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Advantages of Vegetarian Food Diets and Associated Deficiencies

Bonny Shah

Bonny Shah
4 August 2020

This article is authored by Bonny Shah. Bonny is a Registered Dietitian and a Certified Diabetes Educator.

The advantages of being vegetarian or vegan are plenty. These diets have been linked to health benefits of a vegetarian diet such as reduced risk of heart disease, obesity and even certain kinds of cancer. But can these diets provide you with all the nutrients you need?.

Keep reading to learn about the various nutrient deficiencies associated with a meat-free diet and how you can prevent them.

Vitamin B12

Chicken Masala Frittata

This is the most common deficiency associated with vegetarian and vegan diets. Common symptoms include weakness, fatigue and impaired mental function. Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy. Vegetarians can easily make up their B12 requirements through dairy products and eggs. But all vegetarians don’t consume these foods. In such cases, mushrooms and foods fortified with vitamin B12 can be used to meet nutrient requirements. You could also talk to your doctor or nutritionist about taking a B complex supplement.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with a wide range of conditions including osteoporosis, reduced strength, muscle wasting, depression and cancer. Our skin produces vitamin D on exposure to sunlight. However, inadequate exposure to sunlight, darker skin tone and advanced age can all interfere with our vitamin D production. In such cases, we must rely on dietary sources. We know vitamin D2 can be obtained from plant sources like mushrooms, while vitamin D3 can be obtained from animal sources like fatty fish, meat and eggs. As a vegetarian diet does not include fatty fish or eggs, you might want to consider a vitamin D3 supplement. However, it has been shown that vitamin D3 is more effective at increasing the bioavailability of vitamin D than vitamin D2.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is an omega-3 fatty acid that is essential for proper brain function and development and is often found lacking in certain vegetarian and vegan diets. A DHA deficiency can adversely affect brain function and mental health as well, particularly in children. The most common natural source of dietary DHA is fatty fish. However, DHA can be produced in our bodies from ALA, which is another omega-3 fatty acid, and is obtained from plant sources like walnuts and flax seeds. DHA obtained in this manner however, is often not always sufficient to meet our nutritional requirements. In such cases, a vegetarian omega-3 supplement might be a good option.

Iron

Radish

Iron can be obtained from both plant and animal sources. However, heme iron, obtained from red meat is much more easily absorbed than non-heme iron from plants. Thus, it is easier for vegetarians and vegans to develop iron deficiencies. Luckily, preventing iron deficiencies with a vegetarian diet is as simple as including more iron-rich foods such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, lentils and dals. Seeds like pumpkin, sesame, hemp and flaxseeds are a good source of iron. Potatoes and mushrooms are also good sources of iron. For better iron absorption, have vitamin C rich foods like lemon and amla along with iron. Also, avoid tea and coffee with meals to improve the iron absorption.

Next time you stock up on essentials, try Tata Sampann’s range of dals and pulses. As they are unpolished, they have lower moisture (8-10%) compared to loose dals available in the market (>10%). This makes them cleaner and pure, thus, adding to the benefits of a vegetarian diet. Remember, a little mindfulness is all it takes to manage your health and make the most of a vegetarian diet.



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