What Nutrients Are Most Likely to be Deficient in a Vegetarian Diet?

If you look at all types of vegetarian diets as a group, and all research studies of these diets, vitamin B12 is the nutrient most likely to be deficient in this type of eating plan. Adequate B12 intake can be and is a genuine concern if a relatively strict vegetarian diet is sub-optimal in quality. In the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from 2003-2010, 55% of participants who described themselves as vegetarian had adequate B12 intake, in comparison with 82% of individuals who described themselves as non-vegetarians.

We would also be quick to add here, however, that B12 is a nutrient needed in very small amounts. Our daily recommended intake level at WHFoods is only 2.4 micrograms per day. Since 3.2 ounces of sardines can provide you with 8.11 micrograms of B12, we are talking about two servings of sardines per week as a way of covering over 95% of your B12 needs. Our B12 nutrient profile will give you more ideas for covering your B12 needs if you are following a vegetarian-type meal plan. We've seen numerous studies of lacto-ovo and pesco-vegetarians that show adequate B12 intake. For more information on B12 and vegetarian diets, see our Q & A, "Is vitamin B12 really a problem in a vegetarian diet?"

After vitamin B12, the group of nutrients most likely to be deficient in a vegetarian meal plan are protein, vitamins B3 and B6, zinc, and selenium. For some practical suggestions here, let's take each of these nutrients in order.

From our perspective at WHFoods, all of the nutrient deficiency risks associated with vegetarian diets in research studies (with the possible exception of vitamin B12) can be successfully avoided in all types of vegetarian diets provided that those diets are balanced and of high-quality.

More Information on Vegetarian Diets

For more information on the subject of vegetarian diets, please see our overview article "A Practical Look at Vegetarian Diets" as well as the following Q+As.

References

To see the research articles we reviewed in the writing of these articles, see here.

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