Iron, Protein and Vitamin B12 are the most common deficiencies which can occur on a vegetarian diet. I’ve listed out each in turn below, including food sources and tips for increasing absorption in the body. But the key to a vegetarian diet for any age is to eat a lot of variety. Eat a wide range of produce that is in season and local if possible, so that it’s more likely to have the nutrients your body needs.
Note that the RDI (recommended daily intake) I have referenced is for a teenage girl aged 14-18 years .
One of the building blocks of body tissue. They also contain “essential amino acids” which, once absorbed by the body, are used to make new proteins including enzymes and hormones. Essential amino acids can’t be produced by our body, they are sourced for the body from the food we eat. Protein is also sometimes used as an energy source.
- Fish -22g protein per 85g piece of fish (yellowfin tuna is the best)
- John west tuna in tin (springwater) has 15.4g per 60g serve (half a tin)
- Cheese – non fat mozzarella is best at 9g protein per ounce/28g serve
- Cottage Cheese – 14 protein per half cup
- Milk – skim milk has approx 8g of protein per cup of milk.
- Eggs – 6g protein per egg (egg whites very protein rich)
- Pumpkin Seeds – 9g per 28g handful
- Greek yoghurt – 23g per cup
- Peanut butter – 8g per 2 teaspoon
Girls 14-18 yrs need 45 g per day (calculated at 0.87 g/kg).
- It’s best not to go crazy with dairy based protein shakes as a vegetarian as too much calcium in your diet will reduce the amount of iron that your body can absorb. Iron is one of the 3 nutrients that are often deficient in vegetarian diets, see below.
- Refer to my post on High Protein Snacks and Meals
Really important for the transport of oxygen in the blood. Also critical for a healthy immune system, energy, growth, mental alertness, learning, and brain development.
- Girls 14-18 yrs need 15 mg per day
- To increase iron absorption eat these foods below with foods rich in Vitamin C, such as orange, kiwi fruit etc. good idea to use these as a topping on iron fortified cereal for kids. another good idea is fresh orange juice with eggs or baked beans on wholegrain toast
- Our bodies are best at absorbing heme iron, but most food contains non heme iron. the problem is that heme iron is needed to help the absorption of non heme iron, so you really need both to avoid iron deficiency anemia
- The best sources for Heme iron excluding meat are
- 100g fresh tuna = 1.3mg heme iron
- Tin of canned tuna = 0.8mg heme iron
- (as a comparison, beef has 3.2mg per 100g)
- best sources of non heme iron excluding meat are:
- poached eggs – 2 poached eggs = 2mg non heme iron
- baked beans 1/2 cup = 0.7mg non heme iron
- wholegrain bread 2 slices = approx 2mg non heme iron
- 1 cup fortified mix grain cereal can contain 3mg non heme iron
- cooked english spinach 1/2 cup = 2.9mg non heme iron
- broccoli 1/2 cup cooked = 0.9mg non heme iron
- almonds 1/3 cup = 1.6mg non heme iron
- Don’t go taking an iron supplement with a glass of milk as calcium can prevent the absorption of iron. It’s also best to wait 30 minutes after a meal and then have yoghurt or milk for calcium needs or save these for a morning tea or afternoon tea snack on their own.
- Caffeine can also reduce iron absorption so for vegetarians consuming a lot of coffee or tea, you might want to reduce your intake. Also be sure to wait half an hour after a meal before drinking caffeine.
- Also refer to my post on Iron and Kids
B12 is the energy vitamin – it’s necessary for energy production, blood formation, DNA synthesis, and reproductive health. Insufficient levels can present through fatigue, weakness and Impaired brain function. Neurological conditions or cognitive development problems among adolescents are common in up to 70% of people with a real B12 deficiency.
- This is probably the most concerning of the vegetarian nutrient deficiencies, especially with kids, as it can cause these cognitive/ neurological/ and psychiatric disorders
- other than mood, focus and weakness, the other symptom is a sore tongue
- cooked salmon 50g = 1.4µg
- fortified cereals are your best bet – All bran and Special K have approx 24µg per serve !!
- low fat dairy = 1.2μg per cup
- swiss cheese = 0.9μg per 2 slices
- egg = 0.3μg per yolk
14-18 year old girls need 2.4 µg/day
- So in summary you are going to go for lots of fortified cereals, eggs, fish and dairy
- Sufficient Calcium intake is also necessary for good B12 absorption. Be careful not to consume too much as you will lower the amount of iron your body can absorb.
- There are studies claiming that eating cranberries or drinking cranberry juice may help increase the absorption of B12