My 16 year old daughter has recently become vegetarian and I’m worried that she’s not going to be getting enough iron or nutrients from food without meat in her diet. Are there any specific foods or supplements that you could recommend to help prevent an iron deficiency or other health issues that could potentially stem from not eating meat?
Firstly, your daughter needs to ensure she is getting a good source of protein with most meals as vegetarian foods don’t always contain the full range of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) we need. This is extremely important as over ¾ of our body is made up of protein. So, provided she is not vegan, she could eat a complete protein (such as from dairy or eggs) or mix certain vegetarian foods together that by themselves don’t contain a complete range of proteins but combined, do (eg: eating grains with legumes in the same meal or combining nuts or seeds with grains or legumes).
If your daughter does not eat fish or seafood, she will need to obtain omega-3’s daily from other sources. Some vegetarians still take a fish oil supplement even though they don’t like to eat fish. Just check what the capsules are made of (often bovine!) or go for a liquid form (great in a smoothie!) Fish oil contains the best forms of omega-3’s (EPA and DHA) all ready for your body to use especially if you are taking a quality brand high in freshness and purity. If taking fish oils is not an option, the next best option would be Algae oil (also a source of EPA and DHA but a bit more expensive).
Flax Seed oil is my least favourite option for omega-3 intake as the omega-3 is in a different form that needs converting to EPA and DHA so not as bio-available. Finally I would recommend a good quality multi vitamin with iron. As your daughter is likely menstruating at 16 and not eating red meat which is the best source of iron, she may quickly become anaemic without supplemental support. The multi helps to cover your bases with any vitamins or minerals missing in the diet.
*Please note that the information provided above is only to educate, not to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please seek advice from your own healthcare provider before embarking on any treatment/health program.
By Michele Wilton
ND, Dip Med Herb
Michele is a Naturopath, Medical Herbalist and works as a Technical Advisor for NaturalMeds.