The vegetarian and vegan lifestyle is increasingly popular among all generations, whether for health or ethical reasons. If you are one of the estimated 7.2 million adults in the UK following a meat-free diet or who eat no animal products at all, no doubt you have put a lot of effort into researching and planning healthy meals.
While plant-based foods are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, it’s important to ensure that you are getting enough nutrients to meet all of your body’s needs. The best starting point is to plan a diet that is low in saturated fats and includes plenty of whole grains, pulses and beans, and fruit and vegetables.
However, there are some essential nutrients that it may be harder to eat enough of if you are vegan or vegetarian, and some people may benefit from taking a supplement. Here are some of the most vital vitamins and nutrients to keep an eye on.
- Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is essential to maintain healthy red blood cells, to support the nervous system and to help release energy. The non-vegan or vegetarian person will usually get all the vitamin B12 they need from eating meat, eggs, and dairy produce. Some breakfast cereals are also fortified with vitamin B12.
Signs of a vitamin B12 deficiency include excessive tiredness, mouth ulcers, muscle weakness, and anxiety and depression, according to the NHS. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s advisable to consult your doctor in case they are a sign of a serious underlying health condition.
If you do follow a restricted diet, the doctor may recommend taking a supplement. These can be found in tablet or liquid form, and can also be taken as a food supplement. For example, they can be added to yeast flakes which have a nutty, cheesy flavour and can be added to soups, stews, and salads.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to support the optimal functioning of the whole body. It helps to maintain normal blood pressure, and plays a role in brain function and healthy eyesight. However, the body cannot make omega-3 from scratch, and so we have to be careful to ensure that we get enough through our diet.
The richest source of fatty acids in a regular diet is through oily fish, particularly salmon, mackerel, and sardines. However, it is also present in many nuts and seeds, as well as some soy-based products. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you could try adding a handful of flaxseed, walnuts, or chia seeds to your meals.
Iron is important to maintain healthy blood cells and ensure that the body can carry oxygen around the body efficiently. One of the main sources of iron is through red meat, but it is also present in beans, nuts, and dried fruit.
It can be taken as a supplement in tablet or liquid form, and is also found in complementary and alternative medicines such as organic seaweed powder.