The recommendations below address the nutrients which are of more concern in vegan than omnivore diets, but they aren’t everything anyone needs to know about eating for optimal health.
- The Plant Plate—Ginny Messina, MPH, RD
- Books on vegan nutrition
- What Supplements Does a Vegan Dietitian Take?
- What Should I Be Tested For?
Where recommended below, vitamin and mineral supplements are effective at preventing nutrient deficiencies.
To ensure adequate protein status, vegans should eat 3–4 servings of the following foods which are both high in protein and the amino acid lysine:
- Legumes—1/2 cup cooked
- Beans—garbanzos, kidney, pinto, navy
- Peas—split or green
- Soyfoods—edamame, tofu, tempeh, soy milk (1 cup), soy meats (3 oz)
- Peanuts—1/4 cup
- Seitan—3 oz (85 g)
- Quinoa—1 cup cooked
- Pistachios—1/4 cup
- Pumpkin seeds—1/4 cup roasted
It’s hard to design a vegan diet that meets lysine requirements for a person who does not exercise daily without including legumes, seitan, quinoa, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds without having too many calories. It’s easier to do for regular exercisers whose calorie requirements are higher—the low lysine foods will add up to provide enough.
Athletes will require somewhat more servings of protein than listed above, but this will be based on their individual sport and training. See Sports Nutrition for more information.
There’s evidence that as people age, they need a higher percentage of their calories to be protein—thus people over 60 should focus on making the above high-protein foods a large part of their meals.
Vegans who don’t eat enough calories to maintain their weight should make an effort to include a higher percentage of high protein foods.
See more information on protein and vegan diets in Protein Part 1—Basics.
There are three options for people age 14–65 who aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding—see chart below for others:
- Fortified foods of 2.0-3.5 µg per serving, twice a day.
- Daily supplement of 25–100 µg per day.
- Supplement of 1,000 µg, twice per week.
People over 65 can also follow the above recommendations, but some research has suggested that those with low levels of B12 need a 500-1,000 µg supplement per day. For older adults who have been supplementing and have recent labs confirming their markers of B12 status (MMA and homocysteine) are normal, supplementation of 50 to 100 µg per day or 1,000 µg at least twice per week should be sufficient. Talk to your health care provider for personalized supplementation recommendations.
|Vitamin B12 Recommendations: Choose One Option|
|Option 1: Twice Daily
|Option 2: Daily
|Option 3: Twice Weekly
|0–5 mos||0.4||breastmilk or fortified formula|
|65+ yrs||2.6||—||500-1000||Not Applicable|
Notes on vitamin B12:
- If you haven’t had a regular source of B12 for more than a few months, take 2,000 µg once a day for 2 weeks to replenish your stores.
- The Daily Value for B12 found on food labels is based on 6 µg, which was the RDA in 1968. If a label says a food has, for example, 25% of the Daily Value of B12, it has 1.5 µg (25% of 6 µg = 1.5 µg).
- These recommendations are for the cyanocobalamin form of B12 only—the form in fortified foods and most supplements.
- For other forms of vitamin B12, see Methylcobalamin and Adenosylcobalamin.
- µg = mcg = microgram = 1/1,000 of a milligram (mg)
- There is a large difference between amounts taken twice daily and once daily because beyond 3 µg (for adults), absorption drops significantly.
- Amounts much larger than these are considered safe, but it’s probably best not to take more than twice the recommended amounts.
- Large doses of B12 can trigger acne-like symptoms in a small percentage of people.
More information on vitamin B12.
The following will go a long way in helping you meet your calcium needs. Aim to consume at least 2 cups total of the following foods daily—it can be 2 cups mixed or of the same food:
- Chopped and boiled, low-oxalate, high-calcium dark leafy green vegetables—turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, bok choy, and collard greens. One serving normally contains about 75–100 mg of calcium.
- Calcium-fortified beverage such as nondairy milks or orange juice.
- Tofu made with calcium salts (as listed in the ingredients).
Or take a 300 mg calcium supplement once a day with a meal.
Below are the U.S. recommended calcium intakes.
|Pregnancy and Breastfeeding|
More information on Calcium.
You can obtain vegan sources of vitamin D from sunshine on your skin, specially treated mushrooms, fortified foods, and supplements.
