Problem Nutrients in Vegan and Vegetarian Diets

When it comes to ways of eating, veganism and vegetarianism lead the forefront of healthy and sustainable diets. However, there is more to these eating methods than simply cutting out meat or animal products.

While us omnivores procure necessary vitamins and minerals from eating meat, vegans and vegetarians need to be mindful of the nutrients they are missing from their diet.

Very few nutritionists will dispute the value of a vegetarian and vegan diet for your health, as long you eat a balanced diet. There are 6 vitamins and minerals that can easily be missed in a vegan/vegetarian diet.

This list can help vegans and vegetarians make the right food choices in order to ensure these problem nutrients are included:

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps absorb and use calcium in our bodies. It promotes normal development of bones and teeth.

Vitamin D can also be obtained through sunshine. However, while the sun is often a sufficient source of vitamin D in the south, it is often inadequate in northern areas.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin D

  • Sunshine
  • Fortified foods (such as soy milk)
  • Supplements

Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin D

  • Sunshine
  • Fortified milk
  • egg yolks
  • Fortified foods (such as soy milk)
  • Supplements

Vitamin B2

Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B2 is essential to the function of enzymes that promote the release of energy from carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

While riboflavin supplements are available, you should take them with meals in order to increase absorption.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin B2

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Wheat germ
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Fruit

Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B2

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Wheat germ
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Fruit

Vitamin B12

Essential for the formation of red blood cells, vitamin B12 is also responsible for the proper functioning of the nervous system.

Vitamin B12 deficiencies can be determined through a blood test.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Fortified foods
  • Supplements

Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Milk products
  • Fortified foods
  • Supplements

Calcium

Calcium aids in blood clotting, nerve transmission and muscle contraction. It is also the major building material for bones and teeth.

Some plant foods such as sesame seeds, spinach, beet greens, rhubarb and Swiss chard contain high levels of oxalic acid which combines with calcium and prevents its absorption.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Fortified soy milk
  • Tofu (especially when processed with calcium sulfate)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Dried figs and prunes
  • Pinto beans
  • Fortified foods
  • Supplements

Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Milk
  • Milk products
  • Fortified soy milk
  • Tofu (especially when processed with calcium sulfate)
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Dried figs and prunes
  • Pinto beans
  • Fortified foods
  • Supplements

Iron

Iron is a component of enzymes involved in energy metabolism. It is an integral part of hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the red blood cells.

The non-heme iron (iron found in plants) is not absorbed as well as the heme iron (iron found in meat). The fiber in plants also interferes with plant iron absorption – as do coffee, tea and calcium supplements when taken with or shortly before or after a meal.

You can enhance absorption of non-heme iron by combining them with foods providing vitamin C.

Vegan Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Wheat germ
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Raisins
  • Prune juice
  • Potato skins
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Tofu
  • Miso
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Tomato juice
  • Foods cooked in cast-iron cookware

Vegetarian Sources of Vitamin B12

  • Same as above

Source: Total Nutrition: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, The Complete Book of Vitamin Cures from the Prevention Health Library, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, The Yale Guild to Children’s Nutrition, Prevention’s Food & Nutrition from the Prevention Health Library.

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