A vegetarian diet can be a healthy and balanced choice. However, in some cases nutrients that are mainly found in meat, eggs and dairy products may not be adequately consumed through food alone. These include vitamins such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D that are primarily found in meat and dairy products. Other vitamins such as vitamin B2, B6 and vitamin C are also beneficial for vegetarians.
Vitamin B Complex
The B vitamins play crucial roles in almost all important body systems and processes. Vitamins B2, B6 and B12 are mainly found in eggs, meat and dairy products. Vitamin B12 is essential in maintaining healthy nerves, red blood cells (erythrocytes) and metabolism to produce energy in the body. It is required for DNA synthesis and functions as a co-factor in reactions that make vital body proteins and hormones. Vitamin B12 is also important for normal growth in children and in fetal development.
Vitamin B6 is important in brain function and energy metabolism and vitamin B2 is a significant nutrient for bone and joint health. As all the B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins, the body cannot store supplies of this nutrient and requires it from food sources on a daily basis. Other sources of the B vitamins include fortified soy milk and soy products such as miso and tofu, fortified bread, cereals and grains, and brewer’s yeast. Meat and animal products are the best sources of vitamin B12 and other B vitamins and some individuals on a vegetarian or vegan (no animal products at all) diet may benefit from supplements.
This vitamin is essential to the body’s ability to absorb calcium for bone and cell health. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means that it can be stored by the body, but it is still needed in the right amounts from the diet. It is also more commonly found in animal products such as milk, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish, and vegetarians may require a supplement. According to a 1999 medical study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency than non-vegetarians. Vitamin D is also found in lesser quantities in fortified cereals, soy milk and soy products. Another source of vitamin D is sunlight on exposed skin, which is difficult to obtain by populations living in colder areas of the northern hemisphere.
Vitamin C is also a water-soluble vitamin that is an important antioxidant in the body. It functions to repair and heal the body and strengthen the immune system. Vitamin C is also critical for the body to absorb the mineral iron from foods. As iron from meat, poultry, fish and animal products is absorbed up to three times faster than iron from plant sources, it is important for vegetarians to get enough vitamin C in their diet. This will help ensure that the body properly absorbs the iron.
About this Author
Noreen Kassem is a physician in training and a medical writer with 10 years of experience in writing and editing. Noreen’s articles have been featured in Women’s Health, Nutrition News, Check Up and Alive Magazine. She also writes about her other interests: travel, books, fitness, nutrition, cooking and green living.