If you are considering or already consuming a vegetarian diet, you have likely wondered if you’re getting all the nutrients you need. A vegetarian diet may seem like it’s balanced and perfectly healthy, but looks can be deceiving. More than 7 million Americans have now converted to vegetarianism, and many of their diets will be lacking in the nutrients necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
Achieving a balanced vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard: Today we’re going to explore the most useful supplements for a vegetarian to consider when planning their diet.
One of the most essential vitamins to consider when starting a vegetarian diet are B vitamins. Specifically, B12 is the vitamin that most vegetarians and vegans are missing from their everyday eating habits. B-12 is found almost exclusively in animal products, so getting it into a plant-based diet requires special effort. In fact, a study found that 2 in 3 vegetarians are B12 deficient, which is a huge cause for concern.
B12 is necessary for a variety of important bodily functions. B12 supports red blood cell creation, nerve function, and DNA formation. Deficiency in B12 can lead to some major health impacts. Red blood cell creation can be reduced, and the red blood cells themselves can become misformed, leading to anemia. Memory loss is also possible since B12 supports healthy nerve stimulus. In other words, a B12 deficiency is extremely serious, and a large number of vegans and vegetarians are not getting a proper amount of the vitamin through their regular diet.
Luckily, there are plenty of vegetarian-friendly B12 sources. B12 comes in gummies, tablets, and liquid forms, which are all available online and in-stores. In addition, vegans and vegetarians can get their B12 through fortified cereals, fortified nutritional yeast, and other fortified foods. Note that B12 is better absorbed in high, periodic dosages. So a 1000-2000 microgram dose taken a few times a week is your best bet for proper absorption.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Another nutrient that many vegetarians lack in their diet is Omega-3. Omega-3 is made up of three acids, EPA, DHA, and ALA. EPA and DHA are the two acids that help with inflammation and brain function. Unfortunately, ALA is the most abundant form of fatty acid in a vegetarian diet, and ALA must be converted by the body into the more useful acids. Without adding DHA and ALA via supplements, vegetarians and vegans can quickly become deficient.
Fish oil is a hugely popular form of Omega-3, which is a viable option for vegetarians/pescatarians. In addition, a great supplement to consider is derived from algae. Fish are generally so rich in fatty acids because they consume algae and seaweed, so taking an algae-based supplement along with a healthy diet can solve your Omega-3 concerns.
Creatine is an amino acid that stores energy in your muscles and brain. Specifically, creatine is important during intense physical activity, where it improves strength and energy output. In addition to physical benefits, some studies have suggested that creatine is also crucial during intense mental fatigue, like sleep deprivation, brain injury, and intense cognitive activity.
Creatine is not an essential vitamin for most people, especially because it can be produced by the liver. However, vegetarians and vegans have far lower amounts of creatine in their body: creatine is only naturally available from animal products. Because of this, vegetarians can benefit greatly from taking a creatine supplement, often resulting in better physical and mental strength.
People who begin supplementing with creatine generally follow a loading protocol. To load, take .3 grams per kilogram of body weight for a week, followed by .03 grams per kilogram of body weight afterwards. Anything above 20 grams could cause nausea or cramping.
Iron is another mineral that is lacking in vegetarian diets. The most iron-heavy foods are animal-based, including red meat, chicken, and seafood. Because these foods are nonexistent in a vegetarian lifestyle, a study on vegetarian women revealed that 60% had mild iron deficiency, while the other 40% had moderate iron deficiency. In fact, the Institute of Medicine states that the iron requirements for meat-free individuals are 1.8 higher than meat-eaters.
If vegetarians and vegans do not implement more iron into their diet, they can experience a host of issues that accompany iron deficiency. Anemia, the most severe form of iron deficiency, causes improper oxygen supply to your cells, resulting in fatigue, mental exhaustion, and reduced immune function. If you are vegetarian for a long period of time, iron deficiency is a real threat to your health.
Vegetarians can supplement iron in several ways. One of the best ways to increase your iron uptake is with vitamin C, which enhances your body’s ability to absorb iron. When you eat high iron food like avocado, potatoes, or beans, try pairing them with citrus, peppers, and tomatoes. In addition, there are some foods that inhibit your body’s ability to absorb iron. Stay away from dairy, fiber, beer, and tea when eating high iron foods.
If you still become iron deficient, you can take iron supplements in low amounts. Around 20-25 mg is perfectly adequate if you want to fill the iron gap in your diet.
If you’ve talked about a vegetarian or vegan diet with a meat-eater, you’ve likely heard the question, “but where do you get your protein?” Many vegetarians will answer that they get plenty of protein from their regular diet, but that might not be completely true. A complete protein strand is made up of 9 amino acids, and one acid without the other makes an incomplete protein. Animal products contain complete proteins, but it is difficult to obtain all 9 acids through a plant-based diet.
To get all 9, you have to be careful about planning your meals. Rice is low in 1 amino acid, but when paired with beans, you can gain a complete protein. In addition, processed mock meats are often made to contain all 9 acids, making them a great replacement in a pinch.
Vegetarian protein powder can also be added to supplement your diet. .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is the standard for protein requirements. If you calculate your protein needs, you can then supplement with protein powder as needed, along with a balanced diet.
A vegetarian or vegan diet doesn’t have to be deficient in essential minerals and vitamins. With enough know-how and the right supplements, you can refrain from meat while still living healthily. Remember to consult first with your physician before making any major changes to your lifestyle.