Supplements to Support a Vegetarian Diet
Vegetarian is a generic term that describes someone who refuses to eat meat, poultry, fish or other seafood. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains that studies indicate plant-based diets are healthy and nutritionally sound.
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Benefits of Vegetarianism
Vegetarianism offers a number of health benefits that include disease prevention. Individuals preferring plant-based diets often have less body fat and weigh less. Consuming a limited amount of animal products, or avoiding animal-based products and byproducts helps maintain healthier cholesterol levels. These factors reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, Type II diabetes and certain types of cancers.(1)
Why are Supplements Necessary?
Strict plant-based diets are deficient in different minerals and vitamins that the body requires daily. Vegetarians who include dairy products and eggs are the least likely to require supplements.
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Before considering a major dietary change, consider the need for minerals and vitamin replacements. According to the Vegetarian Diet Guide, there are a number of classifications that describe diets void of meat.(2) Each category presents the possibility of suffering from nutritional deficiencies.
Breaking it down
Individual sub-classifications entail a need for specific supplementation. Ensuring a healthy vegetarian diet requires performing the necessary research, learning the shortcomings and being prepared to make the appropriate adjustments.
Types of Vegetarianism:
While typically avoiding meat and seafood, these individuals do consume of eggs and milk.
The label refers to someone who avoids meat and seafood along with dairy products. However, they do eat eggs.
This group avoids meat and seafood but include diary products.
Considered the strictest category of vegetarianism, these individuals do not consume any animal-based products or byproducts. Some may also avoid eating honey or yeast.
No animal products are consumed on this diet, which mainly consists of unpolished rice, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and some fermented foods.
Someone on this type of diet consumes mostly plant-based foods. However, they may choose to eat meats, poultry or fish on occasion.
This type of diet is largely plant-based but also contains fish.
This version of a vegan diet only contains plant-based foods that do not harm the plant when harvested.
Some of the most common deficiencies experienced on vegetarian diets require supplementation with the following nutrients. The National Institutes of Health offer an extensive explanation of numerous vital minerals and vitamins.
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What is Iron:
The mineral is important for the formation of red blood cells and hemoglobin, the protein found in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to all body tissues. Iron is also necessary for a number of metabolic processes, growth and development, cell function and the generation of connective tissue and hormones.
Fish, meat and poultry supply the heme and non-heme forms of iron that the body requires. Plant-based and fortified foods only contain the non-heme form, which makes supplementation necessary.
The recommended daily allowance for iron is 8 milligrams. Teens and pregnant women require increased doses. Due to a lack of meat and dairy products in vegetarian diets, individuals consuming plant-based foods alone should increase RDAs for iron by 1.8%.
Where to get it:
Oral, OTC supplements containing ferrous or ferric iron provide the amount of the mineral needed for healthy body function. The NIH advises that taking iron with vitamin C increases absorption rates. Iron accompanied by calcium, cereals and legumes has the opposite effect.(3)
9. Vitamin A
What is Vitamin A:
The fat-soluble vitamin A is vital for health vision, maintaining the immune system and reproduction. The vitamin also helps ensure the proper function of body organ systems that include the heart, kidneys and lungs. Research suggests that the vitamin may reduce the risks of developing certain type of cancer. Preformed vitamin A is contained within dairy products, fish and meat.
Provitamin A, known as beta-carotene, lies in plant-based products. The daily recommended amount depends on the age and health status of the individual. Anyone 14 years of age and older requires a minimum of 5,000 International Units or IU everyday. These values are increased for younger children, breast-feeding mothers and vegetarians.
Where to get it:
Most OTC products contain vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. However, when needing to add preformed vitamin A to diets in supplement form, look for products containing retinyl acetate or retinyl palmitate.(4)
What is Calcium:
The body requires the mineral for maintaining strong bones and teeth in the way of structural integrity and strength. Calcium is also necessary for the normal movement of muscles and the transmission of messages between nerve cells. The mineral additionally assists in blood circulation, enzyme and hormone release.
Dairy products are the common source, though calcium is prevalent in lesser quantities in broccoli, Chinese cabbage, kale and other dark green vegetables. Whole grains and fortified foods also offer some calcium. The recommended daily amounts vary depending on age.
Where to get it:
Adults need 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams everyday. Supplements contain calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. Other forms include gluconate, lactate or phosphate. Carbonate is the least expensive and more readily absorbed when taken with food. On the other hand, calcium citrate is more easily absorbed on an empty stomach. Dietary specialists recommend that people not take doses of more than 500 milligrams at one time for optimal absorption.(5)
What is Protein:
Proteins are found in every cell, tissue or organ in the body. During normal function and repair, the body breaks down and replaces proteins on a continual basis. Once consumed, the digestive process separates proteins into amino acids, which form the basic building blocks that the body uses. There are 20 different amino acids that are necessary. Nine of these are considered essential and are not manufactured by the body. Plant-based foods individually do not contain all of the essential amino acids.
Where to get it:
The Center for Disease Control recommends combining beans with legumes and whole grains in a vegetarian diet in order to obtain all of the needed protein-building amino acids.(6) Adult females require 46 grams of protein daily. Men need 56 grams. On average, the recommended daily amount entails getting 0.4 to 0.9 grams for every pound of body weight per day. PlenteousVeg has a number of suggestions and protein calculations for daily intake.(8)
6. Greens Supplements
What are Greens Supplements:
Produce provides minerals, vitamins and fiber that help maintain good health in a number of ways. Consuming an adequate amount of fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. Additionally, produce helps keep the body’s acid/base balance in check. Acidity levels often increase with physical activity.
