The main recommendation I would give you is to remember variety. The best way to ensure you receive all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy is to eat a variety of foods throughout the day. Yes, if you only eat grilled cheese, apples, and french fries, you are a vegetarian. But are you really that healthy?
When you chose a vegetarian diet, it is important that you receive adequate amounts of the following nutrients: protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, omega-3 fatty acids.
Food from animal sources contain complete proteins. Plant-based foods contain incomplete proteins. Eating a variety of plant based foods allows you to get all the proteins that you need to make up for the lack of complete proteins.
- Vegetarian adults may need 15-20% more protein than non-vegetarian adults.
- Soy products and beans can be very helpful in meeting your protein needs—so makes these a staple!
Animal foods have a form of iron that is readily used in our body. Plant food sources have a form of iron that is not as “usable,” therefore, you may need up to 1.8 times the amount of iron that a non-vegetarian needs.
- High vitamin C intake can help with the absorption of iron from plant sources
- Eat these foods which are high in iron: soy nuts, beans and lentils (kidney beans, garbanzo beans), fortified ready-to-eat cereals, oatmeal, baked potatoes, pumpkin seeds.
The intake of zinc in vegetarians may be low simply because animal products are such good sources of this mineral. Animal protein also enhances its absorption.
- Include these foods in your diet: soybeans and nuts, meat replacement foods (i.e. veggie burgers), beans (navy beans, baked beans), lentils, pumpkin seeds, wheat germ.
Calcium, like zinc, is easy to get if you eat dairy foods. It is very important (especially for women) to make sure you are getting enough calcium in your daily diet (1000mg per day).
- Include daily some combination of these foods: soy yogurt and milk, tofu, soybeans, navy beans, fortified cereals, and figs.
- Make sure to get vitamin D as well—it helps you absorb calcium.
This vitamin tends to be lower in vegetarians because animal foods are the best sources for it.
- Use a supplement (multivitamin), fortified foods, dairy products, or eggs to meet your needs.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These fatty acids have shown great benefit in people of all ages. You may have heard fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t eat fish make sure to include these:
- Flaxseed, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.
Eager to learn more information about vegetarian diets? Follow this link to find excellent resources: Vegetarian Nutrition