Vegetarian Health: Do You Need To Supplement A Vegetarian Diet?

It's a common misconception that you can't fulfill your dietary needs in a vegetarian diet. Learn the truth on whether supplementation is necessary.

The vegetarian diet is one that comes with numerous stereotypes. Non-vegetarians tend to think that vegetarians survive on a diet of salad and breadsticks, and one of the things that you'll hear frequently is that it's difficult to get all your nutrients in a vegetarian diet. But how true is this? Do vegetarians absolutely need extra supplements to make up for nutritional deficiency?

The answer is no - at least, not normally. Unless you're actually eating a diet of only vegetables and crackers, the chances are your diet is just fine. In this day and age of the vast number of options in the grocery store, few vegetarians truly follow such a sparse diet. There are a few necessary nutrients that you can't get from vegetables, such as vitamin B12. However, this is primarily a concern for those following the vegan diet. If you don't exclude dairy products from your diet, chances are your intake of vitamin B12 is just fine.

Another area that some vegetarians may be deficient in is iron, which non-vegetarians usually get from meat. Vegetables that are high in iron content include eggs, whole grain cereals, and leafy green vegetables. Eating one of these foods along with something high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruit, will increase your iron absorption - preventing the need for excessive worry over supplementation.

As an additional consideration, remember that most vegetarians eat numerous processed soy-based foods, such as soymilk. Nowadays, these foods tend to be fortified with extra calcium and vitamins that would normally be in the animal-based equivalent of the food. The cumulative effect is that if you're the typical vegetarian, you're probably getting plenty of nutrition from your regular diet and you don't need to worry about supplementing.

If you follow a vegan diet, you may have more cause for concern - especially if you're still in your teens. If you eat processed meat substitutes or soy products, you're probably safe with the fortification of these products, but it might be a good idea to talk to your doctor about having a blood test to make sure your vitamin levels are okay. Beware of your calcium intake as well, since inadequate calcium can put you at risk for osteoporosis or other bone problems. Again, fortified soymilk will give you adequate calcium intake, and green leafy vegetables are also a good idea.

It is indeed possible to eat a balanced vegetarian diet without needing supplements. However, with that being said, it's not a bad idea for everyone - vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike - to consider taking a daily multivitamin supplement just to be on the safe side. It may not be essential, but unless you eat a truly varied and balanced diet with your daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and the other food groups, a multivitamin isn't a bad way to get an extra insurance that you're getting everything you need. Be sure to read the label and get one that offers up to 100% of the recommended daily allowances without megadosing with multiple times the recommended amount.

© High Speed Ventures 2011