Plant Based Nutrition

12 frequently asked questions about being a vegetarian- Part 3

By June 16, 2012September 18th, 2017No Comments

Here is Part 3 for you finally…

8. Can vegetarian diets lead to some nutritional deficiencies?

Only strict vegans are at risk of deficiencies in some nutrients. Lacto-ovo vegetarians and pesco vegetarians (who also eat eggs and dairy products) are unlikely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies, as long as they have a balanced diet, since there are no essential nutrients in meat that are not also found in eggs, dairy, and fish. Yet these are the nutrients at risk: Vitamin B-12 deficiency (which can lead to loss of peripheral nerve function) is of some concern for vegans, since animal foods are still the best source of vitamin B-12. Plant foods do not naturally contain B- 12. Soy foods, such as some forms of tempeh, may contain vitamin B-12, but soy B-12 is not as biologically active as the vitamin B-12 in animal foods. Check the B-12 content of soy products on the package label. Vegans need to consume foods fortified with vitamin B-12, such as tempeh, cereals, or brewer’s yeast, or take B-12 supplements.

Don’t worry about suddenly developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency after becoming a vegan. The liver stores so much B-12 that it would take years to become deficient in this vitamin. However, vegan infants and children do not have such rich stores and are prone to vitamin B-12 deficiency unless they get supplements.

Zinc deficiency is another possibility for vegans, yet a deficiency of this mineral can be made up by eating grains, wheatgerm, seeds, soy foods, dairy products, and supplements.


Red Tomato Makes Red blood Cells
Ounce for ounce, tomato paste contains four times the amount of iron as tomato sauce.

9. Do vegetarians get enough protein?

It’s a nutritional myth that you have to eat muscle to make muscle.

Vegetarians who eat fish, dairy products, and/or eggs get plenty of protein, and even a strict vegan can get enough protein by eating enough grains and legumes, which provide a feeling of fullness, along with the necessary quantity and quality of protein. There’s no need to worry about vegetarian children getting enough protein. Each day, for example, preteens can get all the protein they need from an egg, a peanut butter sandwich, a couple glasses of milk, a cup of yogurt, or a black bean burrito.

TIP from Dr Sears

Completing the Protein Puzzle

It used to be thought that different kinds of plant foods had to be eaten together at the same meal in order to get a “complete protein” (meaning all the essential amino acids; see protein terms). This turned being a vegetarian into a nutritional jigsaw puzzle. Which pieces fit together? Nutritionists have now decided that the body is smart enough to combine proteins on its own. The body takes in all the plant proteins consumed in a day and puts the amino acid puzzle together to build the complete proteins that it needs.

10. Do vegetarians get enough fat?

If you eat eggs, dairy products, and/or fish, you get enough fat. Plant-based food is thought to be deficient in fats, but actually the richest sources of the fats that are good for you – unsaturated fats and essential fatty acids – are plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, and oils. There is no essential fatty acid that can only be found in animal-based foods. Yet, strict vegans must guard against deficiency of some fatty acids, especially DHA. Because vegetables provide no pre-formed DHA, some vegans take supplements of DHA, since some people are not able to convert the essential fatty acid ALA in food to DHA in their bodies. Some vegans may have low blood levels of DHA. Seafood is the only food source of pre-formed DHA, which is another reason we believe a seafood plus vegetarian diet is the most healthy for most people.


Best Meatless Substitute – Tofu
Tofu can be disguised in sauces, pasta, chili, and stirfrys, because it is close in texture to meat and a rich source of nearly all the nutrients that vegetarian diets need, such as calcium, iron, and zinc (though not vitamin B-12.). Since the calcium content of tofu varies considerably, depending on how it was manufactured, check the package label.

11. As a confirmed meat lover, how can I learn to like vegetable dishes?

Don’t vegetarians eat weird food? You’ll be amazed at the variety of foods – some familiar and some new – that can be a part of a vegetarian diet. Ethnic food is a wonderful source of flavorful, appealing vegetarian dishes. Try Middle Eastern, Greek, or Asian restaurants to learn about tasty vegetarian cooking. Spices accent the flavor and the mixture of vegetables and grains adds fullness and crunchiness that can win over even the most confirmed meat eater. Even Italian restaurants have meatless pasta and other dishes on the menu. There are also many excellent vegetarian cookbooks available at the library or bookstore. You may find that you’ve missed a lot as a meatlover.


