Importance of Vitamins and Minerals in our Diet
If vegetarian foods that are consumed is to be balanced and wholesome, it should contain liberal doses of vitamins C and E, which are available in vegetables
Sathya Sai Baba, January 21, 1994
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in their Position Statement in 20161 stated that “vegetarian diets, including vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.” The Academy also states that plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage. Additionally, vegetarians and vegans are at reduced risk of certain health conditions, including ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity1. Consuming a variety of pure, minimally processed, whole-food plant-based diet is optimal for health1-6.
It is important to recognize that the majority of recommended supplements can be obtained easily from natural foods. For example, some authorities recommend Omega-3 fat supplementation, but this requirement can be easily fulfilled by consuming 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed or chia seeds3,6. Likewise, iron requirements can also be met through dietary means. Leafy greens, legumes, soy products, and seeds are all excellent sources of iron5. For iodine, there are many options to meet the required daily amount. Iodized salt is one easy option with a recommendation to include ¼ teaspoon daily in cooking6.
According to the divine prescription, vegetarian food in moderation and a few nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D warrant special consideration. Vitamin B12 is made by microbes that blanket the earth. In our sanitized, modern world, we have altered our natural bacterial load (for example, by chlorination of water). Similarly, though our bodies are able to synthesize adequate vitamin D from sunlight, our exposure to sun is minimized by the nature of modern occupations and/or residence in northern latitudes3. For those with normal blood levels of Vitamin D, supplementation is not needed. For those with low blood levels of vitamin D supplementation is recommended3-6,17. Fortified foods such as nutritional yeast and plant milk are also sources of these vitamins. Therefore, only if serum levels of vitamin B12 are low or with certain kinds of anemia, supplementation of cyanocobalamin daily3-6,17 (a preferred supplemental form of vitamin B12) is recommended.
Pregnancy demands adequate nutrition for both the mother and fetus7. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and vitamins that can assist in reproductive health for men and women. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) recommends pre-pregnancy folic acid supplementation to reduce the risk of neural tube defects. Recommended dosing for average-risk women is 400 mcg daily9,17. Most prenatal vitamins contain this recommended dose of folic acid and additional supplementation is not necessary. For high-risk women, i.e. those with a history of seizures or prior pregnancies affected by neural tube defects, the recommended dose is 4 mg daily7,17. Severe maternal vitamin D deficiency has been associated with skeletal abnormalities in the newborn. Recently, evidence suggests that women who are vegetarians, have limited sun exposure, and specific ethnic minorities, especially those with darker skin, more commonly have vitamin D deficiency9. Daily recommended doses of other vitamins and minerals and for specific recommendations for pregnant and lactating mothers please refer to the American Academy of Pediatric recommendations10 and the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine17. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. Prolonged exclusive breastfeeding is correlated with a reduced incidence of obesity and an improved immune system. AAP recommends Vit D supplementation from birth for exclusively Breastfed babies. Whole grains are nutrient-dense and low risk for allergy. Dairy products are associated with several chronic problems in children like asthma, constipation, Type 1DM, eczema, etc11-14. There is a multitude of cognitive benefits for kids eating plant-based unprocessed food. As discussed earlier for adults, children too consuming a well-balanced plant-based diet do not require supplements except Vitamins D and B1215-16. Recommended doses are published by the National Institutes of Health15-16 and the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine17.
The principal points from this article are:
- Pure, minimally processed, whole-food plant-based diet is optimal for human health
- The suggested diet is appropriate for all stages of life including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adults
- Prenatal Folic acid supplementation is required to reduce the risk of neural tube defects
- Vitamin D supplementation is required in exclusively breastfed infants for the first six months and in those with deficiency
In summary, a balanced variety of pure minimally processed, whole-food plant-based diet is ideal and sufficient to meet the dietary needs of the vast majority of humans. This type of diet not only leads to a healthier life but is also environmentally friendly.
Illnesses are caused more by malnutrition of the mind than of the body. Doctors speak of vitamin deficiency; I will call it the deficiency of Vitamin G, and I will recommend the repetition of the Name of God, with accompanying contemplation of the glory and grace of God
Sathya Sai Baba, April 28, 1975
- Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets.
- Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.
- How not to die.
- Plant-based nutrition quick start guide. The Plantrician Project.
- Prevent and reverse heart disease.
- Vegan for life.
- Pediatric plant-based nutrition quick start guide. The Plantrician Project.
- Neural tube defects. Practice Bulletin No. 187. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- Vitamin D: screening and supplementation during pregnancy. Committee Opinion No. 495. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
- American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Guidelines for perinatal care.
- The role of cow milk allergy in increasing the severity of atopic dermatitis.
- Does milk cause constipation? A crossover dietary trial.
- Cow’s milk allergy in infants and children.
- Childhood growth and adult cancer.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Calcium fact sheet for health professionals.
- Advice for Vegan Mothers-to-Be — Nine Months of Proper Nutrition.
- Recommended dietary allowances.