We know that calcium is an important ingredient for healthy bones, but did you know that vitamin K may be just as important for keeping your bones strong well into old age? Vitamin K isn’t necessarily a trendy vitamin, which means it may not be on your radar as a plant-based eater. It’s time for that to change!

A healthy bone structure is an essential part of healthy aging, especially when you factor in that a relatively small fall can lead to fractures and broken bones that mean life or death for an elderly person. More research is confirming that vitamin K is the missing piece of the bone-health pie and could be the key factor in retaining bone density as we grow older.

This means, as a plant-based eater, it’s important to make sure you’re getting plenty of vitamin K in your diet!

Of course, it’s never quite as simple as “eat your greens.” Why not? There are two forms of vitamin K — vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 — and, as it turns out, while vitamin K1 is plentiful in plant-based foods, vitamin K2 is only found in one source, and that’s natto — a Japanese dish consisting of fermented soybeans.

Let’s take a moment and dive into vitamin K, the different forms, and how best to source both!

What is Vitamin K?

One of the most important things to understand about vitamin K is that it’s not a single vitamin but a “group of fat-soluble vitamins.” This means that you can’t necessarily talk about vitamin K without honing down into the type of vitamin K you’re referencing.

In general, you’ll want to focus on vitamin K1 — also called phylloquinone, which comes from plants — or vitamin K2 — also called “menaquinone, which occurs in some animal-based and fermented foods.”

The vitamin K group plays many roles in the body — as do most vitamins — yet this grouping’s most important roles have to do with blood clotting and bone health, specifically bone metabolism and regulating blood calcium levels. When it comes to blood clotting and bone metabolism, vitamin K is an integral factor in the production of prothrombin, a “protein and clotting factor.” In short, this vitamin activates proteins that “serve important roles in blood clotting, heart health, and bone health.”

Vitamin K1 versus Vitamin K2

The key to learning how to properly consume the group of vitamin K is understanding the differences between vitamin K1 and vitamin K2.

Why are these vitamins so similar and yet so different at the same time?

Turns out that vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 are absorbed and transported to “tissues throughout the body,” which cause vastly “different effects on your health.”

Vitamin K1 “makes up about 75 [to] 90 [percent] of all vitamin K consumed by humans” and is sourced from plants such as “leafy green vegetables.” This form of vitamin K is “poorly absorbed by the body.” A study found that “less than 10 [percent] of the K1 found in plants is actually absorbed.”

Vitamin K2, while not as prevalent in the human diet, is just as important as vitamin K1. This form of vitamin K is broken down into “subtypes called menaquinones (MKs) that are named by the length of their side chain,” ranging from MK-4 to MK-13. Vitamin K2 is very difficult to source from plant-based foods, as it is primarily found in fermented foods — most notably Natto, a Japanese dish made from fermented soybeans — and animal products. Plus, this vitamin is also “produced by gut bacteria.”

While more research is necessary to truly understand vitamin K2, it’s often believed that since K2 is a fat-soluble vitamin and is “found in foods that contain fat, it may be better absorbed than K1.” On top of that, due to “vitamin K2’s long side chain,” it can “circulate in the blood” for a longer period — for days, in fact — and therefore, this vitamin can be “better used in tissues located throughout the body.”

Vitamin K and Bone Health

While vitamin K is essential for blood clotting, it’s also incredibly important for bone health. This vitamin group activates proteins “required for bone growth and development.”

Of course, as we have seen, not all vitamin K subtypes are created equal.

Studies have found that vitamin K1 supplements are far less beneficial for supporting bone health than vitamin K2.  A slew of controlled studies found that the effects of vitamin K1 supplements on bone loss were either inconclusive or of little benefit. On the other hand, studies have found that vitamin K2 — specifically MK-4 — “significantly reduced the risk of bone fractures.”

While more research is necessary to discover the potential benefits of vitamin K on bone health, current findings are persuasive enough to make many consumers consider vitamin K as a necessary supplement.

How to Source Vitamin K

Unfortunately, as more research is necessary to understand the importance of vitamin K2, the recommended daily intake for vitamin K is based solely on vitamin K1, which is “set at 90 mcg/day for adult women and 120 mcg/day for adult men.” This equates to about a cup of spinach or half a cup of broccoli. It’s also recommended to pair your vitamin K intake with healthy fat-rich foods such as extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, or nuts.

When it comes to vitamin K2, the only recommendation is to try your best to “incorporate a variety of vitamin K2-rich foods into your diet.”

Of course, as a plant-based eater, this will be fairly difficult given that vitamin K2 is present in pretty much one plant-based source … natto. This is where supplements come in handy!

