According to surveys, 2 to 9% of the european population is vegetarian and vegan – this varies from country to country and doesn’t take into account the proportion of people reducing their animal consumption – especially meat as it’s hard to measure. These figures reflect the common awareness that meat isn’t the future of food. Besides the will to protect animals’ rights, many people just want to rebalance their diet for the sake of their health and well-being.
Vegetarian diet: what are we talking about?
When one mention following a vegetarian diet, first thought is it only consists of eating vegetal food and no meat or fish. Nevertheless, there are different types of vegetarianism. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians eat dairy, eggs and their derivatives, lacto-vegetarians eat only dairy, ovo-vegetarians eat eggs and vegans eat neither animal products or their derivatives like honey.
Even if animal consumption is more and more controversial, it’s hard to deny that it has vital nutritional intakes. That’s why a vegetarian diet should always be balanced to avoid any deficiency.
I am vegetarian or think of becoming one. Is that a good idea?
According to science, a diet with a high proportion of fruits and vegetables is an healthy choice. Indeed, they are rich in antioxydants, fibers and vitamines. Polyphenols are antioxydants and can “trap” aggressors from our environment (tobacco, pollution…) if in excess can cause cell aging and oxidative stress.
On the opposite, the major risk of this diet is the lack of protein. Indeed, vegetal proteins don’t contain all the essential amino acids brought by food. We count 8 of them (10 for children) and they are generally absent in the vegetal kingdom (the lacking one differs from the source). This is why it’s important when following a vegetarian diet, to combine different sources of proteins in order to get all the amino acids.
Iron is also an essential element as it is responsible for many metabolic reactions and is vital for the transport of oxygen by red blood. Note that iron from vegetal food is less assimilated by the body. To prevent iron deficiency, vegetarians can follow simple habits for a better iron assimilation in consuming vitamin C or reducing tea or wine during meals.
Nevertheless, according to a recent German study1, around 60% of vegetarians suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. This vitamin is in high proportion in animal products but less in vegetal ones. This deficiency has a direct impact in the production of blood red cells, some fatty and amino acids. Consequences can go from negligible to dangerous for health, especially for the nervous system (paresthesia and spinal cord degeneration) and mental health (personality disorder or depression).
Spiruline, chlorella… can micro seaweeds help me?
Spirulina contains all minerals and almost all vitamins (except vitamin C), making it a very relevant nutrient in a vegetarian diet.
It brings complete proteins that contain all the amino acids, essentials for both adults and kids. Thus, it can limit the risk of deficiency of these elements. Even though spirulina is protein-rich, regarding the quantity consumed, it can’t beat vegetal products as a reliable source of protein.
Spirulina is also a source of iron and provides 38% of RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) per 5g. Spirulina enriched in iron during its culture is a higher source of protein with 93% of RDA per only 2g. But apart from the impressive quantity of iron in spirulina, it’s the capacity of the organism to assimilate this iron that makes spirulina the only vegetal product bringing as much iron as meat(2).
Spirulina is also a source of vitamin B12, but it seems that its bioavailability is questioned. So, to assure an optimal vitamin B12 intake, it’s recommended to consume chlorella, as it is well assimilated and more adapted to a vegetarian diet.
Concretely, what should I do?
To adopt a non-risky vegetarian diet, theses are the simple rules to follow :
Find quality vegetal protein sources and associate them. We advice vegetarians to consume cereales and veggies at the same time. Add to your diet iron-enriched spirulina and chlorella with a quantity depending on your consumption of eggs and milk.
1. Herrmann W, Geisel J. Vegetarian lifestyle and monitoring of vitamin B-12 status. Clin Chim Acta. 2002 Dec;326(1-2):47-59.
2. Puyfoulhoux G, Rouanet J-M, Besançon P, Baroux B, Baccou J-C, Caporiccio B.(2001). Iron Availability from Iron-Fortified Spirulina by an in Vitro Digestion/Caco-2 Cell Culture Model.