Vegetarians, especially vegans, are often questioned about nutrition deficiency. This can be valid concern based on a vegetarian’s dietary choices, as one could theoretically just eat pizza and fries on a vegetarian regimen, but a well-balanced diet is always important regardless of one’s lifestyle or philosophy on eating. Opponents of veganism occasionally flag vegans for low vitamin B12 and protein levels, and if these opponents are particularly savvy, low calcium, iodine and even iron levels.
Although these deficiencies would seem enough to ward most people away from a vegetarian diet, new research (compiled by Dr. Michael Greger on Nutritionfacts.org) suggests that omnivores are just as deficient in certain vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, fiber, folate, iodine, magnesium, and vitamins C and E. Overwhelming research also suggests that most Americans, vegetarians or not, are deficient in several vitamins and minerals. Even though vegetarians choose to refuse animal products that do have plenty of vitamins and minerals, the indictment of deficiency is a two-way street.
One easy way to avoid malnutrition is to take supplements. Vegans need to take B12 supplements because B12 is only created by microbes, which are generally killed off by chlorinated water (no more cholera, though!). Multivitamins are great supplements in general that people should take every day. The “I-don’t-like-pills” argument is either laziness or some vain attempt to eat “natural” — while munching on your antibiotic-filled burger. However, the best way to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiency is to eat fruits and vegetables, and lots of them. A good number of vegetarians are more health-conscious when it comes to eating fruits and veggies because they constitute the majority of a plant-based diet. That doesn’t mean that vegetarians are always healthier, but when you think more about your diet, you’re more likely to make smart choices.
One sad fact of the American educational system is that nutrition is rarely taught. Some people believe that doctors across the country have little to no nutrition curriculum in medical school. It’s certainly important to have professionals who are able to prescribe medicine, but many health problems in the U.S. are caused by poor diets. An adequate understanding of nutrition should be required for everyone, regardless of age or profession.
When we talk about vegetarians and plant-based eating, the ideal balanced diet for them is rife with fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains as well as supplements for things they can’t always get, like B12. Vitamin D is also recommended, particularly during the winter when you’re less likely to spend a fair amount of time outside. And of course, as long as you eat a varied diet while reaching your personal dietary and caloric needs, you will get enough protein.
So before you ask your vegetarian friends whether or not they are getting enough protein, B12, calcium, vitamin D, iodine and iron, make sure you know your own nutrition intake!
Benjamin Sylvester is the president of the Drexel Animal Welfare Group. He can be contacted at [email protected].
“Moo Over This” publishes biweekly.