are a few vitamins you're going to need to supplement (we're looking at you B12), but if you're supplementing individual nutrients, a multivitamin isn't always necessary.

Be aware of your diet.

Do you feel like you're missing out on certain nutrients? Are you noticing any symptoms of a possible deficiency?

If that's the case, ask your doctor if a multivitamin is the best route for you. Inform them of any other supplements or medications that you are taking to ensure you don't overdo it.