Daily Needs 16


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.

More info:

Where recommended below, vitamin and mineral supplements are effective at preventing nutrient deficiencies.

Protein

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
    • Lentils
    • 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.

Vitamin B12

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 many need a 500-1,000 µg supplement per day.

Vitamin B12 Recommendations: Choose One Option
Age US RDA
(µg)
Option 1: Twice Daily
(µg)
Option 2: Daily
(µg)
Option 3: Twice Weekly
(µg)
0–5 mos 0.4 breastmilk or fortified formula
6–11 mos 0.4 0.4-1.0 5-20 200
1–3 yrs 0.9 0.8-1.5 10-40 375
4–8 yrs 1.2 1.0-2.0 13-50 500
9–13 yrs 1.8 1.5-2.5 20-75 750
14–64 yrs 2.4 2.0-3.5 25-100 1000
65+ yrs 2.6 500-1000 Not Applicable
Pregnancy 2.6 2.5-4.0 25-100 Not Applicable
Breastfeeding 2.8 2.5-4.0 30-100 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.

Calcium

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: collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, or bok choy. 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.

Calcium
Age US DRI
(mg)
Upper Limit
(mg)
0–6 mos 200 1,000
7–12 mos 260 1,500
1–3 700 2,500
4–8 1,000 2,500
9–18 1,300 3,000
19–50 1,000 2,500
51-70 men 1,000 2,000
51–70 women 1,200 2,000
> 70 1,200 2,000
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
14-18 1,300 3,000
19-50 1,000 2,500

More information on Calcium.

Vitamin D

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.

Vitamin D
Age US DRI
(IU)
Upper Limit
(IU)
0–6 mos 400 1,000
7–12 mos 400 1,500
1–3 600 2,500
4–8 600 3,000
9–70 600 4,000
> 70 800 4,000
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
> 14 400 4,000

See more information on vitamin D and vegan diets in Vitamin D.

Iodine

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 borken in 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.

Iodine
Age US DRI
(µg)
Upper Limit
(µg)
0–6 mos 110
7–12 mos 130
1–3 90 200
4–8 90 300
9–13 120 600
14–18 150 900
19+ 150 1,100
Pregnancy
≤18 220 900
≥18 220 1,100
Breastfeeding
≤18 290 900
≥18 290 1,100

Omega-3 Fats

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
Age Male
mg/day
Female
mg/day
1-3 700 700
4-8 900 900
9-13 1,200 1,000
14+ 1,600 1,100
Pregnancy 1,400
Breastfeeding 1,300

 

The above recommendations can be met by choosing enough foods from the table below.

 

ALA Amounts in Plant Foods
Food Size ALA
mg
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
Tempeh 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.

Vitamin A

Vegans should make a point of eating two or more foods high in vitamin A each day:

  • Carrot juice
  • Butternut squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Cantaloupe
  • Kale

To see the exact Dietary Reference Intakes and specific amounts of vitamin A in plant foods, see Vitamin A.

Iron

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 below, 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.

Zinc

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.

Zinc
Age US DRI
(mg)
Upper Limit
(mg)
0–6 mos 2 4
7–12 mos 3 5
1–3 3 7
4–8 5 12
9–13 8 23
14–18 male 11 34
14-18 female 9 34
≥ 19 male 11 40
> 19 female 8 40
Pregnancy
14–18 12 34
19–50 11 40
Breastfeeding
14–18 13 34
19–50 12 40

For more information on zinc and vegan diets, see Zinc.


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16 thoughts on “Daily Needs

  • Andrea Harper

    Hi,

    I have been vegan for a few years now and I seem to be having some issues (which I am reviewing with my doctor). That said, in attempting to look at nutrition requirements a little more, I am not surprised because it seems like a person has to eat an insane amount of food just to get everything in. I am simply not capable of eating as many servings as seems required. I am a small person and I have always eaten small amounts and my mom is the same, but it’s catching up with me nutritionally & physically and I just want to know how to stay vegan while eating how I eat and not having all my hair fall out, as a fun example. Is it a matter of just supplementing? How can I do this on small amounts of food and not suffer malnutrition? Am I wrong? It seems like a crazy amount of food I’m supposed to eat.

