Vegetarian/Vegan Diets

Vegetarians are at a lower risk of nutrient deficiencies compared to vegans. The intake of many macronutrients is at risk for vegans.

So what is a vegetarian?

A vegetarian is a person who does not eat animals. There are a few different types of vegetarians.
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: doesn't eat animals but does eat eggs and dairy products
Lacto vegetarian: doesn't eat animals or eggs, but does consume dairy
Ovo vegetarian: doesn't eat animals or diary products, but does eat eggs
Pescetarian: eats fish and seafood

What is a vegan?

A vegan is a person who does not eat any animals or products that have come from animals, including honey, dairy and eggs. They also do not use animal products like Ugg Boots, leather bags etc.
Some people become a vegan due to ethical, environmental or health reasons.

Why would someone become vegan for a health reason?

Vegan diets have the highest diet quality score. This means that they are least likely to have diabetes, obesity or cardiovascular disease.

Why would someone become a vegan for environmental reasons?

Livestock actually give off more emissions than transport. The methane produced by livestock actually give off more emissions than CO2.
~800L of water required to make 1L of cows milk
~300L of water required to make 1L of soy milk

 

So, what are the nutrients at risk for a vegetarian/vegan? 

Vitamin B12

* Not produced by fungi, plants or animals: synthesised by bacteria. There are no known reliable plant based sources
* Prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency is higher in vegans than non-vegans
* Required by all cells. Stored in the liver and muscles
* Suboptimal vitamin B12 can cause high homocysteine levels which is a CVD risk
* Supplementation is required, either in form of a tablet/lozenge/ liquid or fortified food
* RDI for adults is 2.4 mg/day (prevents deficiency but is not necessarily adequate for optimum homocysteine levels

Iron
* stores are lower in vegans, but vegans are not more likely than non-vegans to be anaemic. It’s important to have non-haem iron sources
* Dietary sources are legumes, soy products, green vegetables, whole grains, breakfast cereals
* Vitamin C increases absorption
* Caffeine reduces absorption so do not have with meal

Protein
* Levels are lower for a vegan than a non-vegan, but still adequate
* Soy protein is close to human protein which is high quality
* All whole vegetable foods contain amino acids
* Lysine is most likely to be limiting amino acid
* High-lysine foods include: legumes (lentils, beans, chick peas, peanuts, soy products), seitan, amaranth, quinoa, pistachios and pumpkin seeds

Zinc
* Intake and serum levels are lower in vegans than non-vegans, but no evidence of greater prevalence of deficiency
* Sources: nuts, seeds (especially papitas), legumes, wholegrain, wheat germ

Vitamin D
* Best source is from sunlight, also found in irradiated mushrooms, vegan margarines like Nuttelex and some plant milks (but not all are suitable for vegans)
* Supplements are also available. Note that D3 is usually derived from lanolin, which is not vegan, but vegan suitable D3 is available; D2 Is generally vegan

Calcium:
* Many plant foods contain moderate amounts of calcium – kale and Asian greens
* Calcium-set tofu is another good source (look for numbers 509, 516)
* Many plant milks are calcium fortified. Check the label: 120mg/100ml is considered a good source of calcium
* To meet the RDI have calcium rich greens + calcium set tofu + fortified plant milk

Iodine:
* Australian soils are deficient in iodine
* Seaweeds/sea vegetables can be rich in iodine
* Kelp supplements are not recommended due to extremely high iodine content
* Iodised salt, bread (not organic) and seaweed can boost iodine intake
* Supplement’s like multivitamins can be taken

Selenium:
* Australian soils are also deficient in selenium
* Brazil nuts are the richest source – just 1 nut per day meets nutritional needs. More than 2 brazil nuts per day will exceed the limit
* Contained in most multivitamins
* Excess is harmful

Omega 3:

* There are three main omega-3s – EPA, DHA and ALA
* Flax/linseed and chia are the richest plant sources of ALA
* ALA converts to DHA and EPA
* Reduce omega 6 (most vegetable oils) – use olive oil or canola oil for enhanced conversion
* Use uncooked ALA in diet daily. For 1 gram: 6 English walnuts, ½ tsp flaxseed, 2 tsp ground flaxseed. Supplements algal-derived DHA especially in pregnancy. Lactation and toddlers

 

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, or are thinking of becoming one, please get in touch. We can help ensure your diet is balanced and that you are getting everything your body needs to function and thrive.