One of the main concerns around adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet is whether it is nutritionally sufficient. This worry is predominantly due to the primary status that meat based foods have in the western diet. Although animal products do offer nutrients that support a healthy immune system and body functions, there is ever increasing evidence emerging that whole-food vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally adequate.
A well planned and balanced vegetarian/vegan diet can not only provide good nutrition, it can even help improve health. Following these diets can help you reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions including obesity, heart disease, lowers blood pressure, and, type 2 diabetes. This is mainly due to the reduced consumption of processed fats, overall calories and increased intake of a variety of health boosting nutrients.
Vegetarians can obtain all the vitamins and minerals they need from a balanced and varied diet. Vitamins are required in small amounts but are essential for many processes in our bodies. Vitamins are classified in 2 groups: fat-soluble vitamins – A, D, E and K and water-soluble vitamins – C and B vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, folate, biotin and pantothenic acid.
Vitamin B12 is one vitamin vegetarians/vegans should especially be aware of. Vitamin B12 is responsible for red blood cell growth and nervous system maintenance, however the only natural sources of this vitamin are meat, dairy and eggs. Therefore those following an animal product-free diet, especially vegan, are at risk of deficiency. B12 deficiency can result in risk for macrocytic anaemia, a type of abnormality in red blood cell development. To ensure consumption of sufficient B12, vegetarians should select eggs and dairy products daily. For those who don’t eat eggs or dairy, look for vitamin B12 in fortified vegan cheese, yogurt, and for non-dairy; fortified cereals; fortified veggie burgers and faux meats; and nutritional yeast.
Minerals and trace elements are required in small amounts but are essential for processes in the body. They are necessary for tissue structure, enzyme systems, fluid balance, cellular function and neurotransmission. The main minerals vegetarians/vegans need to concern themselves with would include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, and, selenium.
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