Vitamins in the Vegetarian Diet, Part 2: the Water-Soluble Vitamins

Water soluble vitamins do not require protein carriers and travel more freely in the bloodstream and the lymph system than do the fat-soluble vitamins. They are discharged through the urine and rarely become toxic. It’s easier to become deficient in the water soluble vitamins, as the body stores them in smaller amounts.

Here is an overview of the water-soluble vitamins, why they are important, and where to get them in the vegetarian diet.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) – important for memory and cognitive abilities. Sources in the vegetarian diet include asparagus, Brussels sprouts, eggplant, green peas, mushrooms, Romaine lettuce, spinach, sunflower seeds, and tomatoes.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) – important in the synthesis of amino acids (and therefore protein) and fatty acids. Sources in the vegetarian diet include asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, dairy products, dark leafy greens, eggs, mushrooms, and Romaine lettuce.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin) – important in energy production and release, red blood cell formation, and all cell maintenance. Sources in the vegetarian diet include asparagus, dark leafy greens, mushrooms, peas, Romaine lettuce, summer squash, and tomatoes.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) – important for carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Sources in the vegetarian diet include broccoli, cauliflower, leafy dark greens, mushrooms, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) – important for carbohydrate, cholesterol, fat, and protein metabolism, and red blood cell growth and function. Sources in the vegetarian diet include asparagus, bananas, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, garlic, mushrooms, and watermelon.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin) – important for carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Sources in the vegetarian diet include carrots, dairy products, oats, raspberries and strawberries, Romaine lettuce, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and walnuts.

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid or Folacin) – important in the synthesis of neurotransmitters that control pain signals and regulate moods and the sleep/wake cycle, as well as the prevention of neural tube defects in the fetuses of pregnant women. Sources in the vegetarian diet include asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, leafy dark greens, green beans, kelp, legumes, peas, Romaine lettuce, and summer squash.

Vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) – important in neurotransmitter and protein synthesis, nerve and brain tissue protection, and DNA replication. There are very few good non-animal-flesh sources of this vitamin – egg yolks and nonfat dry milk. Modest sources are fermented cheese (due to the presence of bacteria) and milk.

I know I mentioned this before, but I’ll say it again: strict vegetarians and vegans run a serious risk of being deficient in vitamin B12. The only natural source is animal products, particularly organ meats, as it is synthesized by the bacteria in their digestive systems. Studies have shown that all vegans will eventually develop a deficiency which leads to pernicious anemia unless they take a B12 supplement. Vegan children in particular must receive a B12 supplement.

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Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) – an important antioxidant that assists in the formation of collagen and the synthesis of hormones, and helps the body absorb and use iron. Sources in the vegetarian diet include apricots, asparagus, bell peppers, blueberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, celery, citrus fruits, cranberries, cucumbers, leafy dark greens, garlic, green beans, kiwi, onions, peas, pineapple, plums, potatoes, raspberries, Romaine lettuce, strawberries, summer and winter squash varieties, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and watermelon.

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