Very few nutritionists will dispute the value of a vegetarian diet for your health, if you eat a planned, balanced diet.
That said, there are six things to watch in your diet.
This chart of problem nutrients for vegetarians and vegans shows how to avoid problems with essential nutrients such as Vitamin D, Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin, Vitamin B12, Calcium, Iron, Zinc.
|Vitamin D||Helps body absorb and use calcium. Promotes normal development of bones and teeth.||Sunshine, fortified foods such as soy milk, supplements.||Sunshine, fortified milk, egg yolks plus all vegan sources.||Sunshine, often a sufficient source of Vitamin D in the sunny south, is often inadequate in northern areas.|
|Vitamin B2||Essential to the function of enzymes that promote the release of energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.||Dark green leafy vegetables, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals, legumes, nuts, fruit.||Milk, eggs plus all vegan sources.||Riboflavin supplements, if you take them, should be taken with meals to increase absorption.|
|Vitamin B12||Essential for the formation of red blood cells and proper functioning of nervous system.||Fortified foods, supplements.||Eggs, milk and milk products plus all vegan sources.||If in doubt, have a blood test.|
|Calcium||Calcium is essential for blood clotting, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. It is the major building material for bones and teeth.||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.||Milk and milk products plus all vegan sources.||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 is absorption.|
|Iron||A component of enzymes involved in energy metabolism. An integral part of hemoglobin which carries oxygen in the red blood cells.||Enriched and whole-grain breads and cereals, wheat germ, seeds, nuts, blackstrap molasses, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, raisins, prune juice, potato skins, green leafy vegetables, tofu, miso, brewer’s yeast, tomato juice, foods cooked in cast-iron cookware.||Same as for vegan.||The non heme iron in plants is not absorbed as well as the heme iron 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. Enhance absorption of non heme iron by combining them with foods providing Vitamin C. Tea & coffee interfere with iron absorption.|
|Zinc||Essential to the composition or function of over 20 enzymes in the body; necessary for protein synthesis in body cells; role in reproduction, taste acuity, and function of immune system.||Nuts, legumes, miso, lima beans, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, wheat germ, whole-grain yeast breads, whole-grain cereals.||Milk and egg yolks plus all vegan sources.||The phylate in whole grains and the fiber in many plant foods bind zinc, interfering with its absorption. Calcium and iron supplements can also interfere with zinc absorption. Zinc supplements may upset copper/zinc balance in body.|
Read a more detailed breakdown here.
Sources: 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.