28 JANUARY 2020
How To Choose The Best Multivitamin For Vegan and Vegetarian Diets (UK)
TThe great news is there’s loads of vegetarian and vegan multivitamins products for you to choose from in the UK. But not all supplements are created equal and there are some key considerations you should know before selecting the best vegetarian or vegan multivitamin for you.
In this post, we’ll provide a rundown of vegan multivitamins and vitamin B12, including an explanation of why the form and dosage of nutrients is important, which non-active ingredients to avoid, ethical packaging to look out for and a 6 step check list designed to help you choose the best vegan multivitamin.
What is the best multivitamins for vegans and vegetarians?
The best vegan multivitamin should contain vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, calcium, choline and iodine in their most natural forms. Choose capsules over tablets. Look out for optimum doses and forms of nutrients. Avoid additives, allergens, preservatives, palm oil and plastic packaging.
Why does it matter which vegan multivitamin you choose?
The two key reasons are effectiveness and impact on the environment. In order to be effective the multivitamin needs to contain the right ingredients, in the right dose and in the right combination. To be environmentally friendly the packaging should be plastic free, lightweight and recyclable. Also, the ingredients should be as natural as possible. For example we recommend vitamin C from Acerola Cherry rather than synthetic vitamin C found in most supplements. Another example is vegan vitamin D2 which is synthetic, less effective and cheaper than natural vegan vitamin D3.
Comparing most multivitamins is like comparing apples and pears! Choosing the right vegetarian or vegan multivitamin can make the difference between it protecting your health or not. Selecting a multivitamin with high quality ingredients and ethical packaging means you’re likely to pay a little more because specialist ingredients and plastic free packaging is much more expensive than lesser alternatives.
Check out our blog post “why take a multivitamin?” for more information.
Why don’t we get enough nutrients in our diet?
The main reason is an unhealthy diet. The reality is that most of us still aren’t eating enough vegetables. We’re guessing you’ve heard the line “a healthy balanced diet will give you all the nutrients you need”? So why do some vegans have insufficient micronutrient levels? There’s a few reasons:
Impaired absorption of nutrients. Malabsorption can occur due to many reasons and can be related to conditions such as IBS . Remember it’s not just what you eat, it’s what you absorb.
Medications. Medications for acid reflux like proton pump inhibitors can impair absorption of nutrients like vitamin B12 .
Less nutrient dense foods. Due to farming methods many foods contain less nutrients than they used to many years ago .
Dietary choice not providing sufficient quantities of nutrients. Some diets naturally contain less micronutrients than other diets and therefore can lead to nutrient insufficiency or deficiency.
Even with the best intentions and a good vegan diet there is a chance you’re not getting enough of the nutrients you need.
Which nutrients do vegans need in a multivitamin?
If you’re eating a vegan diet there’s some must-have nutrients to look out for in a good vegan multivitamin:
- Vitamin B12. The one we all know about! It’s really difficult to find vegan sources of vitamin B12 in significant quantities which is why it’s the one nutrient most vegans are recommended to supplement. Vegans who don’t supplement vitamin B12 are at risk of deficiency [4,5].
- Iron. It’s definitely possible to get enough iron through a vegan diet but evidence suggest that women eating vegan diets still don’t get enough [6,7].
- Calcium. Vegans are at risk of lower calcium intake , however it is important to consider that calcium absorption is dependent on having sufficient levels of vitamin D.
- Vitamin D3. Vitamin D deficiency is a population problem but also a specific issue in vegans [9,10,11]. The NHS recommends that all adults should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D during the autumn and winter .
- Choline. Much like vitamin D, it is thought that choline deficiency isn’t a vegan specific problem although it could be more difficult to get sufficient choline due to it being less prevalent in a vegan diet.
- Iodine. Iodine content in food of plant origin is lower in comparison with that of animal origin due to low iodine concentration in soil .
- Zinc. Zinc deficiency in vegans is rarer than some of the other possible deficiencies. However when considering the potential absorption related issues above it is definitely a consideration for vegans .
This list isn’t exhaustive and that’s why a multivitamin can give you the nutritional reassurance that you’re getting all the nutrients you need. As a minimum it should contain all the essential vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin B12 in food
As mentioned above, vitamin B12 is only really found in sufficient quantities in animal based foods or foods fortified with synthetic vitamin B12.
