Today’s blog is focused on a vegetarian diet and the nutrients that cause a greater risk of deficiencies when eating a plant-based diet. While it may be possible to eat the correct foods to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, a person following a vegetarian diet may need to include the use of supplements to equip the body with adequate nutrients for every healthy functioning. At the bottom of the blog, nutrition nourishment has included foods that provide key nutrients for vegetarians.
A vegetarian diet, in its most basic form, is a plant-based diet. Various types of vegetarian diets exist: some only omit animal flesh but allow for poultry and/or seafood, while other stricter forms exclude consumption of animals and animal products altogether (e.g., eggs, dairy products, gelatin, honey, etc.).
Although a wide array of health benefits associated with eating a vegetarian diet exists, nutritional concerns may arise from the exclusion of animal products and their nutrients, which can result in several deficiencies. However, a well-planned vegetarian diet can make up for this by finding these nutrients in plant foods. If you follow or plan to follow a vegetarian diet, do keep an eye out for the following key nutrients:
Due to the exclusion of meats, a vegetarian diet may be lower in protein but can easily meet the recommended daily requirements with careful planning. Dairy and eggs provide complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids for good health. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that our bodies cannot make on their own. Individuals following a strict form of vegetarianism/veganism can find significant sources of complete protein rich plant foods in the form of quinoa, buckwheat, soy, chia seeds and hempseeds.
In addition to the essential amino acids, plant-based sources of protein can be combined to arrive at a complete protein: for example, a combination of brown rice and beans contains the complete set of essential amino acids. A varied intake of these complementary protein sources throughout the day can provide an adequate amount of protein.
Vegetarians who do not consume enough iron are at risk for iron deficiency anaemia due to the decreased absorption of iron from plant sources. Iron can be found in soybeans, lentils, spinach, quinoa, chickpeas, oats, tomatoes and tofu. Combining plant-based iron sources with a source of vitamin C (such as citrus fruit or red peppers) also increases iron absorption.
Zinc plays a myriad of roles in biological functions. The primary cause of zinc deficiency is poor dietary intake. Sources of plant-based dietary zinc include bread, legumes, milk, soybeans, tempeh, tofu, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin B12 is of special concern in a vegetarian diet. A deficiency can cause megaloblastic anaemia and other physiological concerns. B12 can be found in animal products (eggs, cheese and yogurt), but is not naturally found in plant products. It can be found in algae, such as spirulina, and for stricter vegetarians, B12 can be obtained by consuming fortified foods (e.g., breakfast cereals) or as a supplement. Again, be careful about the source of the B12.
Calcium is integral to maintaining bone health. Moreover, calcium plays an important biochemical role in all cells. Calcium can be found in dairy products, fortified orange juice and plant milks (soy, rice, almond, etc.), tofu, almonds, sesame (and tahini), dandelion greens and fish bones.
And finally, green leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach and rhubarb contain appreciable amounts of calcium, but also contain a chemical called oxalic acid that reduces their absorption. In order for calcium to be properly absorbed, it’s important to maintain vitamin D levels!
Omega-3 fatty acids
Aside from their well-documented health benefits, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to normal growth and health. While the most popular source of omega-3 fatty acids in the Western diet is fish, they can also be found in flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed oil, soybean and canola oil. Hens fed a diet of greens (e.g. seaweed, green algae) or flax and canola seeds produce eggs with a high omega-3 fatty acid content. An increasing number of foods are being fortified with omega-3 fatty acids, such as orange juice. The sources for these omega-3 fatty acids could be fish-based, so be sure to read the label of the food in question if you happen to be a strict vegetarian!
Iodine consumption is essential to the creation and storage of the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine. Sources of iodine include iodized salt, dairy products and dried seaweed and kelp. Also, plants grown in iodine-rich soil will contain appreciable amounts of iodine.
There are many benefits of a following a vegetarian diet, so if you do decide to follow one, make sure you avoid deficiencies and get all the nutrients that you need! Read below to find out what foods contain key nutrients for plant-based diets.
Key Nutrients for Vegetarians and Vegans
Regardless of the kind of meat-free diet practiced, vegetarians should focus on getting enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, riboflavin, alpha-linolenic acid, and vitamin D.
Here are some ways to incorporate these nutrients into a vegetarian diet:
- Protein: Choose tofu, edamame, tempeh, veggie burgers with 5 grams of protein or more, beans and other legumes, nuts, nut butters, eggs, and higher-protein whole grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and kamut.
- Iron: Eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, soy-based foods, dried prunes, dried apricots, nuts, beans, legumes, and fortified whole wheat bread are good choices.
- Calcium, which builds bone, is plentiful in cheese, yogurt, milk, edamame, tofu, almonds, sesame tahini, calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages like soy or almond milk, and dark green leafy vegetables like collard greens, spinach, and bok choy.
- Zinc, which boosts the immune system, is ample in soybeans, soy milk, veggie “meats,” eggs, cheese and yogurt, fortified breakfast cereals, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, and wheat germ.
- Vitamin B12: Soy-based beverages, some breakfast cereals, and fortified veggie “meats.”
- Riboflavin: Almonds, fortified cereals, cow’s milk, yogurt, mushrooms, and soy milk are riboflavin-rich foods.
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid (Omega-3): Canola oil, ground flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, walnut oil, soybeans, and tofu are good choices.
As always if you are interested in further research regarding a vegetarian diet or vegan diet, click on the links below.