A Guide to Vitamins for Vegetarians
What You Need to Know
- A thoughtfully-planned, well-balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the nutritional goodness you need to maintain your fitness and health.
- However, it can be easy to miss out on some important vitamins and minerals, especially if you are a vegetarian on a budget.
- A lack of vitamin B12 is relatively common among vegetarians. This can lead to anaemia, heart disease and digestive troubles.
- However, nutritional yeast and breakfast cereals are effective and affordable sources of vitamin B12.
- A meat-free diet can also lead to a lack of vitamin D, which can lead to fatigue and even depression.
- Egg yolks, fortified dairy products such as margarine, breakfast cereals and cow's milk are all good sources of vitamin D.
- Vitamin supplements can be bought on the high street and are the most effective means of ensuring you don't miss out on vital vitamins.
Why Vegetarians Need to Watch their Vitamins
A thoughtfully-planned, well-balanced vegetarian diet can provide all the nutritional goodness you need to stay fit and healthy. In fact, scientific research has produced plenty of evidence to suggest that vegetarians tend to be healthier than meat-eaters, with a meat-free diet linked to reduced risk of heart disease and heart attacks, diabetes, osteoporosis and obesity.
However, leading a healthy vegetarian lifestyle is not without its challenges. Above all, you need to ensure that you get adequate amounts of key vitamins and minerals; something which many vegetarians fail to do, most of them unwittingly.
The key to a healthy, meat-free diet, then, is a proper understanding of what your body needs and how to get this, as well as a willingness to plan your diet with care.
A lack of B12 is one of the most common vitamin deficiencies among vegetarians and vegans. Possible consequences of a lack of B12 include:
- Anaemia or damage to the nervous system.
- Enhanced risk of heart disease.
- Complications during pregnancy.
However, a B12 deficiency is easily addressed. Quite simply, you just need to get more of it into your diet. According to the Vegan Society, B12 is best absorbed into the body in small amounts, so there's no need to panic binge on this vitamin. However, there's no harm in exceeding the recommended daily amounts of B12 in order to give yourself a boost. Good, vegetarian-friendly sources of B12 include;
- Some breakfast cereals (check nutritional information on the packet).
- Fortified soy products, such as plant milk.
- Nutritional yeast. This can be sprinkled on top of everyday dishes to give a good source of B12.
Vitamin D plays a key role in keeping the bones and the blood healthy. Additionally, a lack of vitamin D has been linked with fatigue and even depression. While most people get enough vitamin D from the sun's rays, it may also be obtained through eating vitamin D-rich foods. One of the best foods for this vitamin is fatty fish such as cod liver oil. However, you can also get a vitamin D boost from the following vegetarian-friendly sources:
- Egg yolks.
- Fortified dairy products such as margarine, breakfast cereals and cow's milk.
- Fortified vegan-friendly foods, including soymilk, juice and tofu.
Note that the Vegan Society advises that some foods that claim to be good sources of vitamin D are not vegetarian-friendly, so it's always worth reading the label extra carefully.
Iron is an essential component of the pigment haemoglobin and as such it is essential for healthy blood. A lack of iron in the blood stream can cause tiredness, weakness, an inability to concentrate and, at its worst, anaemia. However, scientists have largely dispelled the myth that vegetarians are more likely to be anaemic as they don't eat iron-rich red meat. Certainly, meats such as pork and beef are iron rich, but then so too are a range of vegetarian-friendly foods, including:
- Beans, including kidney beans and even baked beans.
- Lentils and brown rice.
- Breakfast cereal such as bran flakes.
- Dark green leafy vegetables, including curly kale, broccoli and spinach.
- Seeds, figs and prunes.
Since most vegetarians eat dairy products, few will suffer from a shortage of calcium, unlike vegans. That said, you still may be at risk of calcium deficiency if you follow a vegetarian lifestyle, so again it pays to plan what you eat as well as you can and enjoy a well-balanced diet. Possible consequences of not getting enough calcium include being at greater risk of bone breaks and fractures, blood clots and tooth problems.Good vegetarian-friendly sources of calcium include:
- Green leafy vegetables. In particular, kale is rich in calcium.
- For vegans, then fortified soy milk, as well as fortified orange juice and tofu can also be good sources of calcium.
By far the easiest way of ensuring you get all the vitamins and minerals you need while following a strict vegetarian diet is to take regular supplementary pills. In particular, if you are pregnant, elderly or generally have a weak immune system, then the NHS advises that you take supplements to ensure your diet is properly balanced. For more information, read the NHS guide 'Do I Need Vitamin Supplements?’.
Supplements are both affordable and easy to find on the high street. As well as specialist health shops such as Holland and Barrett, major supermarkets such as Tesco also sell vitamin supplements over the counter.
- Get more help with sticking to a healthy meat-free diet from the Vegetarian Resource Group.
- You can find great value vitamin supplements here.
- Learn to grow your own nutritious vegetables with our guide to organic gardening.
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