Nutrients, Vitamins and Minerals for Vegetarians and Vegans

According to the Vegetarian Society, 2% of the UK population was following a vegetarian diet in 2012.

As the amount of people following this way of living has increased, particularly in those under the age of 25, the number is believed to be nearer 6% in 2017 (with around 2% believed to be following a vegan diet) and is continuing to grow. Good news then if you are a believer in the health, environmental and animal welfare benefits of living a whole food plant-based lifestyle. However, with meat-free dieting still relatively scarce in the modern world, information is still required as to how to maximise the health benefits of such a lifestyle and how to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which may be detrimental.

 

Protein

“But where do you get your protein?” is probably the first question that faces any non-meat eaters when the subject of nutrition comes up. Yes, meat does contain protein but there are also plenty of delicious plant-based protein sources that can be used as an alternative. These alternative protein sources can also have many other benefits, for instance portions of at least 80 grams of pulses contribute to being one of your 5 a day! Much research has also linked the consumption of red and processed meat to an increase in colorectal cancer, so getting your protein from plant based sources is arguably healthier all round. Protein doesn’t need to come from animal sources and you can get more than enough from plant-based alternatives listed below. How much protein do you need? The issues with this are discussed in a previous blog:

https://www.trainingnationuk.com/blog-posts/protein-still-golden-ticket-making-big-gym/

  • Non-Meat sources: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, Quinoa, Nuts, Leafy greens, Tempeh and tofu
  • Vegetarian Options: Eggs, Quorn

 

Fats and Omega 3 and 6

Although the term ‘fats’ can give most people focussing on what they eat a scare, fats are essential for our bodies. Whilst high intakes of saturated fats are associated with increased cholesterol, heart disease risk and obesity, unsaturated fats can be beneficial for health. There are two types of unsaturated fats; Monounsaturated fats and Polyunsaturated fats. They can lower the amount of ‘bad’ cholesterol or LDL (Low Density Lipoproteins) and increase the amount of ‘good’ cholesterol or HDL (High Density Lipoproteins). Good news for vegetarians and vegans is that these fats are commonly obtained from plant based sources such as vegetable oils, olive oils, almonds, peanuts and avocados. However, Omega-3 fats, which have been previously associated with reducing Cardiovascular Disease and benefiting brain health, come from oily fish such as mackerel, kippers, trout or sardines and are therefore harder to get on a meat-free diet. However, more recent research (post 2010) seems to suggest that DHA and EPA, the derivatives from Omega-3 fats used by the body, although still important regarding brain health, aren’t as essential as previously believed regarding Cardiovascular Diseases. This has been argued to possibly be due to low doses used in trials or medical advances outweighing PUFA effects, which has seen fish recommendations from nutrition corporations such as The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) removing fish oil recommendations. Many do still see fish oils as diet essentials, especially regarding brain health, and therefore vegetarians and vegans may have to look towards supplementation or plant-based omega 3 sources such as flaxseed, hempseed, rapeseed and walnuts.

  • Omega 3 Non-Meat sources: supplementation, flaxseed, hempseed, rapeseed and walnuts
  • Omega 6 Non-Meat sources: vegetable oils, some nuts

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Vitamin B12

Requirements:

  • Average adult woman (18+) = 2.4 mcg per day 
  • Average adult man (18+) = 2.4 mcg per day

With regards to supplementation, it is Vitamin B12 which is the most important vitamin, particularly for vegans, when following a whole-food plant based diet. This is because, although B12 is found in many animal products, including eggs for vegetarians, it cannot be supplied by a plant based diet alone. The worry with B12 deficiency is it can cause anaemia and nervous system damage whilst giving symptoms of extreme tiredness, a lack of energy, muscle weakness and even depression. Inadequate levels of B12 have also been shown to give rise to homocysteine, an amino acid found in the blood, that has been linked in some papers to a rise in cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Non-Meat sources: SUPPLEMENTS, yeast extract, fortified foods including cereals, soya milk
  • Vegetarian Options: Eggs, milk, cheese

 

Iron

Requirements:

  • Average adult woman (18-50) = 14.8mg per day 
  • Average adult man (18+) = 8.7mg per day

One of the most crucial minerals for vegetarians is iron, not necessarily because it is more abundant in animal products but because it comes in a different form in animal products. The iron found in animal products is haem iron, whereas the iron in plant foods is non-haem which is less easily absorbed. Although non-haem iron is more difficult to absorb, its absorption can be increased by eating foods high in Vitamin C (see below for sources) and avoiding tea and coffee which contain tannins which reduce iron absorption. According to the vegetarian society 75% of the iron consumed by meat eaters comes from non-meat sources so the worry about iron deficiency isn’t going to kill your meat-free dream as long as you make an effort in consuming iron from elsewhere.

Iron is required by the body mainly to produce haemoglobin which helps carry oxygen around the body and store it whilst it is also important in producing enzymes for energy transfer, digestion and nerve function. Iron deficiency can lead to iron deficiency anaemia symptoms of which include tiredness, lack of energy, shortness of breath, cracks and ulcers in your mouth and paleness. If you feel like you may have iron deficiency, which can be especially common in women of reproductive age, it is best to consult your GP.

  • Non-Meat sources: Chickpeas, green leafy vegetables & sea vegetables, legumes (such as lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans, nuts and seeds) and spinach

 

Other sources of key Vitamins and Minerals

Calcium

  • Non-Meat sources: leafy green vegetables (collard, broccoli, kale and mustard greens), tofu, plant-based milk substitutes (soy, almond or rice milk), fortified cereals
  • Vegetarian Options: milk, yoghurt, cheese

Magnesium

  • Non-Meat sources: green leafy vegetables, wholegrains, cooked spinach, beans/legumes, almonds/nuts, breakfast cereals
  • Vegetarian Options: milk and cheese

Phosphorus

  • Non-Meat sources: fruit and veg, nuts, dried beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, pinto beans, cereal grains, almonds, wholegrains, avocados, spinach, yeast.
  • Vegetarian Options: milk, cheese, eggs

Potassium

  • Non-Meat sources: fruit and veg (particularly high in bananas, beetroot and mushrooms), potatoes, baked sweet potatoes, yeast extract
  • Vegetarian Options: milk, cheese, eggs

Zinc

  • Non-Meat sources: cereal products, legumes, nuts, green leafy vegetables, pulses and pumpkin seeds.
  • Vegetarian Options: milk, cheese, eggs

Vitamin A

  • Non-Meat sources: carrots, broccoli, red bell peppers, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, cantaloupe, apricots

Vitamin C

  • Non-Meat sources: orange juice, citrus fruits, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collard greens, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries

Vitamin D

  • Non-Meat sources: SUNLIGHT, fortified margarines, breakfast cereals, soya milk
  • Vegetarian Options: Eggs

Vitamin E

  • Non-Meat sources: vegetable oils, margarines, spreads, sunflower seeds, nuts, wholegrains

Vitamin K

  • Non-Meat sources: green leafy vegetables, green tea, cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes

Article by contributing writer: Alex White

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Website: https://santescienceblog.com

*The views and/or opinions expressed in the blogs are not necessarily those of Training Nation, but of the author

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