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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

The importance of vitamin K in a vegan diet — plus the best vitamin K2 foods

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Vitamin K may be a lesser discussed nutrient, but its importance in a balanced diet is crucial. While vegan vitamin K2 foods are more limited, there are still some great options.

While vitamin K is not typically the first nutrient that comes to mind when discussing a well-rounded diet, it is just as important as its more famous friends. Unfortunately, not all vitamin K foods are vegan and without proper attention, it is easy to be lacking in vitamin K on any diet.

Eating a variety of sources that are rich in vitamin K is essential to hitting your daily requirements and optimising your health.

What is vitamin K?

Vitamin K is an essential, fat-soluble nutrient that the human body needs for functions including healthy blood clotting. It was first discovered in 1929 and the initial German discovery was named Koagulationsvitamin. Hence, vitamin K as we know it today.

It was also discovered by dentist Weston Price, who was travelling the world studying the relationship between diet and diseases in various populations. He noted that the non-industrial diets were high in an unidentified nutrient, which seemed to provide extra protection against tooth decay and chronic disease. He referred to this mystery nutrient as “activator X”, which is believed to be vitamin K.

It is present in two different forms: vitamin K1 (phylloquinone) and vitamin K2 (menaquinone), which are both important in their own right. Vitamin K1 is mostly found in plant sources and is a human body’s main dietary source of vitamin K.

Vitamin K2 is found in some meats and cheeses, but also in fermented foods. It can also be made by the body from the vitamin K1 that is consumed. Vitamin K2 can be further divided into numerous subtypes, the most important ones being MK-4 and MK-7.

You should aim to get between 90 and 120 micrograms of vitamin K daily. This is based on the daily requirement needed by the body to prevent internal bleeding. For vitamin K2, aiming for between 10 and 45 micrograms a day should help you reap the benefits that come with the nutrient.

vitamin k vegan sourcesHealth benefits of vitamin K

Blood clots

Vitamin K helps the body make four of the 13 proteins that are needed for healthy blood clotting, which stops cuts from bleeding so they can heal properly. Because of its role in blood clotting, vitamin K2 has the ability to counteract blood-thinning medications.

Furthermore, people who need prescriptions for anticoagulants are typically informed of vitamin K’s role in blood clots and educated on how to consume enough to help them heal.

Heart Health

Calcium build-up in the arteries around your heart can be a huge risk factor for heart disease. Therefore, everyone would benefit from being proactive about ways to reduce this increase in order to prevent heart disease.

Vitamin K is helpful in breaking down calcium in our bodies, which helps prevent hard deposits of calcium and fatty material from forming within the artery walls. Flexible and open blood vessels are essential for good circulation, reducing the risk of harmful blood clots and heart disease.

One study concluded that people with a high intake of vitamin K2 were 52% less likely to develop artery calcification and had a 57% lower risk of dying from heart disease. Additionally, the risk of dying from heart disease falls by 9% for every 10 micrograms of vitamin K2 consumed per day.

Strong bones

Osteoporosis is unfortunately becoming quite a common problem in many western countries. It is found in higher rates among older women and significantly increases the risk of fractures.

Vitamin K helps the body produce proteins within the bones, including osteocalcin, which is needed to prevent weakening in the bones. It also activates the two calcium-binding proteins, matrix GLA and osteocalcin, to help build and maintain healthy bones.

A study conducted on 244 postmenopausal women found that those taking a vitamin K2 supplement had a much slower decrease in bone mineral density. Studies conducted on Japanese women noted that vitamin K2 reduced spinal fractures by 60%, hip fractures by 77%, and all non-spinal fractures by 81%.

Anticancer properties

Cancer is increasingly a cause of concern in most Western countries and even though advances are being made in medicine, new cancers continue to arise.

Several studies have been done on vitamin K2 and its effects on cancer. The studies concluded that vitamin K2 may help slow or stop cancer cell activity. Additionally, vitamin K2 may improve survival rates and reduce recurrence.

Two clinical studies suggest that vitamin K2 reduces the recurrence of liver cancer and increases the survival rate. Additionally, a study conducted on 11,000 men found that those with a high intake of vitamin K2 had a 63% lower risk of prostate cancer.

Improved dental health

Researchers have speculated that vitamin K2 may have a positive effect on dental health. Although no human studies have tested this directly, animal studies have determined the role vitamin K2 plays in bone metabolism, which makes it then a reasonable conclusion to note its probably impact on dental health.

As mentioned above, vitamin K2 is helpful in regulating the protein osteocalcin. Osteocalcin triggers the mechanism that stimulates the growth of new dentin, which is the calcified tissue underneath the enamel of your teeth.

Is vitamin K vegan?

As noted above, many food sources of vitamin K2 are meats and cheeses. The majority of naturally occurring vitamin K2 is found in animal tissues and organs.

However, vitamin K2 can also be found in fermented foods, offering vegans a healthy option for consuming vitamin K2.

Vitamin K1 is found in high amounts in plant-based foods including dark leafy greens and vegetables, lettuce, broccoli, blueberries and grapes. It is very unlikely that anyone eating a well-rounded diet would have low levels of vitamin K1, but vitamin K2 is a different story.

vitamin k2 foodsVegan sources of vitamin K2

Natto

Natto is a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans. It has a very high amount of vitamin K2, making it a great vegan source.

Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut, which is a fermented cabbage dish, contains high levels of vitamin K2 from the various lactic acid bacterias used in the process.

Kombucha

The fermented tea beverage is becoming popular across the globe for its many health benefits. You can now add vitamin K2 as a reason to sip on kombucha.

Tempeh

Another fermented soybean product, tempeh is a great option to consume vitamin K2 in a plant-based form.

Read our story about consuming vitamin B12 — a crucial ingredient in any diet — as a vegan.

Jackie Lutze
Jackie is a sustainable fashion designer and writer currently residing in Colorado Springs, CO with her rescue dog, Walter, and husband. She has been an ethical vegan for over 12 years and writes mostly about sustainable fashion, travel and lifestyle. She is currently working towards her Master's Degree in Corporate Sustainability with hopes to continue to educate and help create a more ethical fashion industry.