Thinking of Going Vegetarian? Here is What you Need to Know…

Plant-based diets are increasing in popularity as a way to improve health, prevent disease, maintain a proper body weight, and to follow a green/sustainable lifestyle.  Vegetarian diets can provide adequate nutrition when the right food choices are made.  If you are considering making the switch to a diet consisting of more meat-free meals, here is what you need to know:

Protein:  You can provide your body with all of the essential amino acids it needs by taking care to eat a wide variety of plant-based protein throughout the day.  Good choices include:

  • Beans and peas
  • Nuts and Nut butters
  • Soy products such as tofu, veggie burgers/hotdogs, and tempeh
  • Whole grains such as quinoa (a seed originally from the Andes region of South America that contains all eight essential amino acids)
  • For ovo lacto vegetarians, eggs and reduced-fat and nonfat cheeses and milk are good sources

Iron: There has been some concern in the past that individuals who follow a strict vegetarian diet are at an increased risk for developing iron-deficiency anemia because the body does not absorb iron from plant sources as well as it does from animal sources.  Increasing your awareness of good plant-based sources of iron, as well as learning which foods will inhibit iron absorption, is important to reduce your risk.  Consuming adequate amounts of Vitamin C-rich foods (e.g., orange juice, citrus fruits, and tomatoes) in combination with plant sources of iron will improve your body’s absorption of this mineral.

Good plant sources of iron include:

  • Fortified whole-grain breads and cereals
  • Dark green vegetables such as spinach and turnip and beet greens
  • Dried beans and legumes such as kidney beans and lentils
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Certain dried fruits such as prunes, apricots, and raisins
  • Blackstrap molasses

Foods that interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron include:*

  • Cocoa
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Foods high in calcium and zinc
  • protein from soy, egg, and milk products

*Note: these foods do not have to be eliminated from your diet, but care should be taken to not regularly consume them at the same time you eat iron-rich foods.  This is where balance and variety throughout the day become important.

Calcium: Some studies suggest that the body absorbs and retains calcium better from a vegetarian diet than it does from a non-vegetarian diet.  Good sources of calcium for vegetarians include:

  • Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and collard greens
  • Broccoli
  • Fortified foods such as soy and/or rice milk, orange juice, and cereals
  • Lacto vegetarians can get calcium from reduced-fat and nonfat diary products

Vitamin B12: Because Vitamin B12 is found in animal products, strict vegetarians can be at risk for a deficiency.  Sources of Vitamin B12 for the vegetarian include:

  • Fortified foods such as nutritional yeast, cereals, and soy-based products (soy milk, veggie burgers, etc.,)
  • Ovo lacto vegetarians can get Vitamin B12 from eggs and reduced-fat and nonfat dairy products

You can follow a vegetarian diet and still meet your body’s nutritional needs through proper planning and incorporating a variety of plant-based foods into your meals and snacks throughout the day.  Seeking the advice of a registered dietitian can help you to develop food combinations that maximize your potential for getting adequate amounts of protein and iron in your diet.  For more information on living a vegetarian lifestyle visit the websites of the American Dietetic Association and/or the United States Department of Agriculture.

Are you trying to eat less meat and more plant-based meals?  Do you have any tips you would like to offer?  Share with us, we want to know!

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Filed under green eating, health, healthy food, milk alternatives, nutrition, rice milk, soy milk, sustainable, vegetarian

One response to “Thinking of Going Vegetarian? Here is What you Need to Know…

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Thinking of Going Vegetarian? Here is What you Need to Know… « Healthandfoodforum's Blog -- Topsy.com

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