Individuals choose to adhere to vegetarian diets for a multitude of reasons. Some do so for ethical reasons, while others feel a vegetarian diet is a healthier option than eating meat. Regardless of why people choose to follow vegetarian diets, it’s important that they take steps to ensure they avoid nutrient deficiencies.
What qualifies as a vegetarian diet differs for certain people. Some people who consider themselves vegetarians avoid animal flesh but it still eat poultry and seafood, while others avoid animal products altogether. The latter group must be especially careful to avoid nutrient deficiency, as the U.S. National Library of Medicine notes that malnutrition can sometimes cause permanent damage to the body.
Planning is a vegetarian’s best friend in regard to avoid nutrient deficiency. The following are some potential nutrient shortfalls vegetarians may encounter and how to overcome them.
The Mayo Clinic notes that iron deficiency anemia is a condition in which the blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to the body’s tissues. Meat is a great source of iron and consuming meat is how many people get their necessary daily doses of iron. Vegetarians must therefore find ways to get iron from sources other than meat. Leafy green vegetables like spinach are a great source of iron. The Mayo Clinic notes that beans, dried fruits like raisins and apricots and iron-fortified cereals, breads and pastas also are rich in iron.
Avoiding meat also can make vegetarians susceptible to insufficient protein intake. However, there are many ways for vegetarians to consume enough protein without breaking their diets. In fact, a 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients found that classic vegetarian diets supply more than adequate protein and amino acids. Protein-rich foods like legumes and nuts and seeds can help vegetarians meet daily protein requirements. A simple mix of brown rice and beans also contains the nine essential amino acids, which are vital to human health and cannot be made by the body. They must come from food.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that vegetarians have lower zinc intake than people who eat both plants and food. Plant foods are not generally high in zinc and zinc absorption from plant foods may be insufficient. Whole grains, tofu, legumes, nuts and seeds are some examples of foods that are rich in zinc. Eating such foods throughout the day can help vegetarians avoid zinc deficiency.
Vegetarians can speak with their physicians about additional deficiencies they may be vulnerable to. Such deficiencies can often be easily overcome, reassuring vegetarians that their dietary choices won’t put their overall health in jeopardy.