Tell someone you’re vegan and suddenly they become an expert dietitian and will start listing nutrients they think you’re deficient in. Often the suggestions are silly, like protein, but someone who has done their homework will list something valid like B12. Vegans do need to take regular supplements of B12 or eat fortified foods. So many foods are fortified with B12 these days that I think it would be hard to become deficient but nevertheless, I still take a B12 tablet each day. The consequences of B12 deficiency are severe and you can’t overdose on B12 so there’s really nothing to lose with taking a supplement.
Another nutrient suggested by armchair dietitians is omega-3 or polyunsaturated fatty acids. There’s evidence that omega-3s are important for brain function and can potentially improve heart health. The omega-3s you get from fish are called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The good news is, fish don’t make EPA or DHA. Fish get it from algae which means vegans can also get it from algae and bypass the middle-man or in this case, middle-fish. This not only benefits the environment (think of the harm intensive fishing is doing to our oceans) but also avoids the potential consumption of toxins often found in fish like dioxins and heavy metals.
Interestingly, fish in fish farms are fed DHA and EHA. About 70% of the global supply of fish oil is fed to fish in farms. But this fish oil is in high demand and increasingly substituted with plant-based oils which lack EPA and DHA and this, in turn, has resulted in a decrease in the level of EPA and DHA in farmed fish. On the other hand, algae-derived EPA and DHA is also rich in phytosterols which have other potential benefits like preventing alzheimers and suppressing the growth of colonic tumors.
Dr Greger recommends we all take EPA and DHA omega-3.