- Introduction to vegetarian and vegan diets
- What types of vegetarian diets are there?
- What are the potential dangers from consuming the various kinds of vegetarian and vegan diets?
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D
- What are the benefits of the various kinds of vegetarian and vegan diets?
- How do I develop a vegetarian or vegan diet plan for myself?
- What are sources for vegetarian and vegan recipes?
- What is included in the vegetarian food pyramid?
- What is included in the vegan food pyramid?
- Where can I get more information on vegetarian and vegan diets during pregnancy?
- Where can I get more information on vegetarian and vegan diets?
Quick GuideVegetarian Diet: Becoming a Vegetarian
Iron is essential for health and transporting oxygen. A deficiency in iron causes fatigue and decreased immune function. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in animal foods, while nonheme iron is in plant foods.
The amount of iron that the body obtains and uses from the food is referred to as iron absorption. The iron absorption from heme iron ranges from 15%-35% while the absorption from nonheme iron is only 2%-20%. Evidence does not show any greater iron deficiency anemia in vegetarians than in omnivores, but body iron stores in vegetarians do tend to be lower so it's important to pay attention to your intake. There are ways to increase the absorption of nonheme iron and meet your recommendations:
- Consuming vitamin C (citrus fruits, juice, red peppers) at the same time that you consume foods with nonheme iron will increase iron absorption.
- Consuming meat protein at the same time that you consume nonheme iron foods increases iron absorption.
- Calcium, tannins, and phytates interfere with the absorption of iron. Tannins are found in tea and coffee. Phytates are found in whole grains and legumes. Take any supplements containing calcium and foods containing calcium, tannins, or phytates separately from the time you consume iron-rich foods or an iron supplement.
- When you need a supplement, you want one with ferrous iron salts (ferrous fumarate, ferrous sulfate, and ferrous gluconate). The amount of iron that you absorb decreases with increasing doses, so it's best to spread your supplements out over the day. Iron can be toxic at high levels, so do not supplement if you do not need to and consult with your physician before taking a supplement.
- Have your iron levels checked by your physician.
|Nutrient||Function||Non-Vegan Sources||Vegan Sources|
|Vitamin B12||Producing and maintaining new cells; helps make DNA; helps maintain the nervous system||
|Calcium||Strong bones; contract and expand blood vessels and muscles; send message to nervous system; secrete hormones and enzyme||
|Iron||Transport oxygen; regulation of cell growth and differentiation; integral part of many proteins and enzymes||Heme iron:
|Vitamin D||Decreased incidence and severity of cardiovascular disease; lowering of blood pressure in hypertension; prevention and treatment of depression; decreased risk of type 2 diabetes; prevention of osteoporosis and osteopenia; decreased inflammation; decreased dental cavities; reduced risk of allergies in children and adolescents; decreased mortality from various forms of cancer; decreased incidence of rickets; possible decrease in erectile dysfunction; and regulation of blood cholesterol||
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||Protect against atherosclerosis; reduce triglyceride levels; act as an anti-inflammatory; possibly help with depression and other personality disorders; and possibly thin the blood||Fatty fish:
Source EPA & DHA: