That’s a valid question!
Why DO we need to take vitamin B12, vitamin D, DHA/EPA, and iodine on a plant-based/vegan diet in order to avoid deficiencies when there aren’t any required supplements on an omnivore diet?
Because society caters to omnivores.
Let me explain. The government has mandated certain foods be fortified in order to avoid common deficiencies amongst the general public (meaning omnivores):
- Since the standard omnivore diet is lacking in sufficient folate (which can lead to many health complications including birth defects in newborns), governments mandated that folic acid be added to bread and grain products (such as pasta and cereal) in the ’90s. A plant-based diet is naturally rich in folate, however.
- Breads and cereals are also fortified with B vitamins and iron, as per government regulations because these were common deficiencies as well.
- Iodine was added to table salt in the 1920’s to prevent goiters (a result of iodine deficiency) which were common at the time. Now it is also present in dairy products through accidental fortification – cow’s udders are disinfected with an iodine solution, and the iodine ends up in milk as a contaminant (a good one in this case). Some dairy farmers also add iodine salts to their feed. Seaweed, a plant-based food, is actually the richest natural source of iodine.
- Vitamin D is also added to dairy products. Humans are meant to get the majority of our vitamin D via sun exposure, but with our indoor lifestyles most of us are deficient in this important vitamin. So some governments (like the Canadian government) started requiring dairy products to be fortified with vitamin D to solve this problem too. Unfortunately, most people in colder climates are still deficient, even despite this fortification.
As you can see, omnivores also require supplements. They just don’t realize they’re taking supplements because they’re getting them indirectly through foods that have been fortified instead of directly through a pill. So while vegans and vegetarians are told they need to make sure their diets are well-planned to avoid deficiencies, the “planning” that omnivores need in order to avoid certain deficiencies is done for them by governments and farmers.
Many omnivores are still deficient in B12, D, DHA/EPA, and iodine, despite the fact that these nutrients can be found in animal products. Compounding the problem is the fact that food naturally has lower levels of vitamins and minerals today than in previous generations due to soil depletion and unsustainable farming practices. We also aren’t ingesting the soil-based microorganisms that our ancestors once did, which contributed to synthesis of certain vitamins (B12 is actually made by bacteria, not animals).
Hence why EVERYONE should be mindful of eating a well-planned diet, not just vegans and vegetarians.
Further, research has shown that vegans and vegetarians tend to have higher levels of other vitamins and minerals, and they also have higher intakes of fibre, which is crucial for gut health. Most importantly, plant-based diets have consistently been shown to improve long-term health outcomes. So don’t let the fear-mongering around plant-based diets prevent you from reaping all of the amazing health benefits of eating more plants and little-to-no animal products.
The research is on your side!