Vegetarian diet includes semi-vegetarian, lacto vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, pescetarian, and vegan. Vegetarians consume a lot of plant food. Plants contain anti-nutritional compounds, and they can reduce the absorption rate of minerals and nutrients in the digestive system. So, mineral and nutritional deficiency are quite normal among the vegetarians. For example, vegetarians commonly have iron deficiency. This is because plant-based food iron is hard to be absorbed compared to diets that include meats. Vegetarians require consuming about 2 times more dietary iron than the Omnivores. One thing to note is that it take a few years to become deficient, but if a vegan who does not get enough vitamins and minerals is likely to become deficient gradually. Both vitamin and mineral are very important to the body because they are used to improve the immune system, repairing damaged cells and more.
Vegetarians need to carefully plan their meals so that each meal provides minimum recommended amount of essential nutrients. A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet the recommended nutritional requirement. In the next few paragraphs, I will only discuss a few common nutrient deficiencies for vegans.
Here is one of the suggestions that many of you might overlook. If you are vegetarian and still taking white rice, you should change that white rice to parboiled rice. White rice contains only carbohydrates, and the vitamins and minerals are very little or nothing. So, consuming white rice would not help you to meet your daily nutrition intake. Parboiled rice contains vitamin B1, B3, iron, zinc, calcium, fibers and protein. Taking parboiled rice can reduce the risk of becoming deficient.
You might be questioning what about the brown rice. As vegetarians have so many plants food in each of their meals, the brown rice bran layer will further decrease the minerals and vitamins absorption rate to your body. Brown rice is good, but it is not the greatest choice.
In the first paragraph, I mentioned that the iron deficiency is very common for vegetarians because the source of iron from plant food is harder to absorb compared to meats. The best way to improve your body absorbing the dietary iron from plant food is to take vitamin C from citrus fruit [i]. Also, vitamin C is not only increasing the dietary iron absorption rate, it gives a lot of benefits to your body. For more information about vitamin C, read this article.
Another common deficiency for vegetarians is the vitamin B12 because it only can be obtained from animal food. The reliable source of vitamin B12 for vegetarians is to get cereals that are fortified with vitamin B12. In an article “Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword”, Loren Cordain said over consumption of cereal grains might cause vitamin D deficiency to human body [ii]. So, do not over consuming the whole grain cereal. The alternative way is to take vitamin B12 supplement daily.
Vitamin D is the third common deficiency. It is very important to get enough vitamin D. This is because human body requires vitamin D to absorb and utilize calcium for strengthening bone [iii]. As vitamin D is hard to be found naturally other than meats, the most reliable vitamin D source is the milk fortified with vitamin D.
According to an article “Bioavailability of Vitamin B-6 from Plant Foods”, Robert Reynolds notes that human body can take up the vitamin B-6 from animal products about 100% [iv]. On the other hand, the plant foods vitamin B-6 bioavailability is generally low [iv]. Severe vitamin B-6 deficiency is uncommon among vegetarians because the fruits and vegetable can be great vitamin B-6 source. However, vegans need to consume more fruits and vegetable that contain a lot of vitamin B-6 to help them meet the daily requirement.
Vegetarian diet can be healthy if you plan your meal carefully. Vegetarians must keep an eye on the nutrient that they take daily to decrease the risk of getting vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It is very important to get sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals to make sure body functioning properly.
[i] Monsen, Elaine R. “Iron nutrition and absorption: dietary factors which impact iron bioavailability.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 88.7 (1988): 786-790.
[ii] Cordain, Loren. “Cereal grains: Humanity s double-edged sword.” Evolutionary aspects of nutrition and health. Vol. 84. Karger Publishers, 1999. 19-73.
[iii] Food Sources of Vitamin D. N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF.
[iv] Reynolds, Robert D. “Bioavailability of vitamin B-6 from plant foods.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 48.3 (1988): 863-867.
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