Meeting Nutrient Needs With A Vegetarian Diet

Posted on July 30th, 2013

Deficiencies of particular vitamins and minerals are a greater risk for vegetarians than protein deficiency. Heres is a list of some of the key nutrients that you need to be aware of if you plan to or have a vegetarian diet.1

Protein - Soy-based products, legumes, seeds, nuts, grains, and vegetables.

Vitamin B12  - Products fortified with B12 such as soy beverages and cereals, nutritional yeast, vitamin supplements.

Calcium - Tofu processed with calcium, broccoli, kale, bokchoy, legumes, and products fortified with calcium such as soy beverages, grain products, and orange juice.

Vitamin D - Sunshine, products fortified with vitamin D such as soy beverages, cereals, and margarine.

Iron - Legumes, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, whole grains, iron-fortified cereals and breads (absorption is improved by vitamin C, found in citrus fruit, tomatoes, strawberries, and dark green vegetables)

Zinc - Whole grains, wheat germ, legumes, nuts, tofu, and fortified cereals.

Omega-3 fatty acids - Canola oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, soybean oil, walnuts, sea vegetables (seaweed), and DHA-rich microalgae.

Low intakes of omega-3 fatty acids including EPA and DHA are also a concern in vegan diets. Diets that do not include fish, eggs, or large amounts of sea vegetables will not provide preformed EPA and DHA and therefore higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid are needed.

By including flaxseed or flax and canola oil, which are good sources of alpha-linolenic acid, vegetarians can have a healthy ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids and be able to synthesize enough of the longer-chain length omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, without consuming animal products.

Deficiencies of vitamins and minerals

B vitamin - found almost exclusively in animal products, to meet needs people following vegan diets must consume vitamin B12 supplements or foods fortified with vitamin B12.

Calcium - dairy products are the major source of calcium in the North American diet, so diets that eliminate these foods must contain plant sources of calcium or calcium fortified foods to meet needs.

Vitamin D - most dietary vitamin D comes from fortified dairy products, this vitamin must be obtained from sunlight or consumed in other sources, such as fortified soy milk.

Iron and zinc - may be deficient in vegetarian diets because the best sources of these minerals are red meats and the iron and zinc present in plant foods is poorly absorbed. Since iron and zinc are low in dairy products, lacto-ovo and lacto vegetarians as well as vegans are at risk for deficiencies.

  1. Smolin, L. A., & Grosvenor, M. B. (2010). Nutrition: science and applications (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. 

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