Is It Healthier To Be Vegetarian?
Most experts will agree that a healthy diet includes fruits, vegetables, and whole foods. Vegetarians, however, may need some extra supplements to make up for nutrients not found in the vegetarian diet. Many vegetarians face some common vitamin deficiencies.
1: This vitamin deficiency can cause muscle and nerve problems
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics advises vegetarians to be aware of vitamin B12 intake. B12 is not found in any plant-based foods. But adequate B12 intake is important. B12 deficiencies can lead to anemia. These deficiencies can also cause muscular tingling, weakness, and fatigue.
Vegetarians can get B12 through dairy products or eggs. B12 can also be found in some fortified foods like breakfast cereals and veggie burgers.
2: The nutrient for healthy bones and teeth
Calcium is an important nutrient for the development of bones and teeth. Calcium also plays an important part in heart health, nerve function, and muscle function. However, many vegetarians and vegans struggle to reach the recommended daily amount.
Vegetarians can get calcium through beans and lentils, nuts, leafy greens, edamame, tofu, or dairy products. A calcium deficiency may not have any early symptoms. However, a long-term calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, cataracts, dental problems, and even brain problems.
3: One of the most common deficiencies in women
The most common sources of iron are red meat, poultry, liver, clams, mussels, and oysters. This can pose a big problem for vegetarians. Iron-deficiency anemia affects about 20% of women and 3% of men. Additionally, because iron absorption isn’t as efficient from plant sources, vegetarians need to be extra careful about getting adequate iron.
Vegetarians can find iron in dried beans, peas, lentils, dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, and dried fruit. Additionally, eating a diet rich in vitamin C can help the body absorb iron better. This includes foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, cabbage, and broccoli.
4: The vitamin that wards off illness
Zinc is another nutrient that is absorbed more efficiently from animal sources. Zinc is most important for a healthy immune system. There is even evidence that zinc plays an important role in memory and decreases risk for chronic diseases.
Zinc can be found in dairy products. Vegetarians can also get zinc from mushrooms, lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, or wheat germ.
5: An important vitamin for pregnant women and children
Omega-3 fatty acids are most commonly found in fatty fish and fish oil. Because of this, vegetarians may face a deficiency in DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Particularly in children and pregnant women, DHA deficiency can have a negative effect on brain development and mental health.
The body can make DHA through the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts are all good plant-based sources of ALA. However, the process of converting ALA to DHA is sometimes inefficient. Vegetarians may want to consider supplementation.
6: The sunshine vitamin
Vitamin D is an important nutrient. Deficiency in vitamin D can contribute to osteoporosis, heart disease, depression, and reduced strength. Vitamin D is found in sunshine. However, not everyone gets adequate vitamin D from the sun.
There are two types of vitamin D, one found in plant-based foods and one found in animal-based foods. For vegetarians, the best sources of vitamin D are dairy products and enriched cereals. However, plant-based vitamin D is less potent than animal-based vitamin D.
The bottom line for vegetarians
While a vegetarian diet can be extremely healthy, vegetarians are advised to be aware of some common vitamin deficiencies. If a vegetarian has any concerns about nutrient intake, experts recommend consulting with a healthcare provider.