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The Importance of Vitamin D for Vegans

By Nicolas Martineau B.Sc. Nutrition

It's no secret that vitamin D plays essential roles in bone health, immune functions, inflammation modulation, prevention of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, as well as certain cancers. What is less known is that certain population groups are more at risk of suffering from a vitamin D deficiency. 

Among these groups are the elderly, babies, individuals with obesity, those with chronic digestive system diseases, people with dark skin, and individuals following a vegan diet—meaning an eating pattern primarily based on plant-based foods without including animal-derived sources such as meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese.

According to a report from Epic-Oxford, vegans had 27% less vitamin D in their blood than individuals consuming animal-based foods. Vegans are, therefore, more at risk of a vitamin D deficiency. Several reasons can explain this difference.

Why are Vegans More at Risk of Vitamin D Deficiency?

1-Fewer Dietary Sources of Vitamin D for Vegans:

Most foods containing vitamin D are of animal origin. Liver, egg yolks, and fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are good sources of vitamin D. Vegan-friendly sources of vitamin D are very limited.

2-Less Efficient Conversion of Vitamin D2 in Plant-Based Foods:

It's essential to note that animal sources contain vitamin D3, while plant sources contain vitamin D2. Although both forms are absorbed similarly, the conversion of vitamin D into its active form (calcitriol) is much less significant when it is in the form of vitamin D2. Several reasons explain this difference, including its shorter half-life and lower affinity to metabolites. Generally, to compensate for this lower conversion rate, 40% more vitamin D2 must be given to equal vitamin D3.

3-Lower Vitamin D Content in Plant Sources:

Some plant-based foods may contain vitamin D, but the content is much smaller, resulting in the total amount of vitamin D from a vegan diet being generally much lower. For example, 100g of salmon contains an average of 668 IU, while 100g of mushrooms contains only 7 IU! To achieve the recommended daily dose of 1000 IU of vitamin D, one would need to consume the equivalent of over 14kg of mushrooms!

4-Uncertain Source of Vitamin D in Enriched Vegan Processed Foods:

Finally, some processed vegan foods may be enriched with vitamin D. In most cases, the source of the vitamin D used is not specified, meaning that many vegans may avoid these foods out of fear of consuming animal-derived derivatives.

The Importance of Vitamin D Supplementation in North America

Generally, winter conditions pose a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. During winter, people tend to cover up more, resulting in less exposure of their skin to sunlight. According to Statistics Canada, despite vitamin D-enriched foods (such as milk and cereals), 40% of Canadians are deficient in vitamin D during winter compared to 25% during summer.

It can be concluded that vitamin D supplementation is an important solution to reduce the number of people suffering from a vitamin D deficiency.

D2 or D3? What's the Difference?

Two forms of vitamin D exist on the market: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). In this regard, it is recommended to prioritize D3 as it is more stable and increases circulating vitamin D levels more effectively (+85%). Regarding supplements, vitamin D comes in various forms: capsules, tablets, soft gels, sprays, drops, or injections. According to Dr. Reinhold Vieth of Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, it is recommended to take liquid vitamin D3 because it is not certain that tablets or capsules taken in large quantities dissolve properly. This could result in insufficient dosage, as some of the vitamin is eliminated in the stool before being metabolized.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin D

Apart from skin exposure to sunlight and mushrooms, some fortified foods like soy, almond, or rice milk, as well as certain cereals, may be enriched with vitamin D. However, the source of vitamin D used is not specified, making it uncertain whether these fortified foods are vegan. In conclusion, too few plant-based foods containing vitamin D are available for vegans. Taking a vitamin D supplement is, therefore, the best possible solution to ensure that vegans consume enough vitamin D.

Concerning supplements, there are now more options available for vegan individuals. Besides D2 supplements, there are also sources of vitamin D3 claimed to be of plant origin. Lichen, UV-exposed mushrooms, and certain algae are mentioned as D3 sources. Given the very low D3 content of lichen, mushrooms, and algae, we can doubt that all these supplements genuinely come from the disclosed sources. For example, let's take lichen. According to studies, lichen takes 25 years to mature and contains an average of 1.3mg of vitamin D3 per 10kg of lichen. To provide a daily dose of 1000 IU, it would take 44.7kg of lichen for a single person! To supply D3 from lichen to 8 million people for a year, it would take a mature lichen quantity over 25 years equivalent to the area of 25 Montreal islands! How is it possible for these companies to continue selling D3 from lichen to so many people?

The same logic applies to mushrooms and algae. The D3 content is so small that it is not genuinely marketable. What is really in these supplements? Certainly not just D3 from lichen, algae, or mushrooms!

One thing is certain; the concept seems appealing from a marketing perspective but unfortunately is not feasible on a commercial scale.

Land Art's New Vegan and Organic Vitamin D3!

Aware that many of our customers prefer vegan supplements, Land Art has developed a brand-new certified organic and vegan vitamin D3! Unique in its source, our vegan vitamin D3 does not come from lichen, mushrooms, or algae. In fact, our vegan vitamin D3 is naturally obtained from phytosterols from pine bark, sourced from sustainable and responsible cultivation areas.

This vegan source of vitamin D3 is definitely better as pine bark contains a large amount of phytosterol. The transformation of phytosterols into vitamin D3 is easy and quick.

Flavorless and equipped with a convenient dropper, Land Art's new organic and vegan vitamin D3 is suitable for everyone, including vegans! Each bottle contains 490 drops, and one drop per day is sufficient!

In conclusion, vegans are more at risk of a vitamin D deficiency. Therefore, the supplementation of vitamin D3 is highly recommended because it is the most reliable and effective source. While vegan sources of vitamin D3 sold in supplement form may seem appealing, in reality, their D3 content does not support large-scale commercialization. Lichen is not a sustainable and viable resource. Phytosterols are now considered the best vegan source to obtain your vitamin D3!

Cheers !







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