Q What vitamins and minerals could I be missing if I follow a vegetarian, vegan or flexitarian diet?
A/ There are several key nutrients to pay attention to if you’re eating little or no meat, fish or other animal products: vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and iron. Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal products, and a deficiency can cause anemia and dementia. Consuming fortified plantbased milks and fortified nutritional yeast can help supply B12. Although vitamin D deficiency is far from exclusive to vegetarians, non-meat-eaters may be more likely to lack this nutrient, which helps maintain bone health and immune function. If your blood levels of vitamin D, as measured by a 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D test, come back low (typically less than 10 ng/mL), consider a vitamin D supplement. Omega-3 fatty acids are plentiful in some fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, as well as grassfed animals, and help fight inflammation. Although omega 3s can also be found in leafy greens, nuts and flaxseeds in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), their conversion to the essential forms of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is low. For a vegan omega-3 supplement, algae oil is a good option. Iron poses a similar risk: Though plentiful in many plant foods, the nonheme form of iron found in plants is less effectively absorbed by the body than the heme iron found in animal products. Vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians who eat a varied, balanced diet of whole foods can avoid deficiencies, but they may need supplements. Consider meeting with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, who can help make sure your nutrition plan is complete.
Registered dietitians Tiffani Bachus and Erin Macdonald are the co-founders and creators of URockGirl.com, a website dedicated to promoting wellness and a healthy, balanced lifestyle.