Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin. There are two main forms of vitamin K that perform different functions in the body:
- Vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), primarily needed for blood clotting. It plays a key role in the production of clotting factors in the body, helping to stop bleeding.
- Vitamin K2 (menaquinone), mainly responsible for regulating calcium metabolism and promoting bone health.
Both vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 have been associated with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. There is also evidence that both vitamins support brain function and can regulate blood sugar levels.
As you can see from the above vitamin K1 food table, the vitamin is present in numerous plant-based and vegan foods. Vitamin K2 is mainly found in animal products. Plant-based vitamin K2 foods include fermented soy products like natto and soybean pastes, as well as sauerkraut.
Who Has A Higher Vitamin K Requirement?
Vegans and vegetarians may have an increased risk of vitamin K2 deficiency since plant-based foods mainly contain vitamin K1. The body can convert vitamin K1 into vitamin K2, but only to a limited extent. It is estimated that about 10% of the required vitamin K2 can be converted from vitamin K1. Therefore, adequate intake of foods rich in vitamin K1 is important. Note that not all forms of vitamin K2 can be formed from vitamin K1. There are several types of vitamin K2, such as MK-4 and MK-7, which differ in their structure and biological activity. Additionally, the bioavailability of vitamin K1 is lower than that of vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 can be better absorbed and utilized by the body compared to vitamin K1.
Other groups may have a higher vitamin K requirement or a higher risk of developing vitamin K deficiency:
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women
- People who take antibiotics and blood-thinning medications for a long period of time
- People with liver diseases
- People with digestive disorders, inflammatory bowel diseases, and/or chronic diarrhea
- People with cystic fibrosis
- Elderly individuals, as their bodies may not be as efficient in absorbing and storing nutrients as in younger years
- People following a low-fat diet or having difficulties with fat digestion, as sufficient fat intake is necessary to absorb and utilize vitamin K
- People who have undergone gastrointestinal or gallbladder surgery may have a temporary impairment in the body's ability to absorb and process fat and nutrients
- People with osteoporosis or a higher risk of bone fractures
- People who consume excessive alcohol, as it can impair the metabolism of vitamin K in the body
Foods Rich In Vitamin K
Vitamin K is present in plant-based foods. In the form of vitamin K1 (phylloquinone), it can be found in the following foods:
- Green vegetables like spinach, kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, arugula, lettuce, and cabbage are all very rich in vitamin K1. Vitamin K1 is mainly found in the chloroplast membrane of green leafy vegetables. Chloroplasts are the organelles in plant cells responsible for photosynthesis. Additional vitamin K-rich vegetables according to the table include asparagus, kohlrabi, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
- Herbs and spices like parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, chives, and cilantro have a high content of vitamin K1. The table of vitamin K in herbs and spices can be found here.
- Legumes contain less vitamin K than vegetables and herbs. However, lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans can still contribute to daily vitamin K intake, especially since they are also very good plant protein sources. You can check the vitamin K content for legumes in this table.
- Fruits rich in vitamin K according to the table include avocados, kiwis, blackberries, blueberries, plums, and grapes.
- Vitamin K is also present in nuts and seeds, although in lesser amounts. Cashews, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts are some examples.
- Grain products have comparatively low amounts of vitamin K1. Oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and whole wheat pasta are better sources of vitamin K in this category. You can view the vitamin K grain table here.
- Some drinks can be sources of vitamin K. Carrot juice, plum juice, pomegranate juice, and soy drinks contain small amounts of vitamin K1.
When it comes to vitamin K2, it is more challenging because it is hardly found in any plant-based foods. Menaquinone is produced by specific bacteria and is primarily found in fermented foods such as natto (rich in K2), soybean pastes, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Fermented vegetable mixtures like kimchi and kombucha can also contain vitamin K2. Therefore, it can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin K2 solely from plant-based foods.
Improving Vitamin K Absorption
To enhance absorption, you could consume high-fat foods such as nuts and seeds alongside vitamin K-rich foods since vitamin K is fat-soluble.
Combining vitamin K-rich foods with vitamin D foods may also improve absorption.
A high-fiber diet can also support gut health and enhance nutrient absorption.
Vitamin K Nutrition
If you follow a vegan diet, you can obtain vitamin K1 through various foods. This list provides some examples of how you can incorporate them into a vegan diet:
- Kale Smoothie: Blend kale, banana, almond milk, and ginger together.
- Spinach Salad with Nuts: Mix spinach with roasted almonds, walnuts, and a dressing made of olive oil and lemon juice.
- Arugula Pesto: Puree arugula, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, and salt to make a pesto.
- Field Greens with Oranges: Combine field greens with oranges, walnuts, and a dressing made of mustard, agave syrup, and olive oil.
- Parsley Soup: Cook a soup with parsley, potatoes, onions, and vegetable broth.
- Spinach Pasta: Cook pasta with spinach and serve it with a vegan cream sauce.
- Broccoli Salad: Mix broccoli with sundried tomatoes, olives, and a dressing made of lemon juice and olive oil.
- Arugula Sandwich: Make a sandwich with arugula, tomatoes, and vegan cheese.
- Field Greens Smoothie: Blend field greens, banana, mango, and coconut milk.
- Kale Salad: Combine kale with roasted chickpeas, pomegranate seeds, and a dressing made of apple cider vinegar and olive oil.
- Spinach Quinoa: Cook quinoa with spinach and serve it with roasted pine nuts.
- Broccoli Soup: Cook a soup with broccoli, carrots, onions, and vegetable broth.
Here are some recipe ideas that include plant-based foods with vitamin K2:
- Natto Rice Bowl: Cook rice and mix it with natto, avocado, cucumber, and a soy sauce dressing in a bowl.
- Tempeh Burger: Fry the vegan tempeh patty and serve it with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and vegan mayonnaise.
- Sauerkraut Sandwich: Top the bread with sauerkraut, grilled vegetables, vegan cheese, and mustard.
- Kimchi Fried Rice: Fry the rice with kimchi, tofu, peas, and carrots.
- Kombucha Salad: Put kale, roasted chickpeas, bell peppers, and olives in a bowl. Use kombucha as dressing.