How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian

Vegetarian diets can meet all of your daily recommended intake of nutrients. The key is to consume a variety of foods and of the right amount to meet your calorie needs. Follow the food group recommendations for your age, sex, and activity level to get the right amount needed for nutrient adequacy. Nutrients that vegetarians may need to focus on include protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12 .

Nutrients that vegetarians need to focus on

Protein has many important functions in the body and is essential for growth and maintenance. Protein needs can easily be met by eating a variety of plant-based foods. Combining different protein sources in the same meal is not necessary. Sources of protein for vegetarians include beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, and soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers). Milk products and eggs are also good protein sources for lacto-ovo vegetarians.

Iron functions primarily as a carrier of oxygen in the blood. Iron sources for vegetarians include iron-fortified breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, molasses, whole wheat breads, peas, and some dried fruits (dried apricots, prunes, raisins).

Calcium is used for building bones and teeth and in maintaining bone strength. Sources of calcium for vegetarians include fortified breakfast cereals, soy products (tofu, soy-based beverages), calcium-fortified orange juice, and some dark green leafy vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, bok choy, mustard greens). Milk products are excellent calcium sources for lacto vegetarians.

Zinc is necessary for many biochemical reactions and also helps the immune system function properly. Sources of zinc for vegetarians include many types of beans (white beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas), zinc-fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, and pumpkin seeds. Milk products are a zinc source for lacto vegetarians.

Vitamin B 12 is found in animal products and some fortified foods. Sources of vitamin B 12 for vegetarians include milk products, eggs, and foods that have been fortified with vitamin B 12 . These include breakfast cereals, soy-based beverages, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast.

Tips for vegetarians

Build meals around protein sources that are naturally low in fat, such as beans, lentils, and rice. Don’t overload meals with high-fat cheeses to replace the meat.

Eat a wide variety of foods. Include legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. This is the best way to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need.

Add soy products to your diet, unless you are allergic to soy. Soy is a very good source of protein; plus, it has other health benefits and may even help protect against some cancers.

Calcium-fortified soy-based beverages can provide calcium in amounts similar to milk. They are usually low in fat and do not contain cholesterol.

Many foods that typically contain meat or poultry can be made vegetarian. This can increase vegetable intake and cut saturated fat and cholesterol intake. Consider: pasta primavera or pasta with marinara or pesto sauce, veggie pizza, vegetable lasagna, tofu-vegetable stir fry, vegetable lo mein, vegetable kabobs, bean burritos or tacos.

Most restaurants can accommodate vegetarian modifications to menu items by substituting meatless sauces, omitting meat from stir-fries, and adding vegetables or pasta in place of meat.

Many Asian and Indian restaurants offer a varied selection of vegetarian dishes.