Nutritional Needs For Vegetarians And Vegans

A vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or poultry. Vegans, in addition, do not drink milk or eat dairy products or eggs either. They may also avoid honey and honey-based products.

Many published scientific studies appear to show that vegetarians live longer and are less likely to develop a number of chronic diseases than people who eat meat. This may simply reflect the fact that vegetarians are generally more health-conscious. (Some vegetarians, however, especially teenagers, eat grossly inadequate diets.) Everyone would probably benefit from being a vegetarian for at least one or two days a week.

Getting the balance right

Try 'sprouting' beans for a few days before cooking, or remove outer coverings after soaking overnight. Always cook beans in fresh water (not the water used to soak them in) and boil them briskly for 10 minutes in an uncovered pan before simmering gently until they are soft.
The ideal and nutritionally rich vegetarian diet is based on a wide range of whole grains, pulses, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, supplemented by dairy produce and eggs if you are not a vegan.

Protein deficiency is a common source of anxiety, but an adult with a healthy digestive system may need no more than 50g (2oz) of protein a day. Extra protein is required at times of stress, during adolescence or pregnancy, when breastfeeding, and by athletes and others who lead very active lives.

Protein is present in seed, grains, pulses and nuts but is usually incomplete in these foods. This means that one or more of the amino acids that cannot be produced in our bodies are absent. To overcome this problem, it is important to obtain protein from more than one of these food types, or from eggs, milk and milk products in which the protein is complete. Although not necessary to eat complete protein at every meal, it is wise to have animal protein or vegetable protein from more than one food type each day. Minerals such as zinc, iron and copper can be deficient if you eat no animal products at all, but the body may adapt and absorb these minerals more efficiently. Calcium deficiency is not as common as might be expected in those who eat a milk-free diet, provided the diet is well-balanced along the lines of the quick guide.

What about vegans?

Obtaining VITAMIN B12 can be a problem for vegans, and nutritionists suggest that supplements of this vitamin should be taken at least intermittently to build up stores.

IODINE deficiency has recently been reported in vegans in the United Kingdom where there is no compulsory addition of iodine to food.

It is difficult to obtain adequate nutrition from a vegan diet without mineral (zinc, iron, copper) and vitamin (B12, A and D) supplements during childhood, the teenage years, pregnancy, when breast feeding, and by people with small appetites.

A quick guide for healthy vegetarians and vegans
• Avoid refined foods low in minerals and vitamins, such as white flour and white sugar
• Eat a range of protein-rich foods
• Avoid foods that block the absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc. These include bran, and unleavened wheat products, such as chapatis, pastry and biscuits, especially when made with wholemeal flour
• Do not drink tea or coffee at mealtimes
• Eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables each day
• Remember that people's needs vary considerably, and some people really do need to eat at least some animal protein. This can be indicated if they are constantly tired or lose weight

Supplements as an insurance

A vegetarian formulation of minerals and vitamins, can be taken as a general health insurance measure.

To avoid dietary imbalance, mineral and vitamin supplements should not be taken in large doses, except with professional guidance.

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