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Nutrients Necessary for a Vegetarian Diet

Posted by Nirmala N.

If you're thinking of becoming a vegetarian, be sure to do it carefully. Sometimes, vital nutrients that are found in meat sources are lacking in vegetarian diets when they lack variety.

For example, protein is necessary to maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles, and organs. Vegetarians who eat eggs and dairy products can get protein easily. Soy products, legumes, lentils, nuts, and whole grains are also great sources of protein.

Calcium is vital to overall health and strong teeth and bones. Low-fat dairy products and dark green veggies (spinach, collard greens, kale, broccoli, etc.) are high in calcium, as are tofu enriched with calcium, fruit juices, and soy milk.

Vitamin B-12 is also necessary for the production of red blood cells--only thing is that it's almost exclusively in animal products, which means you can get it from milk, eggs, and cheese. Enriched cereals, fortified soy products, and vitamin supplements are other ways of ensuring it's in your diet.

Iron is also important for building red blood cells. You can usually get it through dark green leafy greens and dried fruit, as well as dried beans, peas, lentils, and enriched cereals. Also, foods rich in vitamin C (strawberries, citrus, tomatoes, cabbage, etc.) help you to absorb non-animal sources of calcium.

Zinc is a meneral that plays a strong role in protein formation and cell division. How to go about getting it? Just make sure your diet is rich in stuff like whole grains, soy products, nuts, and wheat germ.

Comments (6)
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These nutrients are all very important, but they are easy to get with a varied vegetarian diet. The truth is most meat eaters are more vitamin and nutrient deficient than the average vegetarian, and many eat too much protien and calcium.  Sometimes I think posts like these are meant to scare people about vegetarianism.

Vegetarian Diets are a much healthier and a more sustainable way of life.  There is so much mis-information about protein out there (even on this website) and the reality is that the protein from a plant based diet is MUCH healthier and compatible to human physiology than animal protein. FACT: Vegetarians overall have LESS cancer, heart disease and chronic disease than meat eaters.   

FACT: Cows milk is meant for baby cows. we are the only animals EVER to STEAL the mother's milk from another animal - even as ADULTS. ridiculous. There are strong connections to drinking cow's mother's milk and many diseases. 


Why is everyone so obsessed with protein? When was the last time you heard of someone with a protein deficiency who was getting adequate calories and who didn't have an eating disorder? If you look at the amount of protein an adult needs in a day, and then look at what one eats on a reasonably varied vegan diet, it's almost impossible not to get enough protein unless you're restricting the variety of foods in your diet. Same goes for things like calcium, vitamin C and iron. Generally,  vegan diets that are based on a variety of whole foods are fine. The only thing that you really have to watch out for is B12 and vit D (if you live north-ish and don't buy fortified products).


I'm with May. Read The China Study. Read the vegan sourcebook. 



The average male only needs about 60-70 grams of protein a day.  That is so easy to obtain through non-meat sources.  Even a body builder would not need much more than 100 grams daily, as the maximum daily increase in muscle mass is no more than 25 grams, unless of course performance enhancing drugs are added to the equation.   The argument that vegetable protein is not a complete protein and therefore inferior to meat protein is utter nonsense.  Scientists now know that the human  body effectively recycles amino acids and maintains an amino acid pool  that is drawn on like a bank account to add to amino acids obtained from one's diet to synthesize the necessary proteins, enzymes, hormones and immuno factors and to maintain normal body functions.  Hence, one does not have to consume all 8 essential amino acids at every meal.  Less or no meat means less fat and calories.  Replacing meat with vegetables, fruits and whole grains nourishes our system with the necessary calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that it needs to maintain health.

What a horrifically written article. It is far easier to have a bad diet with animal products present than it is to have a bad diets on fruits, vegetables, grain, nuts, and seeds. This article makes it seem like you can only be a vegan if you draw up a master plan for how you are going to eat every single meal for the rest of your life which is absurd. 

As someone who specializes in Nutritional Biochemistry, I cannot stand articles like this which misinform people even with their tone and style of writing. Nutrition is far more complicated than most people can understand but the recommendations for how to improve your diet couldn't be easier. Eliminate animal products, and eat real food, mostly (preferably all) plant-based.

Even national food chains are starting to serve vegan options, so the support is there. Please educate yourself on this topic if you are considering changing and don't rely on articles as poorly written as this.

- Victor

University of Pennsylvania

Nutritional Biochemistry 

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