Vegetarian Diet Health Concerns - are there nutritional deficiencies?

by Webmaster,

They are many people who have some serious vegetarian diet health concerns, thinking that it lacks certain essential nutrients. They have the idea that vegetarian diets are nutritionally incomplete and that we 'need' meat and other animal food products, such as milk.

I got my fair share of friendly advice, to put it politely, or lambasting, to put it much less politely, when I embarked on vegetarian eating.

The truth is, these people are greatly mistaken. Vegetarian diets are nutritionally adequate and, not only so, there are in fact many, many vegetarian diet health benefits.

So, where do the supposed vegetarian diet health dangers lie? I'll go through them one by one.


First up is protein. Perhaps the most widely claimed vegetarian diet health flaw is that it fails to provide the needed 'complete' proteins, such as animal protein. This is inaccurate. In fact, there is an abundance of protein in the plant kingdom. It is virtually impossible to develop a protein deficiency if one's caloric needs are met.

Click here to read more about the issue of protein in vegetarian diets.


Another worry and widely 'acclaimed' vegetarian diet health loophole is the lack of calcium, especially when we have been loaded by propaganda that we need to meet our calcium needs via supplements and dairy products.

Calcium is needed not just to build strong bones and teeth, it is required for several critical metabolic functions in the body. Our bones are about 85% made of calcium.

Again, this claim is inaccurate.

In my opinion, this vegetarian diet health concern can easily be dispelled. Think about it - does this supposed vegetarian diet health loophole actually make sense? Do we see vegetarians with crumbling bones and teeth falling out?

The U.S. is one of the, if the the, highest consumers of dairy products in the world. Yet, osteoporosis rates there are sky high. On the other hand, osteoporosis is almost non-existent in countries where they don't really drink milk. Does it make any sense at all that we are told that dairy products prevent and help to treat calcium-deficient conditions?

Calcium which is consumed and digested enters the bloodstream and excess amounts of it are deposited in the bones, which serves as a storage pool for calcium. When we consume too much protein, the body has to remove calcium in order to metabolize it. This reduces the calcium store in our bones, thus weakening them.

Therefore, milk is a poor source of calcium because it is very high in protein.

It is painfully obvious that bone problems are NOT caused by lack of calcium consumption; instead, weak bones are caused by consuming the wrong kinds of calcium sources, as well as taking too much protein.

Taking more dairy products and animal foods thus worsens the problem, because they are very high in protein.

Studies have shown that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium in their bodies, as compared to meat-eaters. They also show that vegetarians have stronger bones - The Medical Tribune and The Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that, at the age of 65, vegetarians have half the bone loss and deterioration as compared to meat-eaters; osteoporosis rates are also higher among meat-eaters.

One solution to our bone problems is thus to consume less protein.

An added advantage of plant sources of calcium is that, compared to calcium found in dairy products and supplements, they are in a form which is more readily assimilated by the human body. Better still, it is not mucous-forming, nor does it cause lactose intolerance.

Many vegetarian food sources - like fruits, grains and vegetables - contain calcium. In particular, green leafy vegetables are very high in calcium. Some plant foods which are good sources of calcium include broccoli, collard greens, kale, kelp, mustard greens, spinach, sunflower seeds, turnip greens, and some legume and soybean products.

Carrot juice, ounce for ounce, has practically the same calcium concentration as milk, but is much lower in protein. Oranges, and thus orange juice, are high in calcium too.

Thus, if you are worried about your bones and your calcium needs, then a more plant-based diet, or going fully vegetarian altogether, is actually the way to go!


Yet another misconceived vegetarian diet health flaw is the lack of iron in plant foods. Again, the argument behind this claimed vegetarian diet health flaw cannot hold water - there are in fact many good sources of iron among plant foods.

Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli, as well as some dark colored fruit juices such as prune juice, are good sources of iron. Pumpkin and sesame seeds also provide iron.

