These 7 Essential Nutrients Might Be Missing From A Strictly Vegetarian Diet

by Dr. Jonathan D'Souza

While we all know that a balanced diet is key to healthy living, we often do not pay much attention to how much of a particular food group we’re including in our diets. Though being vegan and vegetarian is a personal choice, leaving a particular food group when following a certain diet plan or other such reasons can do you more harm than good and could make you deficient in certain nutrients.

In a previous article, we discussed how hardcore meat-eaters could be missing out on essential nutrients obtained from plants. In this article, we talk about the nutrients that you cannot readily achieve from a vegetarian diet.

1) Creatine
A molecule commonly found in animal food, creatine is stored in muscles and is also present in significant amounts in the brain. It provides the muscle cells with greater strength and increases endurance, making it an easily accessible energy reserve for muscle cells.[1] Creatine supplementation can improve strength and muscle mass.[2]

While creatine can be produced by the liver, it is not enough and vegetarians might have lower levels of creatine in their muscles.[3] Creatine supplementation can improve brain function and physical performance in such cases to overcome the deficiency.[3,4,5]

2) Cholecalciferol
A vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, impaired brain function, depression, and reduced strength.[6-13]

There are two active forms of vitamin D, cholecalciferol (from animals) and ergocalciferol, which is mostly found in plants. The former increases vitamin D blood levels much more effectively.[14,15,16] Fatty fish and egg yolks are the most potent source of cholecalciferol.

3) Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 (also known as cobalamin), is a water-soluble nutrient involved in the formation of red blood cells, normal brain functioning and maintenance of the nerves. Without enriched foods or supplements, vegetarians are at a high risk of vitamin B12.[17]

Fish, dairy products, meat, and eggs are rich sources of vitamin B12.[18] While lacto-ovo vegetarians get vitamin B12 from dairy products, vegans may find it difficult to obtain.[19] This puts vegans at a higher risk of vitamin B12 deficiency than vegetarians.[20.21.22.23]

Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause weakness, impaired brain function, fatigue, neurological disorders, psychiatric disorders, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.

4) Carnosine
The antioxidant carnosine is found in the brain and muscles and high levels of it are crucial for improved muscle performance and reduced muscle fatigue.[24,25] Vegetarians have less carnosine in their muscles than hardcore meat-eaters.[26,27,28,29]

Supplementation with beta-alanine increases muscle mass and improves endurance by increasing carnosine levels in muscles.[30,31]

5) Heme-Iron
Heme iron, a type of iron only found in meat, is better absorbed than non-heme iron found in plants. The better absorption of heme iron is known as the ‘meat factor’ and it even improves the absorption of non-heme iron.[32] 

Also, heme-iron isn’t affected by antinutrients such as phytic acid found in plant foods, which, on the other hand, can hamper the absorption of non-heme iron. This is the reason why vegetarians and vegans are more prone to anemia than meat eaters.[33]

6) Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
An essential omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for normal brain functioning and development.[34] Deficiency in DHA can affect the mental as well as cognitive health.[35,36] Inadequate intake of DHA, especially in pregnant women, can adversely affect the brain development in the child.[37]

DHA is composed of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which is found in high amounts in chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds. However, it needs to be converted to DHA by the body. This conversion process is not an efficient one, because of which vegans and vegetarians are often lower in DHA than meat-eaters [38,39,40,41,42]

7) Taurine
A sulfur compound found in the brain, heart, and kidneys, taurine plays a key role in bile salt function, muscle function, and the body’s antioxidant defenses.[43,44,45,46]

Supplementation with taurine can have various benefits for heart health such as a controlled blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels.[47,48] Taurine is only found in animal foods such as poultry, seafood, fish and dairy products.[49] Taurine levels are significantly lower in vegans than in meat eaters.[50,51]

For more interesting stories, visit our Health page. Read more about Diseases & Conditions here.

Read More:
The 4 Types Of Vitamin B12 Supplements (& Which One You Should Be Taking)
The Sunshine Vitamin: 6 Health Benefits Of Vitamin D That You Should Know Of

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