We’ve all engaged in a diet, or at least attempted a diet, at some point for various reasons. Maybe out of medical necessity due to health concerns, to lose weight, detox and cleanse internally, to try new foods and create healthier eating habits, for ethical and environmental reasons, or some combination.
Let’s face it - diet culture is all around us. Not all diets include starvation and deprivation, but for the most part restriction is a core focus. Removing or limiting key sources of nutrition (meat, carbohydrates, sugars, etc.) can absolutely have benefits related to your dieting interests, but those benefits are often one-sided while simultaneously leaving you lacking in other potentially serious ways, like becoming deficient in some key essential vitamins.
These are some well-known diets and the vitamins you could be missing out on while following them:
Both vegan and vegetarian diets call for the complete elimination of animal products. A vegan diet is strictly plant-based, whereas a vegetarian diet still allows for animal byproducts such as dairy. In a meatless diet many nutrients are significantly limited or missing completely. Keep in mind that the more restrictive the diet (vegan vs. vegetarianism) the more challenging it becomes to get important needed nutrients.
The greatest nutritional concern for a vegan or vegetarian diet is vitamin B12 deficiency because B12 can only be found naturally in animal products (Mercola, 2015; Nutrition, 2012.)
So, how much B12 does a vegetarian need? Those engaging in a meatless diet should either:
- Eat fortified or enriched foods (i.e. almond milk, whole grain bread, unsweetened oatmeal, etc.) two or three times a day to get at least 3 micrograms of B12 daily.
- Take one B12 supplement to get at least 10 micrograms daily (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2016.)
- Or, supplement with an additional daily source, such as coffee or tea infused with Vitamin B12.
Other nutrients lacking in a vegetarian diet include Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and complete proteins (American Dietetic Association, 2009.)
What are vegetarian diet deficiency symptoms?
- Vitamin B12 is known as the energy vitamin, so obvious symptoms are weakness and fatigue. These can be early warning signs for potentially more severe health concerns to follow down the road and should not be ignored.
- Another observable symptom and side-effect in more severe cases of B12 deficiency is Anemia.
- Metabolic energy is also crucial for cognitive activity, so impaired brain function is another deleterious symptom and effect of B12 deficiency (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014.)
Limiting or cutting carbohydrates isn’t a new diet trend and it seems to be the most common theme seen in diets such as Atkins, Ketogenic, South Beach, Dukan, and Paleo (to name a few.)
Cutting carbs can show the greatest and most rapid weight loss results, but in turn you restrict many essential nutrients your body needs for important brain activity, especially your B vitamins (including the all-important B12.) This can lead to physical exhaustion and mental fatigue, as discussed earlier (Schroeder, M. 2015.)
What is the best way to incorporate essential vitamins into your low-carb diet?
- Vitamin sources that are sugar-free and iron-free.
- Sources that contain a variety of B vitamins; electrolytes are also a plus!
- Sources that contain green tea or a green tea extract.
Benefits of adding Green Tea to your low-carb diet:
- Drinking large amounts of liquids each day is necessary for low/no-carb diets to keep your body in a state of ketosis. Water is always a good choice, but incorporating green tea adds detoxifying and purifying effects. Its many antioxidants removing harmful free radicals and naturally help eliminate other toxins from your body.
- Green tea has been shown to prevent and reduce weight gain, boost metabolism, and act as a digestive stimulant.
- It is an immune boosting superstar (Group, E. 2010, 2016).
A gluten-free diet was originally a medical response to treat individuals with Celiac Disease (an autoimmune disease), and has since transformed into a weight-loss diet as well as a way to test for food allergies. Those with Celiac disease must eliminate gluten because their body’s negative reaction to the protein can cause intestinal damage over time.
However, whether you are dealing with the autoimmune disease or struggling through symptoms from a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, a gluten-free diet can leave you deficient in some pretty important vitamins and minerals and is safest to pursue under the supervision of a licensed physician.
Vitamin deficiency and nutrients missing in a gluten-free diet include:
- Fiber - Wheat provides dietary fiber and the average American is already considered deficient in fiber - so taking away whole wheat can exacerbate the problem.
- Iron deficiencies are also common for gluten restricted dieters. Fortified grains and cereals are a primary Iron source for many Americans. That means eliminating them is correlated to a rise in of Anemia, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Other vitamins found in fortified breads, cereals, and grains that should be replaced in gluten free diets include B1, B2, B6, Folate, Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium, and Calcium. These vitamins are crucial as they provide balance in metabolism and energy levels. They also help fight against disease and infection (Harris, C. 2013, 2015).
Recommendations for staying healthy on a Gluten-free diet?
- Substitute other grains, such as quinoa and brown rice to get your dietary fiber.
- Add in lots of fruits and vegetables to the wheat-free diet for additional fiber and healthy sugars.
- Supplementing in foods high in iron. Animal sources, like liver, red meat, poultry, fish, etc., are best for this. Plant sources include nuts, seeds, beans, quinoa and teff. Pair these with foods high in Vitamin C like peppers, citrus, berries and other fruits or vegetables to increase absorption.
- Make it easy on yourself and find a source which contains multiple vitamins left out of your gluten-free diet. Vitamin-infused coffee pods and tea pods are an awesome way to kill multiple birds with one stone! Drink your morning coffee or tea and get a perfect combination of B Vitamins, D Vitamins, and antioxidants to even out your wheat-free diet.
These are only a few of the most common diets out there. While these diets can be helpful to work towards specific health and fitness goals, they may cause various vitamin deficiencies along the way. It’s always recommended to do your research and consult with a physician or dietitian before you decide to commit fully to a change in diet.
What did we miss? Is there a diet YOU tried that left you deficient in various vitamins and nutrients? What did you do to overcome it? Please share with us in the comment section!
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