3 Vitamins This Vegetarian Pays Attention To
How do you get your protein? This is, by and far, the biggest question I get when I tell people I am a vegetarian. It’s an understandable question. After all, animal meat is a major source of protein for a lot of people, so it’s possible that they don’t know that plants, too, are a great source of it. That said, there are a few nutrients that I do have to be more vigilant about paying attention to because they are not as easy to get from plants as they are from animals. This doesn’t mean they are impossible, just that, for me, they are a little harder to come by. I don’t claim to speak for everyone, but as a fairly new plant-based eater, I’m still figuring out exactly how to mix up my meals and get the nutrients I need. If I’m being totally honest, I eat more brussel sprouts and popcorn than I care to admit, which can’t be too great for my health when you factor in the melted butter.
So while I’m not yet deficient in vitamin B12, I am vitamin D deficient (and was even before I gave up meat) and have only recently begun paying attention to the other nutrients that I may or may not be missing out on. Either way, I have found myself paying more attention to the following three vitamins. If you are a vegetarian and can offer some advice on how to mix up my diet and get the proper nutrients, please let me know because I’d love to hear your advice! Please keep in mind that the following information is what I have read and learned and, because I am not a doctor, you should not consider any of it medical advice. Lastly, if you’re thinking of making any changes, consult with a real doctor to learn what’s best for you!
According to Drs. Romy Block and Arielle Levitan,, authors of The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health, “B12 is needed for proper functioning of the nervous system, and if you lack this vital component, your nerves are essentially sluggish and you may experience neurological issues, such as memory loss, numbness and tingling and fatigue.” This all sounds horrible, so I have started to pay attention to this particular nutrient.
Unfortunately for non-meat eaters like myself, B12 is difficult to get with an all-plant diet. I had heard this, anecdotally, but even the U.S. National Library of Medicine posits that, “The best way to meet your body's vitamin B12 needs is to eat a wide variety of animal products.” They go on to discuss the various products that are fortified with B12, but the inference is clear: Not eating meat means we vegetarians (and vegans) must be more vigilant about our B12 intake.
As someone who has suffered from low iron on and off for the last several years, it is very important for me to keep an eye on my intake. Not only does low iron leave me tired, it’s important for transporting oxygen in the blood. Then again, according to Drs. Block and Levitan, too much iron can cause unpleasant side effects, such as an upset stomach or constipation. Luckily, this mineral is found in a lot of veggies, including beans and spinach, so it’s easy to get my daily dose without going overboard, although everyone is different.
Most people have heard of vitamin D because a lack of it can be associated with some major health functions, such as absorbing calcium, which is good for bone health, and a host of other issues. The most common source is sunlight but as we increase our screen time, we decrease our intake (for example, I am sitting in a darkened room as I write this post, despite it being sunny outside). Luckily, vitamin D is available as a dietary supplement. According to Drs. Block and Levitan, “There are few foods that have therapeutic levels of vitamin D naturally (liver and wild caught salmon are the best dietary sources). Because vitamin D can be difficult to obtain, work with your doctor to determine your vitamin D level and supplement to address any deficiency.” In other words, keep an eye on your vitamin D levels but understand that you may not need the same dosage as the next person and you are at risk of deficiency whether or not you’re a meat-eater.
If you’re a fellow vegetarian or vegan and would like to share the vitamins you are most concerned about or how you have mixed up your diet to ensure well-balanced nutrition, please feel free to share. As a newer vegetarian I am open to your advice! In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about vitamins from the doctors mentioned above, please check out The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion About Vitamins and Your Health.