When transitioning from a meat-filled diet to plant-based diet, you may inadvertently exclude nutrients that are commonly found in animal protein. Often, you may not even know that you are low in nutrients only found in animal food sources. For this reason, discussing your nutritional intake and setting clear expectations with your dietitian will help ensure that you’re getting enough of all vitamins and minerals. You may also consider monitoring lab levels with your primary doctor to see if taking supplements can improve your health.
If you have recently switched to a vegetarian diet, this article will help you navigate the supplements to consider adding into your diet. We also provide examples of specific foods to increase in your vegetarian diet to better meet your nutritional needs
This water-soluble vitamin is responsible for red blood cell formation along with DNA synthesis. It is also important because it helps your nervous system function. Vitamin B12 is most abundant in animal-derived food sources.
Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include fatigue, weakness, tingling of hands and feet among others. Vitamin B12 is naturally made in your intestines, so a deficiency will likely take a long time to develop; however, you can have your b-complex lab levels monitored by a doctor. To maintain adequate vitamin B-12 through your diet, include:
- Fortified foods (including juices and cereals)
- Soy milk
- Nutritional yeast
- B12 supplement (per discussion with your dietitian or doctor).
Vitamin D and Calcium
Vitamin D and Calcium are two peas in a pod – they help digest each other and are helpful during the absorption process. Vitamin D and Calcium are important for bone health, especially for keeping bones strong as you age. Although plant foods contain a smaller calcium level compared to dairy, the bioavailability is higher, meaning that more calcium is absorbed by your body.
To support Vitamin D / Calcium, focus on eating leafy greens such as:
- Brussels Sprouts, collard greens, Mustard greens
- Soy food such as tofu or tempeh
Iron is important for both brain and immune function. Although animal iron sources are prevalent, there are many non-animal iron sources that you can include in your diet. Vegetarian iron sources include:
- Enriched grains
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
Don’t forget – eating foods with Vitamin C help support iron absorption:
- Citrus fruits
- Leafy greens
- Bell peppers
If you still have questions about how to adjust your meals to ensure you’re meeting your needs, check out our main page for vegetarian and vegan diets.