Evidence-Based Nutrient Recommendations

Daily Needs

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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.

Contents

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, as 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 require 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

In November 2020 we updated our recommendations with a lower threshold to meet the U.S. RDA and an upper suggestion to meet the European Food Safety Authority’s adequate intake. For more info, see our Rationale for Recommendations.

2020-11-11 B12 regimens-rationale-daily-needs-h

Notes on vitamin B12

  • A larger version of this table can be found in the Google spreadsheet B12 Doses and Absorption.
  • These recommendations are for the cyanocobalamin form of B12 only which is the form in fortified foods and most supplements. For other forms, see Coenzyme Forms: Methylcobalamin and Adenosylcobalamin.
  • 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. While there’s no definite cutoff for when B12 starts to become unsafe, because people often ask, we’ll somewhat arbitrarily say not to take more than 1,000 µg per day over the long-term without guidance from a physician. Large doses of B12 can trigger acne-like symptoms in a small percentage of people.
  • We recommend chewing B12-only supplements and swallowing multivitamins whole, to increase their absorption.
  • Anyone with kidney disease or suspected B12 deficiency or malabsorption should talk to their doctor about an appropriate B12 regimen.
  • µg = mcg = microgram = 1/1,000 of a milligram (mg)
  • For food labels in the United States, in March of 2020, the Daily Value for B12 was lowered from the 1968 RDA of 6 µg to the current RDA of 2.4 µg.
  • Store B12 supplements and fortified foods in a dark, cool place, preferably a refrigerator. Exposure to light can damage B12.
  • B12-fortified toothpaste is available in some locations and has been shown to be a reliable source of B12 for vegans.

More information on vitamin B12.

Calcium

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 calcium intake recommendations for the United Kingdom and the United States. We recommend aiming to meet the U.K. recommendations by following the strategies listed above.

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More information on Calcium.

Vitamin D

You can obtain vegan sources of vitamin D from fortified foods and supplements, specially treated mushrooms, and sunshine on your skin.

  • Supplements – Due to skin cancer, some dermatologists recommend getting all vitamin D from supplements, 600 to 1,000 IU per day, rather than the sun.
    • People ≥1 year and older who don’t receive adequate sun exposure
    • All people ≥65
  • Sunshine – people <65 produce vitamin D through skin exposure
    • Arms and face (or the equivalent amount of skin), midday (10 am–2 pm), without sunscreen, when sunburn is possible (not winter or cloudy)
      • Dark-skinned people need 20 min/day
      • Light-skinned people need 10–15 min/day

Such large amounts of vitamin D are only available in supplementals or specially treated mushrooms.

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
> 14 600 4,000

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

Iodine

Iodine is found inconsistently in plant foods depending on the iodine content of the soil. The food supply in many countries has traditionally been depleted of iodine; iodized salt fortification programs have solved iodine deficiency in many of them.

In the United States, table salt that is labeled as “iodized” is fortified with 100 µg of iodine per one-third teaspoon (which provides 774 mg of sodium). Salt in commercial and processed foods is usually not iodized. Sea salt doesn’t contain appreciable amounts of iodine unless fortified.

Aim to meet the DRI in the table below. Vegans who don’t meet their iodine needs by way of table salt should opt for a multivitamin or supplement containing potassium iodide.

Iodine notes:

  • Many potassium iodide supplements are intended to block radiation and are measured in milligrams (mg) rather than micrograms (abbreviated as µg or mcg) and can contain many times the upper limit of 1,100 µg.
  • We recommend not relying on kelp supplements for iodine, but if someone has been taking a multivitamin with kelp, the risks are probably not high enough to discard them; when possible, opt for potassium iodide instead of kelp.
  • If a tablet contains significantly more iodine than what’s recommended, they can normally be broken into halves or quarters.

More information on vegans and iodine.

 

Iodine Dietary Reference Intakes
Age US DRI
(µg)
Upper Limit
(µg)
0–6 mos 110 A
7–12 mos 130 A
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
A. 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.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A in plant foods comes mostly in the form of β-carotene. The RDA for vitamin A is 700 RAE for women and 900 RAE for men (see Vitamin A for other age groups), and it’s very important for vegans to meet the RDA. Eating the foods in the table below with a source of fat will aid in the absorption of vitamin A.

Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)
Food Size RAE
Carrot juice 1 C 2,256
Pumpkin 1/2 C canned 953
Carrot 1/2 C boiled slices 665
Sweet potato 1/2 medium, boiled 595
Butternut squash 1/2 C baked, cubes 572
Carrot 1 medium 509
Spinach 1/2 C cooked 472
Cantaloupe 1/2 medium 467
Sweet potato fries 1/2 C 274
Romaine lettuce 1 C 205
Broccoli 1 C boiled 120
Apricot 1/2 C dried 117
Mango 1 C pieces 89
Kale 1/2 C cooked 86
Tomatoes 1 C chopped or sliced 76
Canned tomatoes 1 C 48
Apricot 1 raw 34
Sun-dried tomatoes 1/2 C 12
Tomato paste 1 T 12

More information: Vitamin A

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 the essential omega-3 fat, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA):

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.

Notes with regard to infants:

  • 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.

Part Two: For Extra Caution

The evidence on whether vegans need to go beyond the DRI is mixed and complicated (see Omega-3s Part 2: Research for more info). 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.

More Information on Omega-3s.

Iron

Iron is plentiful in many plant foods, but it’s less absorbable than iron in meat. Vegetarian athletes and people who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating should pay attention to their iron needs. Plant iron absorption is significantly increased by:

  • Adding vitamin C at meals (see chart of foods)
  • Avoiding tea and possibly coffee, red wine, and cocoa within an hour of meals
  • Avoiding calcium supplements at 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.

Selenium

Soils in some countries lack selenium and vegans in those countries should ensure a source of selenium; Brazil nuts or a multivitamin with selenium are the most common. Soil in the United States and Finland has enough selenium that vegans there don’t need to be concerned. Vegans in the United Kingdom and Denmark should take steps to ensure a source. In Germany, the data on vegans is mixed and so it’s best to ensure a source.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for selenium is 55 µg/day for adolescents and adults, 60 micrograms per day during pregnancy, and 70 µg/day when breastfeeding. The upper intake level (UL) for selenium is 400 µg/day for adolescents and adults.

For more information on selenium and vegan diets, see Selenium.

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  • If you have a question about whether it's okay to cut supplements in half or combine supplements to achieve the dose we recommend, the answer is “Yes.” Be aware that nutrient recommendations are only estimates—it's not necessary to consume the exact amount we recommend every single day.
  • We aren't able to respond to questions about which brands of supplements to take.
  • We cannot provide personal nutrition advice for specific health conditions. If you need private counseling, here's a list of plant-based dietitians and we especially recommend VeganHealth contributor Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN.
  • We urge you to consult with a qualified health professional for answers to your personal questions.

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