Plant-Based Sources of Vitamin K1 and K2

Let’s take a closer look at the best plant-based sources of vitamin K1!

Of course, leafy greens are at the top of the list, with kale (1,062 mcg per one cooked cup), collard greens (1,059 mcg per one cooked up), and spinach (889 mcg per one cooked up) as your go-to salad fixings. Next up, take a look at other dark green veggies, especially a few cruciferous options such as broccoli (220 mcg per one cooked cup) and Brussels sprouts (218 mcg per one cooked up). Lastly, give turnip greens a try as they offer a moderate 529 mcg of vitamin K per one cooked up.

If you’re looking for that plant-based vitamin K2, give natto a try as it offers a whopping 1,062 mcg per 100 grams!

To get your daily dose of vitamin K1, give these recipes a try: Herb and Garlic Massaged Kale Salad, Mediterranean-Style Rainbow Chard, Mushroom and Swiss Chard Pasta with Creamy Rosè Sauce, Smoky Southern Collard Greens, Spinach and Garlic Hummus, Dandelion Green Smoothies, or this Carrot Apple Kale Ginger Juice.

Supplement Sources of Vitamin K2

After the natural sources, start taking a closer look at supplements. When it comes to plant-based eating, supplements are a key and integral part of obtaining a balanced diet. Take vitamin K2, for example! This vitamin is primarily found in pork sausage, hard cheeses, pork chop, chicken, egg yolk, and soft cheeses. As a strict plant-based eater, these options aren’t options. While you can take a supplement for vitamin K1 and K2, it’s much more common to source K1 naturally and outsource vitamin K2 for supplements. Here are a few to get you started!

Country Life Vegan Vitamin K2

This Country Life Vegan Vitamin K2 is a unique blend of a dual spectrum MK-4 and MK-7 complex, formulated upon the emerging research showing that K2 aids in bone formation. This supplement is not only vegan, but it comes in delicious strawberry chewable tablets that use zero artificial fillers. These fast-dissolving tablets are perfect for those that can’t do capsules. A 60-capsule bottle costs $21.74.

Sports Research Store Vegan Vitamin K2 (as MK7) with Organic Coconut Oil

This Sports Research Store Vegan Vitamin K2 (as MK7) with Organic Coconut Oil is a super unique blend of naturally high-fat coconut oil, which makes this fat-soluble vitamin more easily digested and absorbed! It’s been formulated from chickpea to help your body absorb and direct calcium more efficiently. Along with being vegan, this product is non-GMO verified, carrageenan-free, and soy-free. Plus, this supplement uses MenaQ7 — a patent form of MK7 — which accumulates in the bloodstream longer and absorbs faster. A 60-capsule bottle costs $14.95.

NutriGold Vitamin K2 MK7 Supplement

This NutriGold Vegan Vitamin K2 MK7 Supplement is vegan certified, non-GMO project verified, Kosher, gluten-free, and free of any harmful additives including solvents, preservatives, artificial ingredients, silicon dioxide, and titanium dioxide. This formula uses 100 percent naturally sourced Vitamin K2, in the MK-7 form, from Japanese superfood Natto, fermented non-GMO soybeans. It’s all packaged up in a healthy fat-rich organic olive oil, which means this plant-based, fat-soluble supplement will be absorbed quickly and efficiently! A 120-capsule bottle costs $20.48.

MaryRuth’s Vegan Vitamin K2 (MK7) Liquid Drops

Not a fan of the capsule or the chewable tablet? Give these MaryRuth’s Vegan Vitamin K2 (MK7) Liquid Drops a try! MaryRuth’s is a highly trusted vegan supplement brand and these vitamin K2 drops meet the grade as they are allergen-friendly, — gluten-free, wheat-free, nut-free, nightshade-free, and corn-free — use non-GMO ingredients, contain zero sugar, and are great for children, as well as adults! This formula aims to boost the strength of your bones and improve heart health. The liquid from vitamin K2 is mixed with healthy fat-filled olive oil, making this supplement easily absorbed into the body! A 1-fluid-ounce bottle costs $23.95.

Garden of Life Vegan Raw Vitamin K Complex Whole Food Supplement

If you’re looking to get all your vitamin K needs in one supplement, give this Garden of Life Vegan Raw Vitamin K Complex Whole Food Supplement. It includes vegan sources of vitamin K2 (MK7 and MK4), — from Natto — vitamin K1, and probiotics and enzymes. On top of that, this supplement also includes omega fatty acids sourced from chia seeds and flax seeds. This means that all those wonderful fat-soluble vitamin K vitamins are absorbed even better into your body! Along with being vegan, this supplement is raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, and free of any binders or fillers. A 60-capsule bottle costs $20.44.

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