5607351_origWhat diet are you on? If it is the paleo, high protein, low carb, gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan diet then this article may be of interest to you. Whether people choose these diets with the hope of losing weight or maintaining a semblance of wellness, individuals that subscribe to these diets could be missing some essential vitamins and nutrients. In the April issue of Food Technology Magazine, Linda Milo Ohr writes about the vitamin and nutrient deficiencies in these popular diets and what is needed to make up for them.

Vegetarian and Vegan

Individuals following the vegetarian and vegan diet comprise a significant and growing part of the consumer base worldwide, as much as 20% of the global population (DSM 2013). Worldwide, there are around 1.4 billion vegetarians, and the number is increasing.

The 2015-2020 U.S. Vegetarian Healthy Eating plan includes more legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, and whole grains compared to the standard Health U.S. Style Eating Pattern. It contains no meats, poultry, or seafood. Due to differences in the foods included in the protein foods group, specifically more tofu and beans, the vegetarian diet plan is somewhat higher in calcium and dietary fiber and lower in vitamin D (HHS/USDA 2016).


The Mayo Clinic recommends that vegetarians pay special attention to eating foods that contain calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and zinc. Vitamin B12 is necessary to produce red blood cells while the iron is also a component of red blood cells and is important for oxygen transport. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and the immune system.
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health and cognition. They are mainly found in fish; however, vegetarian-sourced omega-3s are available (Ohr, 2016).

High-protein/low-carbohydrate diets, carbohydrate-free diets, and gluten-free diets put a major emphasis on eliminating or reducing carbohydrate consumption and often whole grains from the diet. Gluten-free diets are essential for those diagnosed with celiac disease, but the gluten-free lifestyle has a growing following among those who feel they are sensitive to gluten, think gluten is bad for them, or want to reduce carbohydrates in their diets (Ohr, 2016).


“Low-carbohydrate diets have been around for a long time,” says Jim White, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org) and owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, Virginia Beach, Va. (jimwhitefit.com). “With low carbs, you are missing one of the major macronutrients, whole grains. You can end up missing out on B vitamins for energy metabolism and dietary fiber, which already as a nation we are not consuming enough of.” White explains that if not enough fiber is consumed, the unique nutritional benefits aren’t felt, such as satiety, transit time, and cholesterol reduction. “Initially, when you decrease carbohydrates, there will be weight loss, but most will be water weight because there are about 3 grams of water per 1 gram of carbohydrate.” White notes that consumers following a gluten-free diet do have other sources of complex carbohydrates available to them, including quinoa, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.

The Paleo diet, often referred to as the Caveman diet, advises consumers to return to the eating habits of our ancestors. The basic diet consists of lean meat, fish/seafood, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and healthful oils (olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, and coconut). What is cut out of the diet are grains, legumes, dairy products, foods high in refined sugar and salt, processed foods, potatoes, and refined vegetable oils (Ohr, 2016).


The Paleo diet is popular for weight loss as well as athletic performance because of its focus on lean protein consumption. Manheimer et al. (2015) demonstrated that the Paleo diet resulted in greater short-term improvements on metabolic syndrome components than did guideline-based control diets. The researchers conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that compared the Paleo nutritional pattern with any other dietary pattern in participants with one or more of the five components of metabolic syndrome. Four RCTs that involved 159 participants were included. The four control diets were based on distinct national nutrition guidelines but were broadly similar. Paleo nutrition resulted in greater short-term improvements than did the control diets for waist circumference, triglycerides, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar (Ohr, 2016).

With its focus on lean proteins and elimination of grains and dairy, those following the Paleo lifestyle need to consider nutrients they may not be getting in adequate amounts. It is recommended that people should supplement with folate, B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D. “With many diets, especially Paleo and dairy-free, we are seeing people not getting enough calcium and vitamin D,” observes White.

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Ohr, L. M. (2016, April). Filling in Nutrient Gaps, Volume 70, Number 4. Retrieved May 4, 2016, from IFT: http://www.ift.org/food-technology/past-issues/2016/april/columns/nutraceuticals-nutrient-gaps.aspx

DSM. 2013. Essentials for Vegetarians. DSM Nutritional Products, Heerlen, the Netherlands. dsm.com.

HHS/USDA. 2016. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services/U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D.C. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.

Manheimer, E. W., E. J. van Zuuren, Z. Fedorowicz, and H. Pijl. 2015. “Paleolithic Nutrition for Metabolic Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 102(4): 922–932.



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