The body recovers faster in the presence of alkaline rich foods. Greens supplements contain algaes, grasses, fruits and vegetables processed in powdered forms. These products typically include a combination of alfalfa, chlorella, fruits, herbs, legumes, spirulina, wheat and other grasses. Greens supplements offer nutrients in the form of fiber, minerals, phytonutrients and vitamins.
Where to get them:
The products are not a substitute for actual fruits and vegetables. Nonetheless, they work well if traveling or if fresh produce is not readily available. The team of health professionals at the Precision Nutrition website offer more information concerning greens supplements.(9)
What is DHA:
Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid found in a number of cold-water fish species and meats. The compound is necessary for the development and maintenance of tissues involving the nerves and vision. DHA also helps prevent cardiovascular disease processes by regulating coagulation and lowering triglycerides.
The fatty acid additionally aids in the natural reduction of discomfort and inflammation. Vegetarian diets not containing fish or meat often require oral supplementation.
Where to get it:
When needing supplementation, healthcare professionals at WebMD recommend taking up to 5 milligrams daily in the form of fish oil, which contains 73 to 312 milligrams of DHA. Doses in this range also may contain 169 to 563 milligrams of another necessary Omega-3 fatty acid known as eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA. Supplements are available in softgels or liquid oral forms.(10)
What is Iodine:
The thyroid needs the mineral known as iodine in order to manufacture the hormones that regulate a number of body functions. These hormones also play a role in bone and central nervous system development of the fetus and growing infant. Iodine remains necessary throughout childhood for appropriate cognitive function.
At higher dosages, the mineral is thought to decrease the symptoms associated with fibrocystic breast disease. Iodine comes readily available in table salt, fish and shellfish. The mineral is also present in seaweed. Diary products become iodized through the cleansing process. Foods made with grains also typically contain iodine. Fruits and vegetables may harbor the mineral if grown in iodine rich soil.
Where to get it:
If not using iodized salt or consuming sea-based foods, dieticians specializing in vegan diets recommend taking 90 micrograms in supplement form every day.(11)(12)
3. Vitamin D
What is Vitamin D:
Vitamin D is necessary for the body to properly absorb calcium. In this way, the nutrient is required for the health and maintenance of bones and teeth. Working in conjunction with calcium, vitamin D also plays a role in muscle movement, nerve tissue transmissions and helps prevent osteoporosis later in life. The immune system requires the compound to help the body fight microbial invasions and infections.
The vitamin is found in virtually every cell of the body. Our bodies make the vitamin naturally in small amounts when the skin is exposed directly to sunlight. Fatty fish and beef liver contain generous amounts of the nutrient. Breakfast cereals, cow’s milk, margarine, orange juice and soy milk are all usually fortified with the vitamin. Mushrooms naturally contain small amounts.
Where to get it:
The Food and Nutrition Board recommends that from the age of 12 months on, individuals get 600 IU of vitamin D daily. Vegetarians may take supplements containing up to 1,200 IU daily.(12)(13)
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2. Vitamin B12
What is Vitamin B12:
Vitamin B12 helps the body function normally in numerous ways. Cells cannot replicate normally without the vitamin, as DNA needs the nutrient for the reproduction of healthy genetic material. Nerve tissue also requires the compound for proper function. When the body consumes the vitamin in food, intrinsic factor in the stomach helps the body absorb the nutrient.
Beef liver and clams have the highest concentrations of the vitamin. B12 is also found in diary, fish, meat and eggs, along with fortified breakfast cereals and yeast.
Where to get it:
Multiple vitamins typically contain the nutrient. Vegetarians might consider B12 tablets or drops that are taken orally. However, tablets must be chewed for proper absorption.
The type of B12 taken is also important to consider. Methylcobalamin requires dosages ranging anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 micrograms daily. Cyanocobalamin forms require doses of 25 micrograms daily.(12)(14)
1. Vitamin B2
What is Vitamin B2:
Also known as riboflavin, vitamin B2 is vital for the production of healthy red blood cells. The nutrient also supports the immune system, helps keep hair, mucous membranes, nails and skin healthy. The vitamin is responsible for boosting physical activity and regulates the aging process. The nutrient also helps the body properly use carbohydrates in food.
Vitamin B2 is readily available in eggs, enriched flour, green vegetables, nuts and milk. Vegetarian diets void of meat products may become deficient. The recommended daily allowance of the vitamin are 1.1 milligrams for adult females and 1.3 milligrams for adult men. Depending on age, children require anywhere from 0.5 milligrams to adult recommendations.
Where to get it:
The vitamin is commonly included in supplements containing complex formulations of B vitamins. According to MedLine Plus, deficiencies may require supplementation in divided doses daily.(15)
A vegetarian diet of any classification may improve health dramatically. Plant-based diets often improve the digestive process and skin tone while increasing energy levels and assisting with weight loss. Many new to a vegetarian way of life may not be fully aware of the potential dietary deficiencies that can occur.
Getting the necessary minerals, vitamins and other nutrients on a daily basis pose a challenge for many people. However, the risk increases if not knowledgeable concerning the need to consume a variety of foods or use different cooking methods. Multiple vitamin supplements are designed to provide the components that diets may lack.
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Some products are formulated especially for vegetarians or vegans and feature labels ensuring the implementation of all natural, plant ingredients. Certain varieties also include digestive enzymes or probiotics.
Depending on the type of vegetarian diet chosen, continually performing the necessary research ensures staying healthy in the long run.
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