Top 5 Nutrients Missing From Vegetarian Diets

5 Nutrients Missing from Vegetarian Diet - Large

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While vegan and vegetarian diets are healthful alternatives for many people, it is crucial to keep in mind what minerals, vitamins and other nutrients you might be missing if you’re avoiding meat and animal products.

Here are five vital nutrients your diet might be lacking, why they’re important, and how to get them back into your meals.

Protein. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), protein helps your body repair cells and make new ones. It’s also important for growth and development in children, teens, and pregnant women.

The good news is, you don’t need to consume animal products to get your necessary amount of protein. Vegan sources include beans, whole grains, soy products, and nuts and nut butters. For vegetarians, dairy products and eggs are also good sources.

Calcium. We all learned early on that we need calcium for strong bones and healthy teeth. But did you know that calcium is also essential for a number of other bodily functions, including blood clotting, squeezing and relaxing muscles, and releasing hormones?

5 Nutrients Missing from Vegetarian Diet - In ContentAccording to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), dairy products are a rich source of calcium. But if dairy is not part of your diet, some plant-based foods can provide calcium. Here are some suggestions from AND and the NIH:

  • Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Fortified soy milk or rice milk
  • Fortified ready-to-eat cereals
  • Fortified juice
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Some leafy green vegetables, like collards, kale, and bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Beans, including soy
  • Almonds and almond butter

Iron. Iron is found in every cell of the body, and is essential to making hemoglobin, a part of blood cells. Good sources of iron include:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Beans, including soy beans
  • Some dark, leafy greens, such as kale, spinach and collards
  • Dried fruits
  • Eggs (especially egg yolks)
  • Whole grains

The experts at AND also recommend consuming a good source of vitamin C (citrus fruits, orange juice, tomatoes) at each meal, which increases iron absorption.

Vitamin B12. According to the NIH, vitamin B12 helps keep the body's nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA, the genetic material in all cells. Vitamin B12 also helps prevent megaloblastic anemia, a serious form of anemia that makes people tired and weak.

Vegetarians who eat some dairy products or egg will probably receive sufficient amounts of vitamin B12, according to AND.

The best sources of vitamin B12 for strict vegetarians or vegans are fortified breakfast cereals, nutritional yeast, and soy milk. You might also need to take a vitamin B12 (cobalamin) supplement.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps build strong bones by helping the body absorb calcium from food and supplements.

Few foods are high in vitamin D, but some products in the U.S. are fortified, including soy milk, cow’s milk, orange juice and breakfast cereals. Daily exposure to sunlight also helps boost levels of vitamin D. If you don’t eat dairy products and don’t receive daily sun exposure, talk to your physician about taking a vitamin D supplement.

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