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Part V: Do Plant-Based Diets Need Supplementing?

Cobalamin (Vitamin B-12) Structure

Many of us worry about things that never crossed the minds of our great grandparents. Am I eating enough protein? Do I need more calcium to strengthen my bones? Will my iron stores get low? How can I ensure enough omega-3 in my diet? The modern supplement industry benefits from these fears of "nonexistent deficiencies." This blog series has explored the common nutrients that people suspect are inadequate in a plant-based diet and answers the question, "Do I need to take supplements if I'm eating only plants?"

Fruits, Veggies, Beans, Whole Grains, Nuts and Seeds ALMOST Have It All. Eating from a variety of plant-based foods gives us nearly all the nutrients we need for radiant health. There are, however, two nutrients that plants can't provide in sufficient amounts. Vitamin D is a hormone produced when sunlight hits our skin. If we find ourselves spending more time under a roof than out of doors, we can easily become deficient in this vital nutrient. A simple 25-hydroxy Vitamin D blood test will tell if our bodies are missing this vitamin. For patients who are severely deficient in Vitamin D, I recommend getting more sunshine, eating an oil-free, whole-food, plant-based diet, and supplementing with Vitamin D (but no more than 5,000 units daily. Never do I recommend taking 50,000 units of vitamin D at one dose).

Vitamin B-12 is produced by bacteria, not plants. The World Health Organization supports the recommendation that all people over the age of 50 take B-12 daily. As we age, our bodies become less efficient at absorbing Vitamin B-12, so a daily supplement is recommended for everyone over the age of 50, regardless of diet style. Individuals who drink alcoholic beverages or use caffeine are at increased risk of becoming Vitamin B-12 deficient due to the diuretic effect of these addictive substances. Also at risk are those who take strong antacids like proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec or Nexium, etc. 

As a physician, I keep a sharp eye on the latest scientific research into health and nutrition. It still amazes me that as our knowledge expands, we are repeatedly discovering that a simple, whole-food plant-based diet free from added oil is the best for vitality and longevity. The needs of the human body haven't changed over time.

Do plant-based diets require supplements? As long as we are in good health and are eating sufficient calories from a wide variety of whole plant foods, getting adequate sunshine for our Vitamin D, and supplementing with Vitamin B-12, our nutritional needs will be bountifully met by plants.

For additional information, click on the following links:

(1) Vitamin D Supplements Are Harmful—Sunshine and Food Determine Health

(2) Vitamin D - To Supplement Or Not To Supplement?

(3) Shining a Light on Vitamin D

(4) McDougall’s Moments: Vitamin B12

(5) 12 Questions Answered Regarding Vitamin B12

(6) Vitamin B12 - Why You Should Never Go Plant-Based Without It

(7) Vitamin B12 Deficiency—the Meat-eaters’ Last Stand

(8) Vitamin B12 Necessary for Arterial Health

(9) Vegan Paralysis

(10) Vegan Pitfalls - Dr. Michael Klaper

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Part IV: Do Plant-Based Diets Need Supplementing?

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