What are the pitfalls of being vegetarian?

It has become more and more popular to avoid meat/animal products, but some people are cutting it out without researching sufficiently to protect their health. It may seem healthy, but it could be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  


Here are some facts you may not know.

1. The variety of vegetarian has grown, particularly over the last 20 years

  • vegan – no animal products at all, not even honey
  • pescatarian – vegetables, fruit and fish
  • ovo vegetarian – vegetables, fruit and eggs
  • lacto ovo vegetarian – vegetables, fruit, dairy and eggs
  • lacto vegetarian – vegetables, fruit and dairy, no eggs
  • flexitarian – meat consumption is low

2. What are the benefits?

  • high folic acid
  • high fibre
  • usually, increased vitamin C and E
  • increased magnesium and potassium
  • potential to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and obesity as refined foods and foods high in saturated fats tend to be reduced
  • some evidence suggests that eating an animal product free diet reduces the likelihood of some cancers – these include prostate, stomach, lung and pancreatic

More research is required to confirm the above, however there are small studies which do corroborate this. It is worth considering that by cutting out the packaged meats and dairy products, saturated fats, refined sugars and additives are reduced, so a reduction in risk factors should follow.

3. Risk of osteoporosis and calcium deficiency

Diets low in dairy can lead to low calcium levels as well as other bone building minerals. If individuals do not research and replace this food group they could develop osteopenia or osteoporosis leading to an increased risk of fractures. Menopause, eating disorders and use of some medications such as steroids can weaken bone health, so being mindful of a bone healthy diet is essential.

4. Iron deficiency

There is a risk of anaemia if meat is excluded and poor vegetarian nutrition is eaten.  Grains and dark green vegetables can supplement iron and vitamin C, so vegetarians need to be prepared to eat fresh and whole foods. Fussy eaters may struggle! ‘Animal’ sourced iron is more easily absorbed than plant sourced iron, so plenty of vegetables are essential.

5. Fatty acids

Fish and eggs provide a wonderful source of omega 3, which is important for mental health, hormone levels, cardiovascular health and visual health. Many vegetarians find it difficult to replace eggs and fish, or simply do not realise they need too. There are health supplements, plus nuts, seeds, various algaes, and whole grains to help boost levels in vegetarian diets.

Supplementation may be required to increase the concentration of plant-based fatty acids. DHA needs to be converted to EPA so a balanced supplement is essential. Again fussy eaters can struggle if they are not prepared to introduce nuts, seeds, avocado and whole grains into their diets.

6. Vitamin B12

B12 deficiency can lead to severe symptoms which can be mis-interpreted as they are like so many other disorders. Symptoms can present as loose bowels, itchy skin, extreme fatigue, brain fog, macrocytic anaemia and mental health issues. Obtaining a B12 blood test is a route to ascertain if this deficiency exists. For vegetarian children, their growth can be inhibited through B12 deficiency, so it is vital that parents are well versed in where this essential vitamin can be sourced.

Generally, vegans are low in B12 whereas lacto ovo vegetarians are higher.  


If you choose to move to a vegetarian eating lifestyle ensure you are confident in the choices you need to make. Consult a nutritionist to gain education and guidance in order to avoid the pitfalls and make the most of this healthy eating choice.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Faversham ME13 & Folkestone CT19
Written by Victoria Shorland, Nutritionist, Allergy Testing, Phlebotomist, Faversham, Kent
Faversham ME13 & Folkestone CT19

Victoria runs her clinic from Faversham and Hythe Kent, and also works with Spire Hospitals.
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