Don't Veg Out

Five nutrients often missing in the vegetarian diet and how to get them back

Published: Oct 2, 2009 09:10:00 AM IST
Updated: Oct 2, 2009 09:14:16 AM IST

Indians make up 70 percent of the world’s vegetarians, but can go through an entire meal without consuming a single vegetable. Such veggies as do make it to the table are smothered in oil or overcooked. Missing veggies and other healthful foods means the vegetarian diet often lacks essential nutrients.

So vegetarians can wind up obese, lacking in energy. Perhaps we can persuade you to at least look at five vital nutrients that are, typically, missing from the Indian vegetarian diet?
(Bonus: these tips will also help you shed a few kilos. Perfect for belt-tightening times!)

Zinc keeps your body in a steady state, preventing essential processes from see-sawing. Lack of zinc can stunt growth, weaken the immune system, and cause skin and brain problems. Pretty scary, actually.
Vegetarian Dilemma: Zinc is mostly found in meat and fish.
Solution: Eat baked beans, cashews, curd, and cereals.
Daily Fix: Women: 8 mg. Men: 11 mg.

Image: Malay Karmakar
Vitamin B12 helps maintain our cells and in making DNA. It plays a big part in maintaing our stamina and energy level.
Vegetarian Dilemma: This is the nutrient you are most definitely missing; it is not found in plant-based food. Ever.
: Unfortunately, the only way for vegetarians to get B12 is through a supplement — which you’ll find at most medical stores — or a B12 shot at a local hospital.
Daily Fix
: Women and Men: 2.5 mg.

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that binds excess sugar and fats. It reduces cholesterol, normalises blood sugar, and promotes bowel regularity. Fibre is found in a bunch of vegetarian foods, yet we still aren’t getting it in our diet.
Vegetarian Dilemma: Too much refined flour and overcooked vegetables.
Solution: Start eating salads with lots of leafy green vegetables, also, whole grains, whole pulses, organic barley, anything made with whole wheat. So if you must eat pasta, eat wheat pasta. Keep away from white bread.
Daily Fix: Women: 20+ g. Men: 30+ g.

Protein is a biggie. We desperately need the amino acids in protein to keep our muscles healthy. That’s why athletes are so crazy about protein (protein shakes, protein powder, etc.). You also need protein for healthy skin, nails, and hair. More protein equals more energy, and it prevents ageing. Protein deficiency leads to wear and tear of the muscles.
Vegetarian Dilemma: Protein is most easily found in meat.
Solution: Eat lots of pulses, beans, and milk products, such as curd, low fat paneer, and low fat cheese. Soya paneer is also a really great source. Nuts contain protein, but careful: Most nuts have a lot of oil. The best bets are almonds and walnuts.
Daily Fix: Women: 46 g. Men: 56 g.

Iron is an essential component of proteins that works overtime for oxygen transport and cell growth. Just like protein, iron is mostly found in meat. Low iron equals low hemoglobin (the carrier of oxygen in the blood) as well as lower energy levels. Lack of iron can also cause anemia, which will make you feel fatigued or weak, and decrease your immunity.
Vegetarian Dilemma:  Iron doesn’t absorb as well when you get it from veggies as from animal products.
Solution: Iron is best obtained through green leafy vegetables. (Seeing a trend with the green veggies?) Also try soya beans, bajra flour, and dried dates. It is important that iron is absorbed in your body, so dieticians suggest getting a good amount of Vitamin C as well, which enhances iron absorption.
Daily Fix: Women: 18 mg. Men: 8 mg.

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(This story appears in the 09 October, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • julieannz

    it is not hard to be vegetarian or vegan in any country. all it takes is eating lots of veggies, fruits, rice , and beans. every country has these. all it takes is not eating meat or dairy products.<br /> people make too big a deal over being vegetarian and make it sound so hard. all you do is eat normally but cut out all animal foods.<br /> <br /> SIMPLE, HEALTHY, AND COMPASSIONATE.

    on Oct 13, 2009