Vegetarian minerals

Refining removes most of the vitamin and mineral content from grains. For example, flour refining causes a 77 per cent loss in zinc; rice refining causes a loss of 83 per cent; and processing cereals from whole grains causes an 80 per cent loss. It is particularly important for vegetarians who avoid animal sources of minerals like zinc and iron to ensure their intake of whole grains is adequate.

Vegetarian minerals: Iron

Both vegetarians and nonvegetarians often have difficulty in meeting RDA for iron, but this is particularly the case in premenopausal vegetarian women. Iron is present in animal foods in organic"heme"form and in plant foods in inorganic "nonheme " form.

Vegetarian minerals The heme and nonheme forms of iron are absorbed by different mechanisms. About 20 to 30 per cent of heme iron is absorbed, compared with only around 2 to 5 per cent of nonheme iron. Vitamin C consumed in the same meal as nonheme iron improves absorption by up to 50 per cent as it helps to convert dietary iron to a soluble form and also helps counteract the reduction in absorption that occurs in the presence of phytates. Vitamin A and beta carotene can also improve nonheme iron absorption. Tea reduces the absorbability of iron and should be drunk between meals rather than with them.

A premenopausal woman can meet the RDA for iron by including all the following in a daily diet: ten dried apricots; three slices of whole wheat bread; one cup of lentils; and one cup each of cooked spinach, broccoli and green beans.

Iron levels in the body are controlled by absorption. When intakes in the diet are lowered, absorption ability can improve. Some research suggests that this gradually happens in vegetarians. In cases of iron deficiency absorption efficiency increases from around 5 to 10 per cent to about 10 to 20 per cent.

Vegetarian minerals: Zinc

Some vegetarians have lower than recommended zinc intakes as they avoid meat and seafood, which are good sources. Phytates also reduce zinc absorption. Vegetarians need to make sure that they include enough zinc-rich pulses, seeds and whole grains in their diets.

The RDA for zinc can be obtained by including all of the following in a daily diet: three slices of wholemeal bread, one cup of cooked chickpeas, a handful of pumpkin seeds, a serving of muesli, two tablespoons of wheatgerm, half a cup of almonds, a serving of peas and one ounce of peanut butter.

Vegetarian minerals: Calcium

Although vegans do not eat dairy products - which are the main sources of calcium - with careful planning, it is possible to get enough calcium from plant foods. Vegans may need slightly less calcium than meat eaters as they appear to have better absorption and lower excretion. However, studies of women who have followed vegan diets for long periods indicate that they may be at higher risk of osteoporosis and may benefit from calcium supplements.

Leafy green vegetables, seaweed and tofu made with calcium sulfate are good vegetarian sources of calcium. The amount of calcium in tofu varies from brand to brand, and it is worth comparing quantities between different brands.

The RDA for calcium can be obtained by including all of the following in the daily diet: four ounces of firm tofu processed with calcium sulfate, a cup of cooked spinach, two oranges, a cup of broccoli, four slices of whole wheat bread and a cup of almonds. It can be difficult for vegan children to get enough calcium in their diets as they have to eat relatively large quantities of bulky food.

Vegetarian minerals: Iodine

Milk and milk products are important sources of iodine so vegans must be careful to include other iodine-rich foods in their diets. These include seaweed, cereals and vegetables grown in iodine-rich soil.

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