Even though it is rather hard to believe, a vegetarian diet can indeed be a balanced one. The secret is to pay attention to the different types of food you need to add into your daily diet and vary them. For vegetarians who eat milk and eggs, things are rather simple, while too strict vegetarians need to be careful with the lack of certain essential nutrients that might lead to serious health problems.
We all know that a true vegetarian eats no meat, poultry or fish. However, there are different types of vegetarian diets and depending on this we should be extremely careful to what we eat in order to meet all our nutritional needs. First, there are the lacto-ovo vegetarian diets which allow eggs and dairy products but exclude meat, fish, and poultry. Next, there are the lacto-vegetarians who eat dairy products but no eggs and ovo-vegetarians who eat eggs but no dairy products. Finally, there are the vegans who don’t just exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products, but also animal products like honey and gelatin.
Some experts say that certain deficiencies related to the elimination of meat from our diet are easy to compensate by smartly mixing and varying foods. For a balanced vegetarian diet you should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, potatoes, pasta, beans, bread and other starchy foods. For Omega-3 fatty acids, eat soya oil and soya-based foods, such as tofu, but also flaxseed oil, rapeseed oil, walnuts, and omega-3 fortified eggs.
When it comes to vegetarianism, there are some important nutrients one should make sure to include into their diet: calcium, iron, protein, zinc, and vitamins D and B12. Rich sources of iron are eggs, pulses, dried fruits, dark-green vegetables such as watercress and broccoli, legumes, iron-fortified breakfast cereals and wholemeal bread. Since our body doesn’t absorb iron from plant foods as well as from meat, remember that foods rich in vitamin C help your body absorb iron.
Getting all the nutrients you need shouldn’t be that complicated in a vegetarian diet. For example, dairy products are not the only good sources of calcium. You can get calcium from tofu, fortified soy milk, calcium-fortified orange juice, certain green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Remember that calcium is utterly important for healthy bones. As for vitamin D, which is needed in order to fix calcium into the bones, think milk, fortified soy milk and fortified breakfast cereals.
Protein is vital for the growth and repair of your muscles, bones, skin, tendons, ligaments, hair, eyes and other tissues. It is said that the easiest way to get protein is from meat, fish and dairy products. Still, beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, tofu, seeds and grains are also amazing low-fat sources of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Moreover, recommendations say that it is not necessary for vegetarians to have incomplete plant proteins in one meal in order to make the type of complete proteins found in meat.
It is possible for vegetarians to have lower zinc stores than meat eaters since the human body absorbs this mineral better when it comes from meat. However, if you eat fortified cereals, dried beans, nuts, whole-grain breads, cooked dried beans and lentils, and soy products like tofu and tempeh, your daily requirement of zinc shouldn’t be a problem.
Well, the trickiest business is vitamin B12 that comes from animal sources only. Therefore, vegans should try fortified soy milk and fortified breakfast cereals. Or, you may also consider vitamin D supplements. This vitamin is crucial for our general health as it helps forming red blood cells, converting carbohydrates, fats and proteins from food into energy and boosts our immune system.
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