Plant-based supplements are becoming increasingly trendy as people become more intentional about what they’re putting in their bodies.
In this post, we’ll explain the value of adding dietary supplements to your diet. Then, we’ll share differences between natural (plant-based) and synthetic supplements, and discuss the benefits of the former.
Why Do Humans take Supplements?
You might be wondering, why do we need to take supplements in the first place? As it turns out, many adults do not get enough of the recommended intake of vitamins and minerals through their diet alone. This can be attributed to anything from a poor diet to our bodies’ decreased ability to absorb nutrients.
Some argue that in this day and age, our food is not as nutrient dense as it was in the past. This may be because of soil depletion, pesticides, or simply because the varieties of produce we’re now growing have different nutrient levels.
Whatever the reason is, taking supplements is an easy way to ensure we’re eating enough vitamins and minerals every day. Before we discuss the benefits of plant-based supplements, let’s define the difference between natural and synthetic ones.
Natural vs. Synthetic Supplements
Supplements come in many different forms — vitamin capsules, powders, liquids, or even in food, like milk fortified with Vitamin D. We can divide supplements into two categories: synthetic and natural.
Synthetic supplements are chemically crafted to mimic how your body absorbs nutrients you normally would get from food. They’re also relatively cheap to produce and shelf-stable, and you can find them just about anywhere.
Natural supplements, on the other hand, are made with vitamins and minerals extracted from fruits and vegetables.
Benefits of Plant Based Supplements
Aside from the obvious benefit of being from real food and not chemically produced in a factory, plant-based supplements have many benefits. They include:
1. They Have Better Bioavailability
First off, plant-based supplements are more easily absorbed than their synthetic counterparts. This is because your body distinguishes between natural and synthetic nutrients — it recognizes natural ones more easily. This means that natural supplements have better bioavailability.
One study revealed that Vitamin E from natural sources was absorbed twice as easily as synthetic Vitamin E.
Another study of natural and synthetic supplements showed that natural supplements had a more sustained effect, and caused a decrease in oxidative stress levels.
2. They're Completely Natural
Do you know what’s actually in your synthetic multivitamin? Take a look at the ingredients and you’ll see artificial dyes, synthetic fillers, and preservatives. Because of the potential risks of artificial colors, the EU has mandated that brands containing these dyes issue a warning on their product labels.
Unfortunately, the U.S. hasn’t quite caught up yet. Although taking a daily vitamin seems like a healthy practice in theory, it could be wise to avoid any of the potentially dangerous effects of synthetic supplements by making the switch to those that are plant-based.
3. They're Safer Than Synthetic Supplements
It’s wise to consume in moderation, even supplements. Too many supplements, in worst case scenarios, can cause a buildup of toxicity. Your body can flush out excess water-soluble C and B vitamins, but stores excess fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K). Ingesting too many synthetic supplements has a higher risk of causing toxicity than ingesting too many natural supplements.
4. They're Great for Supplementing a Vegan Diet
If you prefer a plant-based diet, you’ll likely want your vitamins to be plant-based, too. Many vegans (and vegetarians) are prone to vitamin deficiencies because they aren’t benefiting from the high vitamin and mineral content of meat, eggs, and dairy.
Although you can absolutely get enough nutrients with a plant-based diet, plant based supplements can help you meet your daily vitamin requirements (via Healthline):
Nutrients You Can Get From Plant Based Supplements
This essential nutrient is found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, which are all naturally rich in B12. As such, vegetarians and vegans are at greater risk for having low B12 levels, which can be abated by taking a B12 supplement or eating fortified foods (e.g. nutritional yeast).
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Fish are incredibly rich in omega-3s, and if you follow a plant-based diet (i.e. do not eat fish), chances are you’ll need to take an omega-3 supplement. Most plant-based omega-3 is derived from algae, and those supplements boast better absorption than a standard fish oil pill.
Seafood, seaweed, and dairy products all contain naturally occurring iodine. One study reported that vegans are at risk for having deficient blood iodine levels. Eating a plant-based diet often necessitates taking an iodine supplement, unless you’re eating a ton of seaweed.
Sure, fish, red meat, and turkey are all rich in iron, but so are legumes, leafy greens, broccoli, and quinoa. If you follow a plant-based diet and eat enough of the latter foods listed,you might not need to take an iron supplement.
Many of us immediately think of milk as a source of calcium, but bok choy, kale, and chickpeas are just a few of the many calcium-rich foods that make great additions to a plant-based diet.
Still, vegans do tend err on the side of deficient when it comes to their levels of this bone-strengthening mineral, so a natural supplement could be beneficial.
Zinc is another mineral that’s found in meat, eggs, and dairy. While there are plenty of plant-based sources of zinc, you may want to consider supplementing your plant-based diet with this crucial mineral.
Now that you know about the benefits of plant-based supplements, you might never want to take your synthetic multivitamin again.
The good news is that because of the widespread popularity of natural supplements, they are widely available in stores and online.
Before you start taking supplements, we recommend that you talk to your doctor about the possibility of supplements interacting with medication you currently take.
Your doctor can even order a test so you can determine your vitamin and mineral levels, and you can go from there.
We care so much about real food and what we put in our bodies, so why should we settle for synthetic vitamins? Plant-based supplements are an easy, natural way to maintain healthy nutrient levels.