Avoiding Nutritional Deficiencies in a Vegetarian Diet

Posted on by Paula Gallagher

In a series of blogs, I will address the nutritional needs of people on special diets. Specifically, these will be: vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, and an athlete's diet. For most people, a well balanced, whole foods diet should provide adequate intake of most nutrients. However, a few CORE supplements should be considered to fill in the gaps and provide an extra boost, no matter what diet you follow. It is possible to to achieve a healthy lifestyle if you are on a special diet, whether by choice or necessity. Awareness of nutrient imbalances that may occur, and correcting them with menu planning and supplementation, are the keys to a healthy you. Vegetarian Diet In general, vegetarians avoid animal flesh, but a vegetarian's diet can range from vegan, with complete exclusion of animal products (no milk, meat, eggs, honey), to a diet that includes some animal products like eggs and milk. A properly balanced vegetarian diet can be very healthful and high in antioxidants. But researchers have found B12 to be low in many vegans because it is very difficult to obtain proper amounts of this vitamin from a vegan diet without the use of supplements. It is a good idea for vegetarians and vegans to have periodic blood work to assess their nutritional levels and needs. Here are some nutrients that may be deficient in vegetarian diets: Vitamin B12: Signs of deficiencies include anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, poor memory, numbness and tingling in hands and feet. Eggs, dairy foods, and fortified cereals contain B12. If you are still low, or do not eat these foods, consider taking 1000mcg of B12 per day. Iron: Signs of deficiency include paleness, fatigue, frequent infections, brittle nails, decreased appetite and hair loss. Foods that contain iron are beans, tofu, dried fruits, dark leafy greens and iron fortified breads and cereals. Blood work is important for iron levels. Your doctor may require that you supplement with iron if your levels are still low. Look for one that is gentle on your stomach. Protein: Signs of deficiency include fatigue, poor healing, decreased immune function and muscle wasting. Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are all good sources of protein. Consider a protein powder from whey or soy (organic) if you are having trouble meeting your protein needs. This is particularly important if you are an athlete. For more information or to consult with a nutritionist, call 1-800-869-9159.