3 Key Nutrients That Vegetarians Must Be Mindful Of To Avoid Nutrient Deficiency
Choosing to become a vegetarian or vegan can be life-changing. It is a lifestyle that does wonders to your overall health. Plus you get to live a life that is kind to Mother Nature. However, most people fail to maintain this diet due to the lack of knowledge about specific nutrients that vegetarians must be mindful of.
Being a vegetarian means removing from your diet all sources of meat and fish. This means you will be getting more fiber and a huge amount of phytochemicals that repair damaged cells. But while this is generally considered wholesome eating, it also means you are not getting certain essential vitamins and micronutrients that are richly contained in red meat, fish, chicken, and other animal fats.
Examples of these are B-complex vitamins and iron from meat, and calcium and fats which are essential for hormone production and cell regeneration.
If you are a vegetarian, it is actually easier to get these nutrients from alternative sources like eggs and dairy. Vegans, on the other hand, completely do not eat eggs and dairy products and therefore need to diversify their plant-based food choices further or resort to high-quality supplements to meet their needs.
To ensure a successful vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you will need to put a little effort into finding alternative sources of these 3 essential vitamins and nutrients that you might be missing out on.
1. B-complex vitamins
B-complex vitamins refer to B12, B7 (biotin), B6, B5 (pantothenic acid), B3 (niacin), B2 (riboflavin), B1 (thiamin), and folic acid (folacin).
Meat products are rich sources of these nutrients. Liver, in particular, is rich in B5 and folic acid, along with vitamins A, E, D, and K.
Vegetarians and vegans are highly recommended to take B-complex supplements. Deficiencies have been linked to fatigue, cognitive decline, problems in the nervous system, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke.
The great thing is that B-complex vitamins can also be found in other natural food sources such as berries, mushrooms, dark green vegetables, avocado, broccoli, spinach, whole grains, green beans, sunflower seeds, and eggs.
Iron is a component of hemoglobin in the blood and is essential for carrying oxygen throughout the body. It is not true that vegetarians are more prone to iron deficiency. Both meat eaters and vegetarians can be prone to iron disorders. In fact, meat eaters may be more at risk and here’s why.
There are two main forms of dietary iron — heme (sourced from meat) and the nonheme (sourced from plants). Nonheme iron is self-regulating, which means that it will only offer the body the amount that it needs and get rid of the excess. Heme iron, however, has a higher absorption rate and does not self-regulate. This could lead to iron buildup and increase the risk for certain diseases such as stroke, Parkinson’s, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.
If you are a vegetarian, it is likely that you are already eating foods that are iron-rich, but what you need to know is that you need to eat more of it! According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), heme iron has a higher absorption rate of 15-35% compared to non-heme iron of 1-10%. This means that you might not be getting enough so be sure to increase your intake through iron-rich foods or high-quality supplements.
Some iron-rich plant-based foods are garbanzos, pinto beans, black beans, pumpkin seeds, lentils, sesame seeds, asparagus, mushrooms, and spinach.
Zinc is an immune system booster and one of the reasons why many vegetarians seem to get sick more often is that they may not be getting enough zinc into their system. Ironically, many plant-based foods needed by vegetarians also contain phytic acid. This clings with zinc and lowers the rate of absorption.
To increase zinc absorption and get the most out of your food, one technique is to soak beans in water overnight before consuming them. This reduces the amount of phytic acid. Great natural sources of zinc include seeds, nuts, yogurt, cheese, various types of peas, lentils, mushrooms, and wheat germ.
Being on a meatless diet can do wonders for the body. It lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases, increases energy, and promotes better cell regeneration. The key to your vegetarian success is to be adventurous and get your hands on a wide variety of food and careful research on nutrients that vegetarians must be mindful of.
If the food that you need is not easily accessible, don’t be afraid to compensate with high nutritional supplements if must. Everything is better than to suffer deficiencies. Believe me, I struggled with a vitamin B12 deficiency for 5 years due to malabsorption, and it’s not much fun.
ALSO READ: Vitamin B12 Deficiency, A Silent Epidemic
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