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Vegetarian diets are gaining popularity. For several religious, health, and ideological reasons, people are turning towards vegetarianism. A vegetarian diet includes plant products, seeds, nuts, and excludes animals and all forms of products obtained from animals. Since, vegetarians do not include animal meat and dairy items in their diet, they sometimes miss out on essential vitamins, like vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which are chiefly found in meat and dairy products. Due to this, vegetarians are at a high risk of having vitamin deficiency and therefore, may need to take vitamin supplements. Vegetarian diets are usually low in fats and cholesterol, and are considered healthy. Dietitians of Canada and American Dietetic Association, both have certified that, well-planned vegetarian diets are also healthy and nutritious.

Vitamin Supplements and their Sources

Vitamins are essential nutrients for a healthy and long life. They offer numerous benefits and just a small amount of these nutrients is enough to perform various roles. They can be classified as fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins.

Fat-soluble Vitamins
They are not excreted by the body every day, but are stored in the liver for future use. They are not destroyed while cooking. Here is a list of fat-soluble vitamins and their food sources.

Vitamin A: It's also called 'retinol' or 'anti-aging vitamin'. It helps in maintaining a healthy skin, as it prevents acne and wrinkles. It is an antioxidant, which plays a vital role in cell reproduction, ensures hair growth, and improves eyesight. It promotes proper growth and development of bones and teeth, and strengthens the immune system.

Food Sources: Food sources rich in vitamin A are, milk and dairy products such as, cheese and butter. Green leafy vegetables like, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, collards, etc., and yellow and orange vegetables and fruits, such as pumpkins, carrots, oranges, peaches, papaya, and mango are also good sources of this vitamin.

Vitamin D: It increases the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body and promotes strengthening of the bones and the teeth.

Food Sources: The major source of vitamin D is sunlight. The human body manufactures this vitamin, when exposed to sunlight. It is also found in milk, fortified dairy products, and margarine.

Vitamin E: It is an antioxidant, which protects the cell membrane against oxidizing elements, that may cause damage. It also promotes normal growth and development, and helps in the formation of red blood cells.

Food Sources: Some of the best supplements of vitamin E are seeds (sunflower, mustard, and flax), vegetable oils, and nuts. It is also found in margarine, butter, wheat germ, whole grain products, and leafy vegetables such as spinach and cabbage.

Vitamin K: It plays an essential role in the synthesis of proteins, blood clotting and bone strengthening. It is also used by the liver to synthesize prothrombin.

Food Sources: Vitamin K is found in vegetable oils such as cottonseed oil, canola oil, olive oil and soybean oil. Green vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and green turnip are rich in vitamin K.

Water-soluble Vitamins
These vitamins are not stored in the body and are replaced every day. They are easily lost during cooking.

Vitamin B: This vitamin is made up of a group of eight water-soluble vitamins. The B-complex vitamins help the body to obtain energy and support cell metabolism. They also promote cell growth and division, and red blood cell formation. They strengthen the immune system and help in the functioning of the nervous system. They are is essential for healthy skin, good vision, and for maintaining a normal appetite.

Vitamin Alternate NameFood Sources
B1ThiaminWhole grains, enriched grain products, peas, legumes
B2RiboflavinMilk, green vegetables, enriched grain products, whole grain products
B3NiacinGreen leafy vegetables, broccoli, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, dates, asparagus, nuts, legumes, whole grain products, and mushrooms
B5Pantothenic acidBroccoli, avocados, rice, molasses, and yeast products
B7 Biotin or Vitamin HLegumes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, raspberries, strawberries, oats, walnuts, almonds, soybean, and milk
B9Folate or FolacinSpinach, asparagus, lettuce, turnip green, beans, peas, fortified cereal products, and sunflower seeds
B12CobalaminMilk and dairy products, fortified food products such as, soy-milk, meat analogs (substitutes for meat), etc.

Vitamin C: It is also known as 'ascorbic acid'. It is essential for the maintenance of ligaments, blood vessels, bones, teeth and gums. Also, it ensures normal immune response to infection.

Food Sources: It is mainly found in citrus fruits like, orange, sweet lime, raspberry, pineapple, mango, peach, avocado, grapefruit, cantaloupe, watermelon, and kiwi. Vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, asparagus, tomato, and garlic are also rich in ascorbic acid.

Recommended Daily Requirements
For vegetarians, a balanced diet, which includes a variety of foods and much-needed calories, is extremely important. Here are some points to keep in mind, in order to plan a balanced diet:
  • Milk and dairy products have to be a part of your diet.
  • Include fruits, vegetables, and foods rich in vitamin A and C.
  • Include whole grain products and fortified cereals in your diet.
  • Avoid high calorie foods like sweets, as they are low in nutrients.
Vitamins have an important role in regulating normal body function. While their deficiency may lead to several diseases, it's also important to remember that an overdose of these nutrients may have side effects. Thus, include a balanced quantity of supplements in your diet. The requirement of these supplements may vary depending upon the age of a person. Recommended daily intake of these vital nutrients, for men and women, is listed in the following table.

VitaminMenWomen
A0.7 mg0.6 mg
B11.0 mg0.8 mg
B21.3 mg1.1 mg
B319 mg15 mg
B55 mg5 mg
B61.4 mg1.2 mg
B70.03 mg0.1 mg
B9 0.2 mg0.2 mg
B120.002 mg 0.002 mg
C40 mg40 mg
D0.01 mg0.01 mg
E10 mg8 mg
K0.8 mg0.06 mg

Apart from these supplements in food products, there are supplement pills, that are also available in the market. People often end up taking vitamin pills unnecessarily, as they believe that it is good for their health. But, taking such pills is not advocated. Even though doctors might recommend these supplements, in the form of pills, as a part of the food that you eat, a well-planned vegetarian diet will provide all the essential vitamin supplements. Therefore, one should always eat a balanced diet!