The prevalence of vitamin-taking does disturb me a little – I feel like people are easy prey to marketing for supplements (“buy this, it will make you healthy and long-lived”). Though I don’t want to sound patronising/judgemental here and acknowledge that many people have good reasons for taking them.
I too did a bit of googling about algal omega-3 supplements when I was considering taking them, and learned about algae being the original source of fish-based omega-3. I got into a bit of a quagmire trying to unpick the relative environmental impacts, though – a lot of the material I found was obviously heavily biased, by which I mean it was on websites that were trying to sell me either fish-based or algae-based omega-3 supplements! Though it’s a while since I looked into this, and had minimal access to academic journals at the time so was just googling. Might be worth returning to now that I have access to better resources. The issue is further complicated by lack of consensus on health benefits/importance of omega-3s generally and whether ALA (available from plant-based diet) is sufficient or whether a direct source of EPA/DHA (no vegan food sources, but can be produced in the body from ALA) is advisable. I’m glad you raised the issue of cost. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford algal omega-3 supplements at the moment, but very aware that they’re an awful lot more expensive than sardines…
I am not very familiar with kimchi and my previous efforts at fermenting things in jars have not been very successful (ahem), but I’ve had a look at that recipe and think I might summon up the courage to give it a go! In my earlier research on B12 I did come across various claims of plant-based food sources (e.g. tempeh) but the general consensus seemed to be that they only contain low and/or unreliable amounts. The unreliability makes sense to me particularly with regard to fermented foods which use indigenous microbes (as I think is the case with kimchi) rather than adding specific strains – I think not all lactobacilli produce B12 (?) and even if they do there might be a considerable variation between different strains in terms of how much. This page collates evidence relating to alleged plant-based food sources of B12:
Vitamin B12 in Plant Foods – Vegan Health
(Part of a very comprehensive guide on B12 generally in relation to vegan diets: Vitamin B12 – Vegan Health)
The studies they cite relating to Lactobacillus did show some effect in terms of reducing B12 deficiency, but they conclude that there is insufficient evidence to make it a reliable source. This is in line with their general conclusion that although there are some promising options for further research, it would not be wise to rely on any of these as one’s sole source of B12 at present.
So like you, Helen, I am also opting for the supplement. Although I would also like to point out as a (flippant) aside that B12 is one of many reasons to love marmite
A few other thoughts I’ve had since my previous post:
Organic certification (at least under UK Soil Association standards; other schemes may vary) basically prohibits fortification of foods beyond what is required by law. I personally think a little more leeway here could be useful. I imagine that quite a lot of people who eat vegan for environmental reasons are also drawn to organic foods (for similar reasons) and the lack of fortification of organic foods could therefore compound the difficulties of achieving a healthy vegan diet. Also if these hypothetical organic-leaning vegan consumers are then having to rely more heavily on supplements, could this be higher impact than obtaining (some of) the same micronutrients through fortified foods – just in terms of the extra resources etc. that go into producing & distributing a whole separate product as opposed to fortifying an existing one? Although the differences here are quite possibly minimal (as proportion of whole supply chain impacts) – maybe I am nit-picking. And it’s questionable whether increased fortification would lead to reduction in supplement-taking anyway.
Also wonder about biofortification (enhancing nutritional value of crops via agronomic interventions/breeding/biotech). Could this be a way of reducing the need for supplements, and therefore also whatever environmental impacts are associated with them? I do have some reservations about biofortification more generally (important not to regard it as a “silver bullet” solution and/or an alternative to ensuring that people have access to diverse & healthy diets, particularly in developing countries) but think it definitely worth investigating.