Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Many people are choosing to reduce or eliminate meat from their diet for health reasons
Sometimes a child or teenager that will insist on a vegetarian diet
In either case, it’s a good idea to learn about the impact this choice has on health
A vegetarian diet can be an excellent choice, but some nutrient supplementation is recommended
This article will discuss the ‘why’ behind my 7 vegetarian nutrient tips
**UPDATE APRIL 8, 2020**
As you may know, I have created a nutrition challenge: 12 Diets in 12 Months.
Selecting popular diets and exploring their impact and nutritional balance.
March was Vegetarian month (no meat, no fish) and after a month of nutritious homemade meals, my nutrient deficits matched the 7 nutrients discussed below.
So, I took my own advice and am taking the supplement recommendations below. This will be necessary as I move into a more restrictive VEGAN diet for April.
April 2020 is VEGAN month. There will be additional calcium and Vitamin D deficits without dairy.
I am so pleased to report that I am obtaining 100% of these 7 critical nutrients!
Without these supplements, I was barely hitting 25%.
Fullscript provides non-GMO, organic, bioavailable supplements. Please contact me for a consult for your customized nutritional assessment and supplement recommendations.
Calcium intake is a challenge for everyone, not just vegetarians. Plant sources for calcium include dark leafy greens, broccoli and chickpeas. Some tofu and plant-based milks are fortified with calcium. Even though vegans eat a lot of greens, it usually is not enough to meet the RDA. In my opinion, nearly everyone should take a calcium supplement. I recommend the citrate form as it is absorbed by the body more readily than calcium carbonate. Jarrow Formulas provide an excellent product that promotes bone density as well because it includes Vitamin D2 to support deposition of calcium into the bones.
Zinc’s role in healing tissues heal makes this nutrient a critical component to our immune system. It is also required in over 300 enzyme systems that support healthy metabolism. Plant sources of zinc include legumes, seeds, nuts and whole grains. Unfortunately, the phytate content in these foods inhibit zinc absorption. To compensate, vegetarians must consume approximately 1 ½ times the RDA to ensure adequate intake. Insufficient zinc intake can lead to hair loss, developmental problems and GI distress. The Bone-Up calcium supplement by Jarrow Formulas also provides Zinc and other minerals.
Your body cannot manufacture B-12 by itself, as it can for other nutrients like vitamin K or biotin. B-12 is critical for nerve function, red blood cells and DNA formation. This nutrient is essential for health and it must be obtained from your diet. While is can be present in the sea vegetable nori (often used in sushi), and in smaller amount in shiitake mushrooms and fermented vegetables, it is a good idea to supplement. You can do this with a vitamin, Nutritional Yeast or fortified foods like such as cereals and plant milks. Taking a B-complex vitamin will fit the bill, and I prefer this because the B-vitamins are synergistic. Garden of Life makes an excellent bioavailable product.
Omega 3’s: DHA and EPA
DHA and EPA are types of Omega-3 fatty acids that are recognized for their brain health properties. Recent studies show a promising correlation between lower breast cancer risk with increased Omega-3 intake. These important omegas are found primarily in marine fish. A potential plant source is walnuts which are rich in ALA. The ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA, but the process in very inefficient, so reliance on nuts to provide enough potential DHA is unwise. According to a 2008 study published in PubMed (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18589030 ), algal oil is a safe source of non-fish derived DHA. Cytoplan provides one of the few vegan omega supplements.
Your body needs this nutrient to build strong bones and teeth. Natural sources are fish, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks - making it tough for a vegetarian to find enough from diet alone. The sun is the best way to stimulate Vitamin D in the body, but if you are not outside at least 15 minutes every day, then you need to supplement. Those who live in northern climates are at higher risk for a deficiency. Vitamin D is commonly added to milk to ensure adequate intake for children. It has also been found to have a strong anti-inflammatory effect on cells. Therefore, vegetarians should consider be well advised to supplement with Vitamin D.
We need iodine to make thyroid hormone. It is a critical nutrient during pregnancy as it is needed for proper brain and bone development for the infant. Adults who are deficient in iodine can develop an enlarged thyroid gland, called a goiter. The amount of iodine present in food is related to how much iodine was in the soil where it grew. During the 1900s, the Midwest US region was sometimes referred to as the goiter belt, as goiter was very common due to the iodine-depleted soil. Thanks to iodized salt, most of the population now are not at risk for this condition. Vegetarians, however, may not supplement their diet with iodized salt, preferring natural forms of sea salt which has only trace amounts of iodine. Other natural sources are fish and dairy products. This is a nutrient that can easily be supplemented and should be due to the major role it plays in the body. Pure Encapsulations makes a vegan friendly supplement.
Iron is used by red blood cells to bind oxygen and deliver it to cells throughout the body. The heme-iron available from animal foods, such as meat and seafood, is well absorbed. The iron in plant foods is called non-heme iron and is not easily assimilated by the body. This is called low bioavailability. As a result, vegetarians need to consume nearly twice the RDA of iron to maintain adequate levels of iron. Natural sources of non-heme iron include lentils, spinach, beans and cashews. Even though there are many plant sources of iron, they also contain phytochemicals that interfere with iron absorption. Fortunately, the body recycles iron, making iron-deficiency anemia unlikely. Women, however, may be at risk for iron deficiency due to their monthly menstrual cycle. I recommend that you track your intake. This is one nutrient that you can monitor, and supplement if your physician feels it is necessary.
A vegetarian diet and lifestyle is a beautiful and sustainable choice. There are a few nutrients that my pose a challenge for this diet, as I have summarized above. Thankfully, we are fortunate to live in an era of knowledge which helps us maintain our healthy balance through supplementation.
Nutrients of Concern for Vegetarians & Vegans Recommended Supplement
1. Calcium Bone-Up by Jarrow Formulas
2. Zinc (in Bone-up formula)
3. B-12 Vitamin Code RAW B-Complex by
Garden of Life
4. Omega 3s: DHA & EPA Omega 3 Vegan by Cytoplan
5. Vitamin D Vegan Vitamin D3 by Cytoplan
6. Iodine Potassium Iodide by
7. Iron (monitor and take under direction of physician)
While a vegetarian diet has many health promoting qualities, there are a few nutrients that may be difficult to find from dietary sources alone. As a nutritionist, I want to support my clients with recommendations that will enhance their health. I also recognize that finding the correct supplements can be frustrating, as many stores do not carry the brands you need.
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