If you ask people why they decide to follow a vegetarian diet, they will give a variety of reasons. But one reason that might also become yours if you choose to pursue this diet is good health. Vegetarians have been found to have a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers, provided they get optimized nutrition from their diet.
It should be noted, though, that there is more to being a vegetarian than not eating meat or even excluding fish, dairy, and poultry products. Some vegetarians mistakenly think that as long as they avoid meat, they can eat highly processed foods and still be fine. These processed items are loaded with sugar, calories, sodium, and fat, which are bad for your health in excessive amounts. And their diet may not include enough vegetables, fruits, and whole grains to give them the nutrition that they need, especially without meat in the picture.
Given the restrictive nature of a vegetarian diet, it becomes more critical to find alternative plant-based sources of the nutrients that your body requires. This is where proper meal planning comes in, and it should include the following nutrients and their sources.
Protein In A Vegetarian Diet
Your skin, muscles, bones, and organs will thank you for increasing your protein intake from plant-based sources to its optimal amount. You can obtain it from dairy products and eggs and it does not even need to be in large portions. But if you chose to go strictly vegan, you can still find other healthy alternatives. These include legumes, soy products, nuts, meat substitutes, lentils, whole grains, and seeds. Make it a point to include these in your meal plans.
Among the downside of avoiding dairy products is the lack of calcium intake, something that some vegetarians have to grapple with. You need calcium to develop strong bones and teeth. It’s a good thing that you can still get calcium from plant sources, such as collard greens, turnips, broccoli, and kale. These are dark leafy greens that you should eat with the right amount.
If you want to sustain your vegetarian diet, you’ll need variety. You can add more calcium-fortified and enriched sources in your meals, too. This means you should eat cereals, juices, soy yogurt, soy milk, and tofu, among others.
For bone health, you need the right dose of vitamin D. This is often found in rice milk, soy, milk, cow’s milk, margarine, and cereals. For a vegetarian like you, you can get it from fortified foods and exposure to sunlight.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids In A Vegetarian Diet
A strong, healthy heart needs omega-3 fatty acids to maintain this condition. But vegetarians who don’t eat eggs and fish will not get enough of these fatty acids. Your vegetarian meal plan should include soy oil, soybeans, walnuts, canola oil, and ground flaxseed to avoid omega-3 deficiency with this nutrient. However, there might be a slight issue because of how the human body inefficiently converts omega-3 from plant sources to the fatty acids that humans need. A good alternative would be to take fortified foods and supplements.
Vitamin B-12 is obtained only from meat and animal-based products, which puts vegetarians at risk of suffering from lack of this vitamin. This may remain undetected among vegans, though, because these people have high levels of folate, enough to conceal the deficiency until health issues occur. To address this problem, you should take cereals enriched in vitamin B-12, vitamin supplements, and fortified soy products.
Iodine plays a key role in regulating metabolism and the development of important organs. However, a vegetarian diet may lack iodine and lead to goiter. The risk of developing goiter may increase even more the more you eat cruciferous veggies, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. To reduce this risk, make sure to distribute ¼ teaspoon of iodized salt throughout your daily meals.
Zinc Is A Vegetarian Diet
The human body does not absorb plant-based zinc as quickly as those obtained from animal sources. Vegetarians can get it from cheese, for those who still consume dairy products. But for vegans, zinc can be obtained from nuts, soy products, whole grains, wheat germ, and legumes. You must get enough zinc to form proteins and support the body’s need for cell division.
Red blood cells need iron. Since the body does not easily absorb iron from plant sources, vegetarians need two times more the amount of iron that meat-eaters require. You can get iron from lentils, whole grains, dried beans, peas, dried fruits, and dark leafy greens. To facilitate the absorption of iron, vitamin C should help. This means your meal plans should also include citrus fruits, strawberries, cabbage, tomatoes, and broccoli.
Vitamin D In A Vegetarian Diet
Bone growth requires vitamin D, which you can get from sunlight. You can get the right amount of this vitamin if you expose yourself to the sun for 10 minutes about three to four times every week. If you get enough sunlight, you might not need supplements anymore. If not, you should drink more cow’s milk or consume more fortified products, such as cereals, rice milk, and soy milk.
Before making a complete transition to a vegetarian diet, make sure you can commit to getting the nutrients you need from plant-based sources. Consider these nutrients and their sources, as cited above, when making your meal plan to get optimized nutrition from your new diet.