Almost a quarter of vegetarians think they’re malnourished, with many reporting adverse health effects linked to a meat-free diet.
A study of almost 2,500 British vegetarians found that 24% believed their diets did not provide adequate nutrition.
Among the remaining 76%, almost two thirds (61%) said they did not feel malnourished, while 15% admitted they were “not sure”.
But cutting out meat doesn’t have to be a detriment to good health. With a few dietary changes, vegetarianism can leave you feeling as energised as a carnivore.
The new survey, conducted by the protein supplement company P-Fit, found that 79% of vegetarians who believed they were malnourished had suffered physical consequences.
A “lack of energy” (64%), “feeling faint” (37%) and “headaches or migraines” (26%) were the most common problems experienced.
Those who felt malnourished were asked what they thought was most lacking in their diet, with the top answers being “protein” (61%), “iron” (58%) and “vitamin B12” (36%).
All respondents who felt they were suffering with malnutrition were asked if they had shared their concerns with anyone, including friends, family members or medical professionals.
The majority of these (55%) stated that they had not, with 83% citing worries of being “lectured” about being a vegetarian as the reason they held back.
In light of the findings, nutrition consultant Charlotte Stirling-Reed said vegetarians “don’t have to be malnourished and deficient”.
“The problem often comes when people cut foods out of their diet without thinking about replacing them with vegetarian or plant-based alternatives,” she told The Huffington Post UK.
“For example, when you cut meat out of your diet you need to make sure you replace nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc.
“There are plenty of foods such as nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and tofu that provide these nutrients but it’s important that these are included regularly, in place of meat, to reduce the risk of deficiencies.”
She added that when you’re opting to follow a vegetarian diet you may need to be a little more careful with your food choices.
“Meat eaters are recommended to have around two portions of food from the ‘protein’ food group, but vegetarians may need more like three portions of protein and iron rich foods a day,” she said.
“However, it really doesn’t have to be hard – adding some nuts into your cereal, some beans with a salad or a potato at lunch and some tofu or Quorn in the evening should be enough.
“It’s a good idea to consume plant-based proteins alongside vitamin C rich foods such as fruits and vegetables at the same time to help increase the absorption of iron.”