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Vegans, This Is What You Need To Look Out For In Your Vitamin D Supplement

Image by Jeremy Pawlowski / Stocksy
November 11, 2021

We receive a ton of questions about the vegan status of our supplements. Collagen? Nope, and it never will be. Probiotics? Perhaps, depending on the source you choose. What about vitamin D?

It's a trickier tale. You see, some brands market their supplements as vegan or plant-based, even when the source of vitamin D3 actually comes from an animal source. As mbg's director of scientific affairs and in-house nutritionist Ashley Jordan Ferira, Ph.D., RDN, tells us on the mindbodygreen podcast, there's a certain ingredient you should check on the label—and it often goes overlooked. 

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Vegans, you've come to the right place. Here's how to know if your vitamin D supplement is actually plant-derived. 

How to know if your vitamin D supplement is vegan. 

The average vitamin D3 supplement (or cholecalciferol) is made from lanolin, a yellow fat that comes from sheep's wool1 that is UV irradiated to create a concentrated cholecalciferol source. "Nothing wrong with lanolin," says Ferira. "It's a fine D3 source." It doesn't pose any significant safety concerns, per the Environmental Working Group (EWG), but it does come from sheep's wool, which is, ahem, not vegan. 

"There are vitamin D supplements that claim to be vegan overall—this is common in a multivitamin—and the D3 source is, in fact, lanolin," Ferira continues. Which is fine! No hate against lanolin; it's a perfectly acceptable and quality source for vitamin D3. But "last time I checked, vegans do not want [to consume] sheep's wool," Ferira adds. Not to worry; you'll find truly vegan D3 in mindbodygreen's multivitamin.

The best vegan source. 

In terms of plant-based sources, the best and most innovative option is organic, sustainably sourced algae (in our humble opinion). mindbodygreen's vitamin D3 potency+ uses VegD3®, a non-GMO, organic, plant-origin, environmentally sustainable algal vitamin D3 option that's chemically identical to the D3 you'd get from the usual animal-based lanolin. 

"The only vegan D3 source before this innovation and technology was lichen, and lichen is not sustainable," Ferira notes. It takes many years (to decades) to grow and then has to be removed from its natural ecosystem for the vitamin D to be extracted, "Plus there are animals that were relying on this lichen for their nourishment. It's now gone," Ferira once told us about sustainable forms of vitamin D.

So even if your bottle does boast plant-based sources, take a peek at the label to make sure those sources are, in fact, sustainable. "If you're seeking a plant-derived, sustainable option, organic algae is where it's at," Ferira adds. 

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A bit more nuance.

While the gelatin gelcap for vitamin D3 potency+ isn't technically vegan, it was the most scientifically sound and premium envelope to deliver this plant-origin algal D3 in. Why? More on that in this article, but here's the brief recap: Because vitamin D3 potency+ is not just D3. As Ferira explains, "In this unique product, we include three organic virgin oils in our formula to promote absorption, so tablets or capsules weren't an option because capsules and tablets are only useful when all your ingredients are in powder format." 

Additionally, it turns out vegan gelcaps have issues with leakage (eek) with oil (liquid, not solid) ingredients. "We didn't encapsulate in a vegan gelcap because after heavily researching them, we found their porosity [read: pores or small holes] leads to leaks, reduced stability, increased oxidation, and rancidity of ingredients, which was unacceptable for us, this formula, and our quality standards," explains Ferira.

The takeaway. 

If your vitamin D supplement has lanolin on the label, it is animal-derived. We repeat: Lanolin is a perfectly fine source, and it's nothing to sound the alarm over—unless you're vegan, of course. In that case, you'd be better off opting for a plant-based option, ideally one sourced from organic algae.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.