Your Guide to Fat-soluble Vitamins on a Vegan Diet

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

The majority of the vitamins out there are water-soluble.

Water-soluble means they dissolve in water and can be absorbed by the body very quickly. It also means it’s harder to overdose on these vitamins as they are always leaving your body every time you go number one (and probably two).

There are other types of vitamins called fat-soluble vitamins, and instead of water, they are dissolved in fat.

Fat globules come and pick these vitamins up for a ride to your bloodstream. If you have these fat-soluble vitamins in excess, you’re more likely to over-do it, as any extra is stored in your liver or fatty tissue.

Here’s everything you need to know about getting fat-soluble vitamins on a vegan diet.

What are the fat-soluble vitamins & why do I need them?

There are four fat-soluble vitamins - A, D, E, and K. Each one serves an essential purpose and function.

1. Vitamin A

Keep your vision and eyesight sharp with vitamin A. Early signs of vitamin A deficiency include night blindness, making it difficult to see in low light or darkness. Beyond assisting with your vision, vitamin A supports cell growth, helping to maintain your heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.

2. Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D are buddies, with vitamin D helping calcium get absorbed in the gut. Vitamin D also helps to maintain calcium and phosphate levels so that your bones stay healthy and strong. Without the D, you’re going to experience brittle, thin, and misshapen bones.

3. Vitamin E

You’ll be getting a boost of antioxidants with vitamin E. Antioxidants protect you from free radicals which damage cells and can contribute to certain diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. On top of that, your immune system will stay in tip-top shape to assist with immune function.

4. Vitamin K

If you cut yourself, vitamin K is coming to the rescue because it is involved with blood clotting. For this reason, it’s important to discuss any vitamin K changes with your doctor as it can react with certain medications. Also, vitamin K can play a hand in bone mineralization and reduce abnormal calcification, creating hard tissues.

The difference between fat-soluble & water-soluble vitamins

We touched base on this a bit earlier, but the difference is right in the vitamins’ name!

Water-soluble vitamins are dissolved in water and make up the majority of vitamins that exist. They aren’t stored in the body and therefore need to be replenished regularly. Any excess we take in will just exit out when we use the bathroom, making it hard to overdose.

Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed by fat globules that travel throughout the bloodstream. Any excess with fat-soluble vitamins will be stored in the liver and fatty tissue for future use. This makes it a lot easier to reach toxic levels of fat-soluble vitamins compared to water-soluble.

Fat-soluble vitamins are also more commonly found in fatty foods and better absorbed when eaten with fat.

A list of vegan foods that will provide fat-soluble vitamins

The majority of these vitamins are found in higher fat foods and better absorbed when eaten with fat.

Here are some ways you can get fat-soluble vitamins in as a vegan.

You’ll find provitamin A carotenoids in lots of leafy green vegetables, orange and yellow vegetables, tomato products, fruits, and some vegetable oils.

As a vegan, you may get in some vitamin D from mushrooms. Similar to how we can get vitamin D from the sunlight, they also can absorb it. This is especially true if they are grown in controlled conditions with extra exposure to ultraviolet light.

Fortification of vitamin D is the most common way American’s get it in their diet. The most popular product to be fortified is milk, which also includes plant-based milk.

You can find alpha-tocopherol in various foods, including nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, leafy greens, and fortified cereals.

Gamma-tocopherol (another chemical form of vitamin E) is also found in soybean, canola, corn, and other vegetable oils.

Phylloquinone is the main form of vitamin K and found in lots of leafy green vegetables, vegetable oils, and some fruits.

Menaquinones are commonly found in animal products, but also fermented foods. Natto (Japanese fermented soybeans) contains high amounts of menaquinones, but the total amount can depend on the bacteria strains used in the fermentation process and the conditions.

And that’s the br-E-A-K-D-own

There are only four fat-soluble vitamins, but they carry lots of health benefits and properties on their back. Vitamin E and A prove to be a little less complicated for a vegan to get in via food but keep vitamins D and K on your radar.

Always discuss any supplement you’d like to start with your doctor, which is especially emphasized with fat-soluble vitamins. Your body doesn’t get rid of them as quickly as water-soluble vitamins, so an overabundance can create problems.