Meat or no meat? If you follow a strict vegetarian diet, then you know very well that a meatless meal is your selection! But what you might not know is that choosing vegetarian may not always be as nutritionally balanced as you thought. Although excluding animal-based foods does have its health advantages, certain nutrients may be low or missing in a diet that omits such items.
Gaining Essential Nutrients Through a Vegetarian Diet
When people hear about vegetarian diets, they often think of healthy food, vegetables, protein, and natural ingredients. However, healthy eating doesn't always go hand-in-hand with a vegetarian diet. In fact, there is a whole list of processed foods that are free of any meat products. While following a whole food, vegetarian nutrition plan can provide the body with essential nutrients, it can also be difficult to satisfy daily nutrient requirements for some individuals. Below are some of our tips on how to follow a healthier vegetarian diet.
Consume a Diet High In Fruits and Vegetables
Plant foods are bursting with vitamins and minerals. Instead of choosing processed foods that are lacking nutritional value, try to stick to a plant-based diet. Plant foods like dried beans, vegetables, fruits, nut butter, and other natural healthy foods are all great options to add to your diet.
Include Starchy Foods In Your Meals
Choosing wholegrain, starchy carbs is a great way to keep you full and satisfied throughout the day. Starchy foods like wholegrain pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes all help to fuel the body and give you energy. Starchy foods also tend to contain fiber, vitamin B, iron, calcium, and a number of other nutrients.
Consume Plant-Based Food High in Protein
One of the biggest complaints of people following a vegetarian or vegan diet is that it's difficult for them to get enough protein. When following a mostly plant-based diet, be sure to eat foods like legumes, eggs, and meat alternatives. These foods tend to be high in protein and nutrients. Remember to eat a variety of different protein vegetarian sources and fortified foods in order to meet your daily nutritional requirements.
As you can imagine, there are a lot of nutrients needed for vegetarians. Sometimes, these nutritional requirements cannot be met just through the consumption of food. If an individual is suffering from any nutritional gaps, they may need to add supplementation into their daily routine. Below is a list of key nutrients to watch out for when going vegetarian, and a few details on how dietary supplements can help.
Beef, chicken, pork, fish (including shellfish), milk, eggs and cheese are the strongest sources of vitamin B12. Vegetarians who omit animal products from their usual diet are at a greater risk of low Vitamin B12 since this key nutrient is not commonly present in plant-based foods. Vegetarians are often encouraged to consider supplementing with vitamin B12 to ensure adequate levels of this very important vitamin. Just how important is it? Well, vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells, which are necessary for transporting oxygen throughout the body, and also helps support normal nervous system function.† B12 also supports the reactions that convert food into cellular energy.† Choosing a daily B12 supplement can be a convenient and worthwhile choice for ensuring adequate vitamin B12 levels.
Although Iron is naturally found in plant source like spinach, soybeans, lentils and nuts, Iron from animal sources tends to be more readily absorbed by the body. This is because animal-based Iron is in a different form known as heme. Iron from plant sources is called non-heme iron. Also, heme Iron is less affected by other dietary factors compared to non-heme iron. For example, a high intake of tea, coffee, Calcium or foods rich in fiber is all known to decrease the absorption of non-heme Iron. Heme Iron is less affected by these factors. Since Iron is critical for oxygen transport, energy metabolism and the synthesis of DNA, vegetarians who may be at risk of low iron may benefit from adding an Iron supplement to their daily regimen.
Like Iron, the important bone-building mineral Calcium is not void in a vegetarian diet. Bok choy, tofu, soy milk and broccoli are good sources of Calcium and if consumed adequately can help meet one’s daily calcium requirement. However, some of the best sources of calcium are milk, cheese and yogurt – all of which are animal-based foods. If you follow a vegetarian diet and do not consume enough of the plant-based Calcium sources, taking a daily calcium supplement is a great way to get an adequate intake of this very key mineral for strong bones and teeth.
The Bottom LineSo for all you vegetarians out there, keep this information in mind when planning your diet and focusing on your good health. Talk to your primary health care professional about what supplements you might consider taking to ensure optimal nutritional status!