If you are trying to wean your family off meat as a main course, do so gradually by preparing dishes that emphasize vegetables and grains, but still include small amounts of beef or poultry. The meat becomes an accent, not the centerpiece of the meal. Or, make meatless dishes that look like they might have meat in them but really don’t, such as:

  • stir-fried vegetables with tofu cubes
  • tofu in spaghetti sauce over pasta
  • meatless chili with texturized vegetable protein (a “meaty” processed soy product)
  • lasagna with eggplant and chunks of soy “sausage”
  • vege, bean or garden burgers instead of beef burgers
  • black bean burritos (black beans have an almost meaty texture)
  • vegetable pizza with minced mushrooms, basil, tomato paste, garlic, and cheese

The Spice of Veggie Life
A variety of seasonings can give veggie dishes more taste appeal, including basil, tomato sauce, garlic, cumin, cayenne, coriander, Dijon mustard, onion, parsley, coriander, leeks, and shallots.

12. Is it safe to feed children a vegetarian diet?

Yes, you can raise a healthy vegetarian. Josh is pretty much a vegetarian though he has been experimenting eating at other children’s houses which I am not opposed to as I do not want to impose Meat free rules on him. It’s relatively easy if your child’s diet includes eggs, fish, and dairy products. Raising a little vegan requires more planning and nutritional know-how to insure that the child gets enough calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B-12, and some of the other B-vitamins. Yes, children can grow normally on a diet of grains, legumes, and greens, yet it’s a bit risky. A wise parent should seek periodic advice from a nutritionist experienced in vegan diets and practice these precautions:

  • Protein is not a problem, children can get all the proteins they need from plant foods only; especially whole grains, soy products, legumes, and nuts.
  • Calcium may present a challenge, since traditional plant sources of calcium are not big favorites with children. (Getting your child to eat kale and spinach can be difficult, which is why Josh takes Juice Plus+.) But many foods today are fortified with calcium, including calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice, so a vegan child can get enough calcium without relying on supplements. Fortified foods, such as cereals and soy beverages, can also be a dietary source of vitamin B-12.
  • Getting enough calories may be another challenge in vegan diets. Veggies have a lot of nutrients per calorie, but not a lot of calories per cup. Tiny tummies fill up faster on lots of fiber, but fewer calories. One way to overcome this problem is to encourage your child to graze on small, frequent feedings that include higher-calorie foods, such as nutbutter sandwiches, avocados, nuts and seeds (for children over four years of age who can eat them safely), pasta, dried fruits, and smoothies.
  • Vegetarian children should get the nutrients they need from foods rather than pills, since pills don’t provide calories, and the nutrients in foods, through the process of synergy, are better for the body. The growth of some vegan children may appear to be slower because vegetarian children, like vegetarian adults, tend to be leaner. A child’s position on the growth chart is not an accurate measure of the state of health. Actually, where a child fits on the chart is influenced more by genes than by diet.
  • Maintaining a vegetarian diet can be more challenging during periods in a person’s life when there are extra nutritional needs, such as pregnancy, lactation, childhood, and adolescence. Once the person reaches adulthood, nutritional deficiencies are less of a concern. Even if your children do not remain vegetarians for life, by getting their little bodies accustomed to the taste and feel of a vegetarian diet you have programmed them with a healthy eating pattern that will benefit them throughout life. Vegetarian children, because they get used to the comfortable, after-dinner feeling of a vegetarian meal, tend to shun, or at least don’t overdose on junk meats, such as hot dogs and fast-food burgers. Yet, don’t expect your child to go meatless all his life. Give your children a vegetarian start and, as they grow away from your nest, let them decide what eating pattern they will follow. They may find reasons, such as concern for cruelty to animals, that keep them on the veggie tract. Model your excitement about eating a wide variety of plant-based foods, serve them tastefully, and the rest is up to your child.

Lisa Barwise

Author Lisa Barwise

Hi, I'm Lisa. I consider myself a Wellness Alchemist, the catalyst in the transformation of Strong Women around the world. Strong of mind, body and character.

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