But it should be noted that there are several category of vegetarians whose eating habits cover a wide spectrum.
The lacto-ovo vegetarians avoid animal flesh but eat eggs and milk products. On the other hand, the vegans avoid eating and even wearing all animal based products.
The vegans mainly eat raw fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, etc. The lacto-vegetarians eat only dairy products but not egg.
The Pescatarians eat mainly fish and seafood while Fruitarians only consume diets that include fruits, seeds, and plant food. The flexitarians eat meat and fish occasionally.
Research however has shown that vegan or vegetarian diet is very important for a very good healthy living. This diet boosts individual health condition and maximizes longevity.
Plant protein or plant focused diets are low in saturated fat, rich in fiber, and phytochemicals that help to prevent diseases.
According to research statistics, Vegetarians are 40% less likely to develop cancer, high blood pressure, heart diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc because of the excess intake of the plant protein.
Nevertheless, there are natural deficiencies that are common with vegetarian diets. These deficiencies include Vitamin B12, Omega-3 fatty acid, Zinc, Iron, Carnosine, Cholecalciferol, etc.
Vitamin B12 is also known as cobalamin. It is a water soluble nutrient that is involved in the development of red blood cells, maintenance of nerves, and also responsible for normal brain function.
You can find this nutrient primarily in animal products like eggs, meat, insects, etc. This is why Vegetarian or Vegans are at the risk of vitamin B12 deficiency.
The lack of this nutrient puts individual vegetarian at the risk of having anemia and blindness. It can also result to muscle weakness, tingling and numbness.
For pregnant women or lactating mothers, this nutrient deficiency impaired the neurological growth in infants nursed by these vegetarian mothers. Thus, without supplements, vegetarians are at the risk of having vitamin B12 deficiency. But some few plant foods contain small amount of bioactive vitamin B12 like Nori seaweed which is the most available and suitable source of vitamin B12 for the vegetarian.
Another plant food that contain small amount of vitamin B12 is spirulina. Spirulina is not a good source of vitamin B12 for the vegetarian because it contains a pseudovitamin B12 which is not biologically available.
Moreover, Vegetarians are deficient of vitamin D. Vitamin D is also known as sunshine vitamin. It does not have to come from diet.
The body skin of an individual can produce this vitamin when expose to sunlight. There are two types of Vitamin D in diets which are Vitamin D2 and Vitamin D3.
Vitamin D2 is also called ergocalciferol and it is found in plants. You can find Vitamin D3 in animal foods and it is also known as cholecalciferol. This vitamin is made up of essential nutrient with very important functions.
The lack of this vitamin may result to cancer, heart disease, depression, osteoporosis, impaired brain function, multiple sclerosis, etc in individual vegetarian.
It is very important to know that the vitamin D in animal foods (cholecalciferol) is more effective than that of ergocalciferol vitamins. You can find Cholecalciferol in foods like egg yolks, fatty fish, milk, cod liver oil, etc.
The muscles and brain contains carnosine. This vitamin is responsible for muscle development and effective functioning of brain tissues and cells.
Animal foods are a good source of Carnosine. This is why you will find more of Carnosine in the body of the meat eaters than in vegetarians.
Vegetarians can use Beta-alanine supplements to increase the level of carnosine in their body for muscle development and effective functioning of brain cells and tissues.
In the same vein, vegetarian diets are also deficient of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acid is very important for good heart condition.
You can also refer to Omega-3 fatty acid as Docosahexaenoic Acid. A deficiency in this vitamin has adverse effects on mental health and brain especially in children.
If the intake of this vitamin is very low by pregnant women, it affects the brain development in the child. You can find Carnosine in fatty fish and fish oil, egg, etc.
Zinc is an important nutrient. Found in some plant protein like beans, whole grains, legumes, soy milk, mushrooms, lentils, black-eyed peas, etc, zinc aid the immune system to function effectively but it becomes a deficiency as the phytic acid found in these plants hinder Zinc absorption.
It is very important to note that soaking these plants protein before cooking help to reduce the phytic acid and aid absorption.
The lack of iron in the vegetarian diets endangers individual vegetarian. You will not get ‘good” iron from leafy green vegetables, whole grains, lentils, peas, dried fruits etc. Iron found in these plants is not effective and easily absorbed.
The only way around this is to add food rich in vitamins C to aid iron absorption. And iron is necessary for growth, development and the normal functioning of body cells and tissues.
Iron thus can be grouped into two categories which are the heme iron and the non-heme iron.
The heme iron can only be found in animal protein and it is easily absorb by the body system than the non-heme iron. The plant based foods only contain non-heme iron.
Research statistics had revealed that men from 19-50 require 8 mg of iron daily and women 18 mg of iron per day. As an adults, you need over 51 require 8 mg daily and a deficiency of it leads could lead to anemia.
The Vegetarian Resource Group therefore recommends that vegetarian should include a lot of green leafy vegetables to prevent iron deficiencies and also include food high in vitamin C to increase iron absorption.
It is therefore necessary to know that an increased risk of developing vitamin deficiencies occur for the Vegans or Vegetarian when they eliminate animal products from their diets.