Supplements: Yes or No?

Two health experts and three vegans weigh in.

By: Tamar Atik

The idea of whether or not to take supplements to achieve optimum health as a vegan is an ongoing discussion. Registered dietician, Christine Asik, says being a healthy vegan involves a lot of planning.

Courtesy of Christine Asik/Say Vegan

Christine Asik/Photo courtesy of Christine Asik

“If you’re a vegan you do really need to pay attention to getting the proper amount of nutrients and you really need to plan your diet and consider vitamin supplements,” Asik said.

But Olivia Pileggi, a vegan for five years, has experimented with various supplements and found they react negatively with her body.

Courtesy of Olivia Pileggi/ Say Vegan

Olivia Pileggi/Photo courtesy of Olivia Pileggi

“I was just like, ‘What am I doing new?’ And then I realized, what I’m doing new is taking this iron (supplement),” she said, realizing she should stop taking the supplement to see if she felt better. It worked.

Today, Pileggi takes a B12 supplement daily which she says provides 6,100 per cent of her B vitamin needs, including vitamin B12.

Asik says vitamin B12 is a very important one for vegans to consider.

“That’s almost exclusively found in animal products, so vegans really do need to take a supplement,” Asik said. “I think they can be as healthy and certainly, they could maybe even be healthier than some people who are just not eating well, eating a lot of processed meats and things like that.”

That said, Pileggi says she grows tired of taking vitamins and supplements, and wants to live as naturally as possible.

Marissa Rouse isn’t so fond of supplements, either. The 26-year-old has been a vegan for six years and a vegetarian for 12.

Courtesy of Marissa Rouse/ Say Vegan

Marissa Rouse/Photo courtesy of Marissa Rouse

She says the process to veganism wasn’t so smooth in the beginning.

“I would say, probably six months in I wasn’t doing too well… I wasn’t eating a diet full of variety and nutritious things,” Rouse said. “It was mostly just junk food I could find that was accidentally vegan.”

Nutritionist and personal trainer, Kyle Byron, says this is why he doesn’t recommend a vegan diet for everyone.

Courtesy of Kyle Byron/ Say Vegan

Kyle Byron/Photo courtesy of Kyle Byron

“First of all to be healthy as a vegan, the person must be really organized and knowledgable in choosing the right foods, in being very prepared with their foods and always having well-balanced meals,” Byron said. “Even if they do that, they have to supplement a few things.”

Rouse said she did more research to become a full-time vegan after going back to dairy for a short time. “Sometimes I take a multivitamin,” Rouse said. “Or I’ll take Vitamin C when I’m sick, but I’m not very consistent about taking any kind of supplement mostly because I’m lazy.”

Eventually, she realized supplements weren’t necessary for her when she ate a varied diet.

And a varied diet- including vegetables, pastas and even mock meats- is exactly what Barbi Lazarus, 29, says she eats. She takes B12, vitamin D and an iron supplement every morning at breakfast. And she says she’s perfectly fine with sticking to that schedule.

Courtesy of Barbi Lazarus

Barbi Lazarus/Photo courtesy of Barbi Lazarus

“It’s not a hassle at all. I literally have this cute vintage bowl sitting on our kitchen counter beside the sink where I keep my three little pill bottles in there. So every morning when I carry my plate from the kitchen to the table, I just carry that little bowl with me as well and just take it all at the same time,” Lazarus said.

Asik and Byron agree that vegans can be healthy if they pay attention to what they eat.

“Ideally, a [regular] person’s diet is mostly vegan, but has a little bit of added protein to it,” Byron said.

“I think veganism could be a healthy diet. People who are vegan just really need to plan their diets out well or take the appropriate supplements,” Asik said.