June 17, 2021

5 nutrients of concern for vegetarian women: a desi edition

Globally, we are seeing a shift where more people are opting for a flexitarian diet such as Meatless Mondays. More emphasis is also being placed on replacing meat with plant alternatives for environmental and compassionate reasons. Although this practice is commendable, those who are vegetarian, especially women can end up deficient in some nutrients. In this article, I will share the 5 nutrients that vegetarian women should pay close attention to and where you can find them in everyday desi foods.

1) Iron

The most important nutrient that affects vegetarians and women is iron. Iron is responsible for aiding in transporting oxygen through blood throughout the body. More women of reproductive age are iron deficient due to blood loss during the menstrual cycle hence require a minimum of 8mg per day. Iron deficiency can cause fatigue. To avoid this, including iron rich sources such as legumes and leafy green vegetables in the diet can be helpful.

Did you know? – Plant sources of iron are harder to absorb compared to animal sources. Consumption of vitamin C rich foods (vegetables) alongside them can cause a greater increase in their absorption.

If you have iron deficiency related disorders, please consult a dietitian and consider supplementation as food sources may be insufficient.

2) Protein

Plants are often the overlooked source when it comes to protein because protein usually conjures up images of large portions of meat. However, plants do have protein and can provide the necessary amount for healthy, moderately active women. Protein serves as the building blocks of our body and is necessary for many chemical messengers such as hormones and enzymes. Good sources of plant protein are soy products such as tofu, as well as legumes.

Did you know? – Consuming complementary proteins (contain different combination of amino acids) such as soy and legumes in the same meal can provide the body with proteins that are nutritionally complete.

3) Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12, also known as cobalamin, is necessary for DNA synthesis which is the essence of our genetic material. Mostly found in meat, vegetarians can obtain this nutrient from animal products like milk and milk products such as ricotta and paneer. If you are a vegan, supplementation or fortified food products should be considered after discussing with your dietitian. This is an important one as there aren’t many vegetarian sources available!

Did you know? – Adults usually get more percentage of their cobalamin intake from milk (50%) compared to red meats (25%)!

4) Calcium

Known to be the reason behind strong bones and teeth, calcium can be found in milk products such as milk, cheese and paneer in desi families.  There is strong scientific evidence that links calcium deficiency with an increased risk of osteoporosis development especially in postmenopausal women.

Did you know? – Calcium absorption peaks in adolescence and stops between the ages of 25 to 35. After that, our bones begin losing calcium hence calcium-rich foods are necessary to ensure our bones stay strong.

5) Fibre

The most readily available nutrient found in plants, fibre! Fibre is crucial for gut health and keeps your gut microbes happy and healthy which decreases constipation issues. Plants have large amounts of fibre which makes this nutrient an easy pass for vegetarians and people primarily on a plant-based diet. All vegetables, fruits and legumes are excellent examples of fibre foods.

Did you know? – Less than 2% of Australians nationwide are meeting the recommended serving of vegetables!

The bottom line: While nutrients are harder to obtain from vegetarian diets, it is possible for a vegetarian diet to meet nutritional needs during all stages of life. Make sure to see a health professional for advice on supplementation and meeting your individual nutrition needs.

Are you a vegetarian South Asian woman and wanting tailored support? I see women who choose to follow a vegetarian/ vegan diet for personal or religious reasons. A balanced vegetarian/ vegan diet requires careful planning but it can certainly be done! Click here to book yourself in for a complimentary discovery call.