Vitamin C helps in the proper absorption of iron, so consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, is important.

The following foods have good levels of iron:

  • Apricots
  • Barley
  • Black beans
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Cashews
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Raisins
  • Seeds
  • Soybeans
  • Spinach
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tempeh
  • Tomatoes and tomato juice

    For ovo-vegetarians or lacto-ovo-vegetarians, eggs are also a good source of iron.

    What is true is that, while the iron content in vegetarian diets is usually similar to non-vegetarian diets, iron from vegetarian sources does have lower bioavailability - the best sources of highly absorbable iron are usually animal-based foods such as red meat and eggs.

    Vegetarians thus generally have lower levels of iron in their bodies than meat-eaters, and are more likely to suffer from iron deficiency. So, to some extent, there is a valid vegetarian health concern here.

    However, we should also realize that iron deficiency anemia in vegetarians is said to be rare. In my opinion, as long as a vegetarian consumes a varied and balanced diet, including decent amounts of the abovementioned foods, he or she should be fine, and there is no need to be unduely worried about this particular slight vegetarian diet health concern.

    Vitamin B12

    There is also a vegetarian diet health concern relating to vitamin B12.

    Vitamin B12 is produced by bacteria in soil as well as in animals. It is found in dairy products and eggs, so vegetarians who consume these foods would have a good source of vitamin B12.

    It is worthwhile to note that the human body preserves vitamin B12 and reuses it without destroying the vitamin. In fact, the body is said to be able to preserve stores of vitamin B12 for up to 30 years without the need for any replenishment! In general, vitamin B12 deficiency is rather rare.

    Thus, with these facts in mind, I don't see the supposed lack of vitamin B12 in vegetarian diets as a problem at all.

    Some people say that a vegetarian diet lacks vitamin B12 and add that it is thus necessary to consume supplements or foods fortified with vitamin B12.

    However, there are some studies which imply that vitamin B12 consumed via supplements may in fact interfere with the body's absorption of natural vitamin B12.

    Personally, I usually already do not favor single-substance supplements (for example, zinc or potassium supplements), and much prefer whole food supplements (LINK), for example barley grass powder (LINK) or wheat grass powder (LINK). With this further piece of information, all the more I do not see the wisdom of vitamin B12 supplementation.

    I take a particular whole food supplement which contains several of nature's superfoods, such as wheat grass, barley grass, spirulina, etc. I took a look at its nutritional information and found that one serving of the supplement gives me more than 5.5 times my daily requirement of vitamin B12.

    With that, I put to bed any vegetarian diet health concern I had with regard to vitamin B12.

    'Energy', or calories

    Some people raise a vegetarian diet health effect which they experience - that they lack 'energy' or vitality when they do not eat meat.

    While protein is needed for the body to repair and build tissue, it is the complex carbohydrates, sugars and starches which provide energy.

    And there are more than enough calories in whole grains, starchy vegetables such as potatoes and yams, as well as fruits, which contain natural sugars.

    In fact, vegetarian diets have been shown to have more carbohydrates than diets which contain meat.

    Thus, it is quite clear that people who claim to 'lack energy' while on a vegetarian diet, are pretty much dealing with a psychological issue more than anything.

    Essential Fatty Acids

    One vegetarian diet health concern sometimes raised is the lack of essential fatty acids.

    Those who eat fish or fish oils will have a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. However, there are also many good plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including canola oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds (also called linseeds), flaxseed oil, hempseeds, pumpkin seeds soybeans, walnuts and walnut oil.

    Flaxseed oil, in particular, is an excellent source of the essential fatty acids.

    Again, this particular vegetarian diet health concern is nothing much to worry about.


    Zinc is an important mineral needed for digestion as well as growth. It also plays a part in healthy immune function.

    Though not often, the lack of zinc is sometimes mentioned as a vegetarian diet health gap. However, there are in fact many good sources of zinc in the plant kingdom. Dry beans, legumes, nuts and whole grains are good plant sources of zinc.

