Vegetarianism is often thought of as a healthier way of eating, and while it may work for some people, other people may feel worse. The removal of meat, fish and sometimes dairy products and eggs can make it difficult to meet all the body’s nutrient requirements. While it is possible to be optimally nourished while eating this way, vegetarians need to plan their diet carefully.
Here is a list of nutrients that are commonly deficient in vegetarians.
Vitamin B12 is a nutrient that is only found in meat, seafood, dairy products and eggs. This makes it a common deficiency in vegans and vegetarians and they almost always need to take a good quality B12 supplement daily. B12 deficiency is also common among meat-eaters as poor digestion inhibits the absorption of this nutrient. Common symptoms of B12 deficiency are poor memory, lack of concentration, fatigue, brittle nails, anaemia, swollen tongue, mouth sores, dizziness and numb or tingling hands and feet.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that promotes a healthy immune system, fertility, good eyesight and healthy skin.
Vitamin A is in animal foods like meat, dairy, organ meat and eggs. It is not found in any plant foods, but beta-carotene is and this is converted to vitamin A. However, conversion process is inefficient in humans and it is difficult to meet the RDA from only plant foods.
Common signs of vitamin A deficiency are acne, poor immunity, dry eyes, dry skin, eye inflammation, poor vision at night and insomnia.
Vegetarians and vegans need to eat large amounts of kale, butternut, carrots and sweet potatoes each day to get adequate levels of vitamin A. This can be accomplished by juicing daily or otherwise taking a vitamin A supplement. Women who are pregnant or panning to be pregnant should be cautious with vitamin A supplements.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is found in animal products like dairy and liver. It is also made from the cholesterol in our system when we are exposure to ultra-violet light from the sun.
Common signs of Vitamin D deficiency are burning mouth, osteoporosis, backache, tooth decay, sore bones, arthritis, auto-immunity and muscle twitches.
Vegetarians should make an extra effort to get full body exposure to sunlight for 15-30 minutes on a daily basis.
Omega 3 fatty acid
Omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in the nervous system, fighting infection and inflammation. Common signs of omega 3 fatty acid deficiency are poor concentration, hyperactivity, poor coordination, inflammatory conditions like arthritis, dry eyes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and small bump-like pimples on the back of the arms.
The best sources of omega 3 fatty acid are found in seafood, grass-fed meat and eggs. They are also found in nuts and seeds, but they are not as readily available from these foods as they need to undergo a long conversion process.
If you do not eat seafood or meat you should make an effort to eat more omega-3 enriched eggs and 1-2 tablespoons of flax seeds, chia seeds or pumpkin seeds per day. Make sure to grind the seeds so that you can digest them well. You can also get omega 3s from walnuts.