3 Nutrients to Take if You Are a Vegetarian

Posted on by Paula Gallagher

Vitamin B-12 is especially important for vegetarians and vegans to check for deficiency..

For most people, a well-balanced, whole foods diet should provide adequate intake of most nutrients. This is true for people who are on special diets, whether by choice or necessity. However, it is important to be aware of possible nutrient imbalances that may occur. A vegetarian diet may be one of the healthiest, but even vegetarianism may present limits to optimal nutrient intake. Understanding where deficiencies may occur and correcting them with menu planning and supplementation, are the keys to staying healthy.

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, such as 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 lab tests done to assess their nutritional levels and needs.

Vegetarian Diets May Be Deficient in These Nutrients

Vitamin B12

Signs of deficiencies include anemia, fatigue, loss of appetite, depression, poor memory, and 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 up to 3000mcg of 3,000mcg 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 plant-based protein powder if you are having trouble meeting your protein needs. This is particularly important if you are an athlete and many need more calories from this macronutrient.

If you would like more information on lab testing or would like to consult with a nutrition expert to learn more about nutritional deficiencies and what you can do, contact us.