      • Meredith D

        I’m struggling with this too. I’m not a vegan yet, but I’m slowly trying to cut out meat and wish to be either vegan or almost vegan by January. When I look at nutrition labels, it seems like all of the vegan foods have fewer calories than the foods that contain animal products. Vegan burgers have fewer calories than beef or turkey burgers, for instance. When I look up a serving of tofu, half a cup is only 94 calories with 10 grams of protein; but a 4-ounce serving of grilled chicken breast is 187 calories with 25 grams of protein. I’m kind of broke and can’t afford to buy much more food, so I’m not sure how I’m going to manage this yet. My BMI is about 18.5, and I really can’t afford to lose weight. I have executive function issues, so counting up calories and all my nutrients is a bit overwhelming for me when I’m used to not thinking about it. Anyhow, I have an appointment with an RD next week, so I’m hoping she can give me some tips.

        • Reed Mangels

          We hope the RD can be helpful. The Vegetarian Resource Group has some low-cost vegan menus that may give you some ideas. See them at
          https://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2003issue1/2003_issue1_quick.php#intro19
          https://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2006issue2/2006_issue2_mealplans.php
          Keep in mind that in order to keep costs down, menus use limited amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables. If you are able to get low-cost fresh fruits and vegetables, they can replace the canned or frozen products in these menus.

        • Meredith Domzalski

          Hi Reed,

          I’m replying to my own comment again because I can’t figure out how to reply to yours. Thank you for the additional resources! I already tend to use frozen fruits and veggies because they’re cheaper, so I don’t mind that. Meeting with the RD should help too, and I’m hoping she can give me some tips for meal prep and managing my time and energy. Thanks, again!

  • Martin Madsen

    Dear Jack Norris,
    Thank you for your wonderful overview! I have a quick question: Is ALA destroyed in walnuts/ground flaxseeds if they are heated (inside a muffin, for instance)?
    Thank you for your time!
    Best regards,
    Martin Madsen

    • Tania Navarro

      Hello
      I have a doubt about the ingest of Calcium for people in their 19 to 50 years old, acording to the US DRI the ingest should be 1000 mg, but you recommend 2 cups of mixed greens so that´s about 200 mg, or a supplement of 300 mg. Is that enough or should I put more rich calcium food in my diet?
      Thank you

      • JackNorrisRD

        Tania,

        Our recommendations assume vegans are getting 400–500 mg of calcium from other sources—most plant foods have some calcium. It’s probably best not to take more from a supplement because of concerns with heart disease and high amounts of calcium supplements, but adding more greens to your diet is a great idea.

  • Michael farla

    Hello
    I am a 68 year old vegan, have been since age 40
    since becoming vegan, I have always had a multivitamin a day
    Now your website says I should take 500-1000 ug b 12 and 600 ug D per day
    Both these figures are way over the quantities supplied by my multivitamin
    Which is b12 (9 ug )and D (5 ug) per tablet
    Can you please explain what you base your extremely figures on figures on?
    Thank you
    Michael

    • Dennis Nied

      Dear Michael farla,

      the absorbtion of Vitamin B12 works with two mechanisms: diffusion (about 1% of the intake) and the so called Intrinsic Factor (IF) (about 1-2mcg per intake). If you take B12 over the day (like meateaters or with fortified foods), your IF can “recover” in the meanwhile so you can absorb more out of even small dosages (bigger than 1-2mcg).
      Daily need: ~3mcg
      With daily supplement: 3mcg= 1mcg (per IF) + 2mcg (per diffusion) -> you should not take less than 200mcg per supplement to be safe*
      I took the lowest numbers for absorption. In the list above 25-100mcg is given. Might as well be fine.
      If you want to supplement even less (weekly or so), then the dosages getting even bigger, since now the part of the IF vanishes in comparison to the part you’ll get via diffusion.
      The numbers sound like a lot (hundreds/thousands of your daily need) but 1. the real absorbed amount is way smaller if it is not splitted in many intakes 2. Vit. B12 is watersoluable and if you take in too much then it will just leave your body via your bladder.
      Of course some people are/will be non-deficient on lower dosages, because of multiple factors of absorption, but i would suggest to be safe. A blood test to check your bio-active B12 levels is the blood test for Holo-TC, which i highly recommend you!

      Wish you all the best,
      Dennis Nied

  • Maureen Conner

    I’m a 66 year old woman and have been on a WFPB diet the last 12 months. I take 1000 iu (25 mcg) of Vitamin D twice a day and 1000 µg of B12 once a week (both sublingual). It’s my understanding that because sublingual supplements are absorbed in the mouth, we don’t need to take the doses recommended above. Does anyone know whether that is true?