It’s been nearly two years since I became a vegetarian (I also avoid most dairy products, but not all, so I can’t quite call myself a vegan). When I first told family and friends that I was changing my lifestyle to avoid eating animals, instead of support and encouragement, I got a lot of concerned looks. But where will you get your protein? Why would you cut out such important food groups? That’s just crazy–we need meat in our diets to build muscle and give us energy. And on and on it went. Not that I wasn’t a tad concerned about some of those issues myself–would I really be denying my body important vitamins and minerals? I thought I was doing OK until a couple of months ago.
I began noticing that my energy was lacking. I wanted to take a nap most afternoons. I seemed to be going to bed earlier. And I was still feeling tired when I woke up in the morning. So I went to the doctor and had some bloodwork done. Turns out, my B12 and Iron were a bit low. Phew–at least if was something I could fix.
Luckily my doctor is pretty open-minded and didn’t try to talk me out of being a vegetarian/sometimes vegan. I did, however, start on a new multi-vitamin that had high amounts of both B12 and Iron. And you know what? I began to feel better within a few days. My energy levels returned and I no longer felt drawn to my bed mid-afternoon.
This also led me to do some research on which vitamins and minerals could be missing from a vegetarian diet if it isn’t carefully planned. Not to say that all vegans and veggies are destined to have deficiencies, but, nevertheless, I found it interesting to know which ones to be on the look-out for:
Protein — Protein is essential for tissue building and repair. Protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids. A complete protein has all the amino acids necessary to make up protein. Most individual plant foods are not complete proteins–they only have some of the amino acids. Soy is one of the only complete vegetable proteins. Consuming various sources of amino acids throughout the day should provide the complete complement of protein. Some good plant sources of protein include legumes such as beans, peas and lentils, nuts and seeds, soy products including soy beverages, tempeh and tofu and whole grains.
Iron – Vegetarian and vegan diets generally get enough Iron from plant foods, but it’s not absorbed as well as the Iron found in meat. But if you combine certain foods that are high in Iron (such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, enriched cereals and legumes) with foods high in vitamin C (such as fruits and vegetables), this will help your body absorb the Iron.
Vitamin B12 — This is important for the production of red blood cells and carrying oxygen to our cells. It also helps to maintain healthy nerves and a healthy brain. Because B12 is not found in plant products, many vegans can be concerned if they are deficient here. Anaemia is a common result of B12 deficiency, as is low energy and a lowered immune system. Vitamin B12 can be found in dairy products and eggs, and some soy beverages and some vegetarian sausages and burgers. Some vegans and vegetarians choose to take a supplement.
Vitamin D — There is very little vitamin D in most people’s diets unless they eat fatty fish, eggs, liver or foods fortified with vitamin D. Vegans can increase their chances of avoiding vitamin D deficiency by consuming fortified soymilk and cereals–and the sun.
If you are thinking of going vegan or vegetarian, just do what I did and be aware of your body and talk with your doctor about any concerns.