The most common form of vitamin B12 you will find in fortified foods is the cyanide form, yes you read correctly! Cyanocobalamin is littered throughout cereals and other fortified foods. Don’t worry, the cyanide is in such microscopic quantities that it isn’t harmful but it’s not the most natural and effective form. Methylcobalamin is a much better form of vitamin B12 and is the form closest to the one you would find in nature and the one we would recommend you look out for.
Does the form and dose of nutrients in a vegan multivitamin matter?
Absolutely! The best forms of nutrients in a multivitamin will be more bioavailable (better absorbed), more bioactive (more effective in the body once absorbed) and not cause harm (some synthetic nutrients have been shown to cause harm).
We think if there is a natural version of an ingredient available and it will fit inside the capsule, you should definitely use it! This also extends to organic. Most multivitamins aren’t organic because most of the ingredients can’t be in an organic form. However we don’t think this should stop companies using organic ingredients, even if they can’t say it on the label.
What about the dosage? The optimum dose for each nutrient varies and there is some dependence on individual requirements. However there is a minimum dosage you can include which is likely to be optimal for most people. Many multivitamin contains 100% of the RDA or NRV for each nutrient. This is fine for some nutrients but for others it might not be optimal. Keep a look out for our upcoming nutrient guide for more information.
The best vegan multivitamin shouldn’t just provide the minimum dose of nutrients to prevent disease, it should provide an optimum level to help you thrive. Some nutrients like magnesium and calcium are needed in larger quantities and therefore are difficult to fit into a capsule and therefore if additional magnesium and calcium are needed they can be taken separately.
Which ingredients should I avoid in my vegan multivitamin?
Multivitamins and other supplements will often contain extra ingredients called ‘excipients’. These are non-active ingredients which are used to help the manufacturing process of the product.
Here are some of the common ones:
- Magnesium stearate or stearic acid. Often used as a ‘flow agent’ to help powder flow properly. Unfortunately, this ingredient is often sourced from palm oil and is an ingredient which some people think is dangerous. We don’t believe it’s dangerous but we do think there are better, more ethical alternatives available like rice extract.
- Silicon dioxide. Often used in tablet formulations as a coating. Its safety is currently being investigated and could be banned in the future.
- Flavourings and preservative. If packaged and stored correctly there’s no need for anything else except the active ingredients and natural excipients.
- PVP/povidone. A polymer (form of plastic) that amazingly is found in some food supplements. Needless to say, we think you should avoid it!
- Gelatin Capsules. Animal based capsules which are totally unnecessary in our opinion.
Does my vegan multivitamin need to be independently approved?
Non-vegan vitamins and ingredients are so frequently used in supplements and can be hard to spot on most vegan multivitamin labels. You have to go back deep into a supply chain to ensure that it is completely free from any animal-based ingredients.
One way to ensure that your multivitamin is truly vegan is to check that it is registered with the Vegan Society. The vegan society have strict criteria for not only final ingredients in a vegan multivitamin but also all processing ingredients too.
At Ethical Nutrition Co we believe every product should be independently approved by The Vegan Society so that's why all of our products are approved, including the UK's best vegan multivitamin, "The Ethical Multivitamin".
What packaging should my multivitamin be in?
Paper Pouches. Our choice of packaging and we think the best option right now. Our paper pouches are lined with a revolutionary water-based barrier to protect our preservative-free capsules. They are also plastic-free, fully recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. We tick all the boxes! As of writing no other supplement company is using this level of eco-friendly packaging that is also able to keep the multivitamin capsules fresh.
Here’s a break down of the other most common types:
- Plastic Pots. Plastic is strong, cheap, light and provides a great moisture barrier which is why it’s become the packaging choice of many food supplement brands but it carries a huge environmental burden. Often the ‘food-grade’ plastic pots used are not widely recycled and we think you should avoid plastic packaging without question.
- Glass Jars. A good option to provide protection to the product inside but it is very heavy (think carbon footprint) and often has labels which aren’t recyclable. The security seal on top often contains some form of plastic or bio-plastic.
- Plastic Pouches. Pouches vary in their composition. Most on the market are made from or contain plastic or mixed materials which can’t be separated, making them difficult to recycle. There are some biodegradable pouches made from plant-based plastics but they aren’t recyclable or biodegradable under normal landfill or seawater conditions. The compostable plastic pouch options usually require industrial composting which won’t happen if the pouch is sent into the paper recycling stream. These types of pouches are very different to paper pouches.
Finally, the best vegan multivitamins aren’t just for vegans, they’re for everyone! Thanks for reading our guide to vegan multivitamins.
Want to learn more?
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