Vegetarian diets are increasing in popularity. A vegetarian diet has been proven to be healthier for our long term longevity. Other people switch to a vegetarian diet to reduce their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Some switch for animal welfare reasons too.
When people think about a vegetarian diet, they typically think about a diet that doesn’t include meat, poultry or fish. But vegetarian diets vary in what foods they include.
But whichever you select, to get the most out of your vegetarian diet, choose a variety of healthy plant-based foods, such as whole fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains. At the same time, it’s important to cut back on less healthy choices, including sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices and refined grains.
To be sure your diet includes everything your body needs, you must also pay special attention to the following nutrients:
Calcium and vitamin D
Calcium helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Milk and dairy foods are highest in calcium. Dark green vegetables, such as kale, and broccoli, are also good sources when eaten in sufficient quantities. Calcium-enriched and fortified products, including juices, cereals, soy milk and yogurt are other options.
Vitamin D also plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D is added to cow’s milk, some brands of soy and rice milk, and some cereals and margarines. If you don’t eat enough fortified foods and have limited sun exposure, you may need a vitamin D supplement, derived from plants.
Protein helps maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Eggs and dairy products are good sources, and you don’t need to eat large amounts to meet your protein needs. You can also get sufficient protein from plant-based foods including soy products and meat substitutes, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health. Diets that do not include fish and eggs are generally low in omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, walnuts, flaxseed and soybeans are good sources of essential fatty acids.
Iron and zinc
Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit are good sources of iron. Because iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended intake of iron for vegetarians is almost double that recommended for non-vegetarians.
To help the body absorb iron, you must eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli, at the same time.
Like iron, zinc is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal products. Cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, nuts and wheat germ.
One way to help move over to a vegetarian diet is to gradually reduce the meat in your diet while increasing fruits and vegetables. Substituting foods can be really helpful too – simply take a favourite recipe and try it without meat.
For example, make vegetarian chilli by leaving out the beef and adding an extra can of black beans or soya mince. It is surprising how many dishes only require these simple substitutions.
Source: Mayo Clinic.org