Which Nutrients Should Vegetarians Pay Special Attention to?
Sometimes for the sake of health, or environment, or economy, or any other reasons, vegetarianism is gaining more and more converts. There are several types or vegetarians with some differences: lacto-vegetarians include dairy products; ovo-vegetarians include eggs; strict vegetarians, also called vegans, are 100 % animal products free; and finally, there are also part-time vegetarians. Even though vegetarianism has many health benefits, it can also be incomplete if particular attention is not given to a few nutrients:
Iron: Iron from plant sources is not absorbed as much as iron from animal sources. Consequently, vegetarians need to consume more iron – 1.8 times, to be precise – than the majority of people. How can they do it?
- First, by favouring foods rich in iron such as bran cereals, legumes, nuts, seeds, and some vegetables including Swiss chard, spinach, or potatoes with their skin.
- Secondly, by including in your meal a fruit or a vegetable, because they contain vitamin C, which doubles and even triples the absorption of iron.
Vitamin D: When exposed to sunlight, our skin produces this vitamin. However, you know as much as I do that from October to May, we do not get enough sunlight to fulfil 100 % of our needs. Also, food sources of vitamin D are exclusively found in animal products (fish, eggs). Thus, for certain types of vegetarians, the risks of nutritional deficiencies are higher. They need to:
- Choose products fortified with vitamin D, such as cow milk and some rice milks, soy beverages, and margarines. For example, drinking 500 ml of fortified soy beverage provides 90 % of the daily vitamin D requirement.
- Take a vitamin D supplement if exposure to sunlight and eating habits are not enough to fulfil all of your needs.
Vitamin B12: No plant food source contains significant quantities of active B12 vitamin. You read correctly: none! To avoid a vitamin B12 deficiency, vegetarians can:
- Turn toward eggs and dairy products if these foods are part of their eating habits.
- Consume foods fortified with B12 vitamin, such as fortified soya and rice beverages – once again, 500 ml per day fulfils our vitamin B12 needs -, a few yeasts (Red Star, Lyfe), and some simulated meats.
- Taking a daily vitamin B12 supplement.
In conclusion, vegetarianism has many benefits to health: less saturated fat, more fibre, potassium, antioxidants, and so on! If you wish to make the switch and become a vegetarian, I suggest a few sessions with a nutritionist who will help you balance your meals to ensure that you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.
By Vanessa Martin