How to prevent nutritional deficiencies in vegetarian diets


We know well that in strict vegetarian diets or in vegan diets in which foods of animal origin are completely excluded, it is essential to plan what is eaten and to know each food in order to prevent nutritional deficiencies by avoiding the deficit of certain vitamins or minerals.

Critical nutrients in vegans

We define as critical nutrients all those components of the diet with nutritional value that can put our health at risk if they are at levels lower than those recommended in the body. In other words, critical nutrients in vegans are those that are more likely to be absent from the diet and that, therefore, can cause disease.

Among the critical nutrients in vegans we find:

  • Iron: this mineral in foods of plant origin is absorbed to a lesser extent, but in addition, its assimilation can be reduced due to a high intake of fiber and phytates widely spread in plant foods. 8 and 18 mg are recommended daily, in men and women respectively.
  • Calcium: like iron, calcium of vegetable origin is not absorbed in the same way, and in addition, this mineral is found above all, in milk and derivatives, in fish and shellfish. Approximately 1000 mg of calcium is needed each day.
  • Vitamin B12: it is a vitamin that is produced in our body but that we must also ingest with food. It is found mostly in meats, eggs and foods of animal origin. About 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B 12 are needed daily.
  • Vitamin D: it is found mainly in fish and dairy products, therefore, it can be deficient in vegetarian diets. Between 5 and 10 micrograms of this vitamin are required daily.
  • Zinc: this trace element is widely used in foods of animal origin, therefore, in vegan diets special attention must be paid to its intake to prevent its deficiency. Each day 9 and 11 mg are required in women and men, respectively.

These are the critical nutrients in vegans, those that need our attention to prevent deficiencies and diseases caused by them, in those who eat diets based on foods of plant origin only.

If these nutrients are lacking in the body, they can originate from muscle cramps and infections, to an increased risk of suffering nutritional anemia or osteoporosis, therefore, it is essential that we take care of their presence in the usual diet.

Sources of critical nutrients in vegetarians

To prevent nutritional deficiencies by guaranteeing the presence of the aforementioned minerals and vitamins, we can resort to some alternative sources of these nutrients, suitable for vegans.

For example, to obtain calcium with food we can consume poppy seeds, almonds, sunflower seeds and cabbages in general, which are good sources of this mineral.

To obtain iron we can turn to peach dried apricots, soy flour, quinoa or lentils and other legumes, while to consume zinc we can go to chickpeas and peanuts.

Good sources of vegetable origin of vitamin D are vegetable margarines, or breakfast cereals enriched with this nutrient, although we can also expose ourselves to the sun for about 15 minutes each day to guarantee its synthesis in our skin and thus, prevent its deficiency.

Finally, to obtain vitamin B12 in vegan diets we have soy milk, fortified breakfast cereals and also, brewer's yeast that we can use in different preparations.

As we can see, there are different alternative sources to obtain these critical nutrients and thus, prevent nutritional deficiencies among vegetarians.

Smart nutrient combinations

A last resort that can help us prevent nutritional deficiencies in vegetarian diets is the appropriate combination of ingredients, because just as we can achieve a complete protein by supplementing them, we can also increase the absorption of certain minerals and / or vitamins by mixing foods wisely.

Good food combinations for vegans are:

  • Lentils with pepper or orange juice: if you mix red pepper with lentils in a stew or salad, or if you accompany a dish with this legume with fresh natural orange juice, the vitamin C in the juice or pepper will favor the absorption of iron from lentils, which will allow you to take better advantage of this nutrient.
  • Fresh fruits with almonds and dried apricots: fresh fruits have acidity and vitamin C, both factors favor the absorption of calcium and iron that almonds and dried apricots offer, so a good breakfast would bring together these ingredients.
  • Breakfast cereals with almonds: almonds contain calcium that is better absorbed in the presence of vitamin D, a nutrient that we can obtain from breakfast cereals. Also, vitamin D is better absorbed in the presence of fats that almonds can offer.
  • Quinoa with cabbage and lemon juice: if we make a salad with these ingredients, the lemon juice, due to its acidity, will improve the absorption of calcium from the cabbage and the vitamin C of the same will increase the assimilation of iron from the quinoa.

Thus, by knowing well the sources of critical nutrients in vegans and the appropriate combinations of ingredients to get the most out of each nutrient, we can prevent nutritional deficiencies in vegetarian diets and in this way, take care of the health of the body through a balanced and varied diet, based on only in foods of plant origin.

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