    For those who are not full vegetarians, dairy products and shellfish are also said to be good sources of zinc.

    Vitamin D

    The last vegetarian diet health issue to be discussed is vitamin D.

    Vitamin D is critical for immune function as well as the absorption of calcium. There are very few foods, especially vegetarian foods, which are high in vitamin D.

    The truth is, vitamin D levels do not appear to be lower in vegetarians than meat-eaters. In any case, most of the population in many first world countries today are deficient in vitamin D, anyway.

    Our bodies make their own vitamin D, and the best way to get your requirement of vitamin D - and this applies to both vegetarians and non-vegetarians - is to expose your bare skin (no lotion or sun block!) to regular and sensible amounts of sunlight, preferably during the morning or late afternoon / evening.

    Those living in temperature areas would need more sun exposure to produce the needed amounts of vitamin D, as would darker skinned people.

    Food is hardly ever the main source of vitamin D anyway, so I see very little to worry about with this vegetarian diet health concern.


    We have to realize that any poorly planned or poorly executed diet can result in many different kinds of nutritional deficiencies. Being vegetarian is thus not the problem, per se.

    Numerous studies have shown, conclusively, that a vegetarian diet can meet the nutritional needs of a person during all stages of life, including infancy, childhood, adolescence, pregnancy and lactation.

    Many doctors and medical organizations champion this fact.

    Therefore, vegetarian diet health concerns with regard to nutritional deficiencies are unfounded.

    To read more about vegetarian nutrition, click here.

    To read about formulating a good vegetarian diet plan, click here.

    Having read this page on potential vegetarian diet health concerns, do you still have vegetarian diet health reservations of your own?

    Read More: More on Vegetarianism | Understanding Nutrition and its Importance | Nutrition Health Articles - Foods, Diets, Supplements, Nutrients and more | Information on some Herbs | Favorite Herbs, Herbals Formulas and Foods | Natural Health Supplements - What to Consider | Home Page | Site Search

    Being a vegetarian does not have to be difficult. In fact, it should be simple, healthful and fun. Meals can be delicious, too. Click here for a step-by-step guide to a vegetarian lifestyle, which will help you to make a simple transition to a healthier diet.

    Also, if you wish to learn how to lose weight quickly and healthily with simple, cheap and easy vegetarian meal plans, click here.

    And if you love Chinese food or wish to learn healthy, delicious, natural, gluten-free Chinese vegetarian recipes which you can easily prepare at home, click here.

    Vegetarian-related Pages

    Introduction | What is a Vegetarian? | What Do Vegetarians Eat? | Different Types of Vegetarians | Pros & Cons | Why People Become Vegetarians - the reasons | Advantages of Vegetarian Diet Choices | Health Benefits of Vegetarian Diet Consumption | Vegetarian Diet Disadvantage - a discussion | Becoming a Vegetarian - does it suit humans better? | Being Vegetarian | Going Vegetarian Really isn't That Difficult | Challenges of Being a Vegetarian | How to Become a Vegetarian | Tips to Become Vegetarian | Nutrition Issues | Thoughts on Vegetarian Nutrition - is it adequate and complete? | Vegetarian Diet Health Concerns - are there nutritional deficiencies? | Vegetarian Protein - is there enough, and is it complete? | High Protein Vegetarian Diet - some thoughts | Planning a Diet | What's a Healthy Vegetarian Diet? | Achieving a Balanced Vegetarian Diet | Formulating a Vegetarian Diet Plan | Vegetarian Food Pyramid - details & discussion | Vegetarian Daily Diet - some ideas | A Right Diet for Vegetarians - are you on one? | More Information | Vegetarian Statistics and Studies | Vegetarian Quotes - for fun, information & inspiration | Vegetarian Websites, Books, Videos & Resources | List of some Famous Vegetarians

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