People 65 and younger can produce vitamin D from the action of sunshine on their skin by exposing their arms and face (or the equivalent amount of skin), during midday (10 am–2 pm), without sunscreen, on a day when sunburn is possible (not winter or cloudy).
- Dark-skinned people need 20 minutes per day while light-skinned people need 10–15 minutes.
- People 12 months and older who don’t receive the above level of sun exposure should supplement with 600 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
- Everyone over the age of 65, regardless of sun exposure, should supplement with 600 to 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day.
Such large amounts of vitamin D are only available in supplementals or specially treated mushrooms. Due to skin cancer concerns, some dermatologists recommend getting all your vitamin D from supplements rather than the sun.
Below are the U.S. recommended vitamin D intakes.
|Pregnancy and Breastfeeding|
See more information on vitamin D and vegan diets in Vitamin D.
Vegan iodine supplements can be found in most grocery or natural food stores, and most multivitamins contain iodine. If your supplement tablet contains significantly more than what’s recommended, they can normally be broken into halves or quarters.
- North American vegans over one year old should take a modest iodine supplement of about half the recommended Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) every day—or, if more convenient, the DRI every other day.
- Europeans and vegans living in places with less iodine in the food supply should aim for the DRI each day.
In the U.S., you can get 75 µg of iodine from 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt.
See more information on iodine and vegan diets in Iodine.
Below are the iodine Dietary Reference Intakes for various age groups. The Institute of Medicine says it’s not possible to establish an upper limit for 0–12 months old but that intake should be from food and formula only.
Our omega-3 recommendations have two parts.
Part One – Meet the DRI
All vegans should meet the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for omega-3s:
- Non-breastfeeding infants should receive an infant formula with at least 500 mg of omega-3 fats per day.
- Breastfeeding infants get omega-3 fats from breast milk.
- The DRI for other ages are listed in the table below.
|ALA Dietary Reference Intakes|
The above recommendations can be met by choosing enough foods from the table below.
|ALA Amounts in Plant Foods|
|Chia seeds||1 tsp||713|
|Flaxseed oil||1/4 tsp||608|
|Flaxseeds – ground||1 tsp||570|
|AEnglish (light brown) walnuts||3 halves (1/5 oz)||515|
|Soybeans – cooked||1/2 cup||500|
|Soy oil||1-1/2 tsp||450|
|Canola oil||1 tsp||433|
|Tofu – firm||1 cup||400|
|AAlways grind nuts and mix with food for 1-4 year olds to avoid choking.|
Part Two – For Extra Caution
The evidence on whether vegans need to go beyond the Dietary Reference Intakes is mixed and complicated—more information is at Omega-3s Part 2—Research. We think it’s prudent at this time to take one of these additional steps:
- Consume an additional 2,000 mg of ALA per day using the foods in the table above, or
- Take a supplement of 200-300 mg of DHA per day.
Your DHA supplement can contain EPA, but it’s not necessary if you’re meeting the DRI for ALA. We don’t recommend or have opinions on any specific brands of DHA supplements.
Too much omega-3 can result in bleeding and bruising. If you bleed or bruise easily, consult a health professional before significantly increasing your omega-3 intake.
Vegans should make a point of eating two or more foods high in vitamin A each day:
- Carrot juice
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potatoes
To see the exact Dietary Reference Intakes and specific amounts of vitamin A in plant foods, see Vitamin A.
If you’re healthy and eat a varied vegan diet, you don’t need to worry about iron as it’s plentiful in a vegan diet. However, some people have trouble absorbing enough plant iron and if you think your iron stores might be low, you can increase iron absorption by:
- Adding a source of vitamin C at meals—see the table, Vitamin C in Foods.
- Avoiding tea and coffee at meals.
- Increasing legume (peanuts, beans, lentils, peas) intake.
- Cooking foods (especially water-based acidic foods like tomato sauce) in cast iron skillets.
- Avoiding calcium supplements with meals.
See more information on iron and vegan diets in Iron.
Good plant sources of zinc are legumes, nuts, seeds, oatmeal, bread, tempeh, and miso. Without supplementation, vegan diets provide roughly the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for zinc (see the table below).
Zinc is important for immunity. If a vegan finds they’re easily catching colds, taking a modest zinc supplement of about the DRI might solve the problem.
|≥ 19 male||11||40|
|> 19 female||8||40|
For more information on zinc and vegan diets, see Zinc.