As a vegetarian, the first thing people ask me is, “How do you get your PROTEIN?” It’s funny, no one ever asks about my protein intake when they see me eat meals, or when I bring a lunch to work, or when I make dishes for potlucks… it’s only when I officially “declare” that I don’t eat meat that people really seem to care! Honestly, protein is the least of my worries. Most people don’t realize how much protein they are actually taking in and often it is more than enough!
The one thing I have had to experiment with is vitamins. I am not one to pop a pill very quickly and truly believe that getting the proper nutrition with enough of all vitamins and minerals IS possible through diet; but there are certain cases where supplementation is really helpful. The one caution with supplementation: while there have been zero cases of harmful vitamin or mineral overdose through natural (food) intake, it IS possible to cause toxicity with excess supplementation. It’s rare, but it has happened so don’t go nuts with the pills peeps.
I’m going to start with the one vitamin supplement that EVERYONE should be taking if they live in Canada. VITAMIN D! I recently took a course with a professor who does research with all things vitamin D. He said that it was impossible to get enough vitamin D at our latitude. Even if we weren’t bundled up in a million layers of clothes, and laying naked in the sun during the winter, the angle that the sun is at would prevent any from actually being absorbed… so don’t try that. It’s such an important vitamin for bone health, prevention of osteoporosis, and cell maintenance, so if you don’t eat a lot of vitamin D fortified foods, talk to your doctor about a supplement!
A vitamin I never even thought of before becoming a vegetarian is Vitamin B12. It is such a tiny little OH SO IMPORTANT vitamin that is really important for metabolism, formation of red blood cells, and maintenance of the central nervous system. B12 is found in organ meats, shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products (as well as some fortified foods), thus vegetarians pay attention to this little guy!
Calcium. Often Vitamin D supplements come with calcium. Both of these are important for bone health and often work in tandem (Vitamin D helps regulate calcium in bones) so they are combined in a supplement.
I saved the best for last… it’s official, my iron is low. Like, way low. Like, can’t donate blood – go see your doctor – low. Even before I stopped eating meat entirely I was always on the border of low iron because I never ate enough red meat to push me into the free and clear. Lately I have noticed myself getting tired when I shouldn’t be tired and not having the best focus possible. My workouts have felt harder than they should and that can only mean one thing… I NEED IRON.
I have just started taking iron supplements regularly so I can’t speak to current experience but from past experience I KNOW it works to take iron regularly. After about a week I start to feel better, less tired, and more focused. If you are wanting to top up iron intake, taking a multivitamin (women; try to find women-specifc ones for extra folate!) won’t hurt. I know for sure that I don’t need ALL of the vitamins in a multivitamin so currently my daily intake includes: Iron, B12, and Vitamin D (+calcium).
It isn’t hard to eat a PROPER vegetarian diet but you do have to be really careful. I look for fortified cereals, I eat a lot of eggs, and I get more than enough fruits and vegetables, but I still can’t seem to get enough iron. When you can’t quite make 100% daily intake for each vitamin and mineral with a healthy diet, consider talking to your doctor about supplements.
Start with healthy, whole, unprocessed foods, and then figure out how to tailor your diet to fit YOUR needs. It might include a calcium supplement, it might not, it might mean a daily multivitamin, it might not! Just be aware of how much impact these tiny little munchkins can have on your health 🙂 .
Disclaimer: These are educated personal opinions but do not reflect what every person should be doing. Always speak to a physician before trying something new.
Do YOU supplement? What daily vitamins do you take?