Cutting out meat from your diet and sticking primarily to plant-based foods can be an excellent way to keep yourself healthy. In fact, those adopting vegetarian or vegan diets (around 3 percent of the UK population, according to the Vegetarian Society), are reportedly at reduced risk of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. However, there are some considerations to take into account before changing your diet, including determining how you’ll get your intake of essential vitamins and minerals.
Unlike meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans are more at risk of failing to reach their recommended daily targets for specific vitamins and minerals that help to keep us healthy, and our bodies working optimally. Vegetarians may struggle to consume an adequate amount of iron and Vitamin B12, for example, which is found in high quantities in meats and seafoods. Vegans may also struggle with their calcium intake, as calcium is most commonly found in dairy products. So what’s the best solution?
Vitamins & Minerals for Vegetarians and Vegans
The good news is that it’s still possible – and actually very simple – to lead a healthy vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, and ensure you’re getting everything you need to keep your body ticking along nicely. The secret? Food supplements. Food supplements are excellent for ‘topping up’ your internal sources.
Men require 8.7 mg of iron each and every day, while women need even more – around 14.8 mg per day. Iron deficiencies can lead to anaemia, with tiredness, shortness of breath, and headaches, and as it’s found in high quantities in various seafoods and meats, vegetarians and vegans can struggle to reach those target. However, it is possible to take a food supplement that gives you 100 percent of your recommended daily amount. It’s often advised that vegetarians and vegans take iron supplements, as it’s very difficult to consume too much. Iron is considered safe up to 45 mg per day, and with just 3.3 mg in 100 grams of lentils, it is often difficult to get enough on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Adults need about 1.5 mg of Vitamin B12 – a B complex vitamin – each day, with low intake being associated with symptoms of anaemia including reduced appetite, weight loss, and feeling faint. B12 is most often found in fish and meats, especially clams and liver, but it can also be found in dairy and soy products. However, even if your diet does include a healthy intake of Vitamin B12 on a regular basis, taking food supplements is unlikely to cause you any harm. There is ‘no upper tolerable intake’ reported, which means that it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to ‘overdose’ on Vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 supplements can be a healthy and responsible way to complement a vegetarian or vegan diet.
According to the NHS, healthy adults require around 700 mg of calcium per day. A calcium deficiency in adults can lead to weak or brittle bones, which could in turn increase the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that affects more than 300,000 people in the UK today, particularly women. Vegetarians may not find meeting their calcium targets especially challenging, as it’s often found in non-meat products such as cheese, milk, and yogurt, although vegans may find it much more difficult as they strive to avoid all animal products. Calcium is considered safe up to around 1500 mg per day, and with 120 mg in 100 grams of kale, it’s hard to consume too much, even if you’re taking daily calcium supplements.
As ever, knowledge of the facts of your nutritional requirements is a great stepping stone to health, whatever your diet.