10 Tips for Being a Healthy Vegetarian
Eating a healthy and balanced vegetarian diet is easier than you may think and it doesn’t have to be just lettuce leaves and baked beans!
Contrary to the perception that plant-based diets are dull and boring, this style of eating permits the enjoyment of a wide variety of foods, flavours and textures, while enhancing energy levels and overall health.
Studies have shown that, on average, vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. However, eating a balanced diet when you are vegetarian usually requires a little extra attention.
Because vegetarians take out certain foods from their diets, they often need to work to add in foods that will provide the nutrients found in meat products.
By eating a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, soy products, and whole grains, vegetarians can get nutrients from non–meat sources.
Vegetarians, especially vegans, need to pay attention getting enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega–3 fatty acids.
There are a wide variety of nutritious plant foods to choose from – and the right combination of foods helps to ensure you meet your nutrition requirements.
Use the information below as a guide to following a healthy well balanced plant based diet.
1. Think About Protein
Protein is essential for many bodily processes, including tissue building and repair. Protein is made up of smaller components called amino acids. A complete protein has all the amino acids necessary to make up protein.
Some plant foods, including broccoli, asparagus, bamboo shoots, and brussels sprouts, are very high in protein. They contain a higher percentage of protein (as a percentage of total calories) than beef, milk or eggs.
Most individual plant foods are not complete proteins – they only have some of the amino acids. Soy is one of the only complete vegetable proteins.
Some good plant sources of protein include:
- Legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas
- Green leafy vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
- Soy products including soy beverages, tempeh and tofu
- Whole grains including wheat, oats, millet, rice, barley and quinoa.
It is recommended that vegetarians and vegans eat legumes and nuts daily, along with wholegrain cereals, to ensure adequate nutrient intakes.
Some vegetarians may find it hard to include enough protein in their diet and choosing to add protein powder (usually in a breakfast smoothie) is an easy option.
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2. Bone Up on Sources of Calcium
Calcium is used for building bones and teeth. Some vegetarians consume dairy products, which are excellent sources of calcium.
Other sources of calcium for vegetarians include calcium-fortified soymilk, tofu, calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice, and some dark-green leafy vegetables (collard, turnip, and mustard greens; and bok choy).
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3. Beans, Beans The Magical Fruit
Well not exactly a fruit but legumes, also known as pulses or beans, offer a powerful combination of nutrients and are a great meat alternative for vegetarians. Legumes provide carbohydrate, protein, iron, zinc, folate and fibre.
There are many different types of legumes including kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas, baked beans, soybeans and foods containing these such as burgers, felafel, soups, curries, dhal, dips and spreads.
Women in particular need to consume more beans and lentils to avoid a risk of anemia.
Aim for 1 – 2 serves of legumes per day. One serve of legumes is equal to ½ cup cooked legumes.
4. Steer Clear of Veg-Meat
Take a walk down any vegetarian section of the supermarket nowadays and you will see bacon, mince, sausages, even chicken wings.
This ‘fake meat’ substitute is very high is salt, preservatives, artificial colours and flavours and chemicals to make them palatable.
Many vitamins and minerals are leached away during their high-heat production and may cause discomfort during digestion due to high levels of gluten and MSG.
If you are wanting something easy to bring along to a B.B.Q. make your own chick pea and lentil patties and roasted eggplant.
5. Nuts Make Great Snacks
Nuts and seeds are a source of healthy or “good” fats and also provide essential nutrients like vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, protein and fibre.
Types of nuts and seeds include walnuts, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, pistachios, hazel nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and nut spreads such as peanut butter, almond paste and tahini.
Nuts can be enjoyed as a snack or sprinkled over dishes.
Almonds and brazil nuts are also both great sources of calcium.
Eating a handful of nuts (30g – 50g) most days is beneficial for a healthy heart.
6. Iron For Energy
Iron assists in the transport of oxygen around the body, as it is a component of haemoglobin found in red blood cells. Iron is also involved in building a healthy immune system.
There are two types of iron in the diet, haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is found in animal products and is highest in red meat. Non-haem iron is found in eggs and plant foods.
Vitamin C, vitamin A, beta-carotene and organic acids all enhance the absorption of non-haem iron. These components are found in many fruits and vegetables.
Good forms of vegetarian iron include molasses, kale, black, navy, kidney, lima and pinto beans, lentils, soy beans, tofu, spinach.
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7. Don’t Forget the B12
Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the production of red blood cells and the synthesis of DNA. Deficiency can lead to permanenet brain damage, hearing loss and nerve damage.
Sources of vitamin B12 are found in animal based products such as dairy products, meat, seafood and eggs.
Therefore, it is important that vegetarians include foods in their diet that have been fortified with vitamin B12 such as soymilk and vegetarian meals or obtain their intake of vitamin B12 by use of a supplement.
If you are vegetarian, chances are that you are low in B12 and supplementation is needed.
Bioceuticals B12 Liquid provides an easy to absorb dose of B12 straight onto the tongue.
8. Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fats are “good fats” and are essential in the diet. Omega 3 fats are important for the structure of the body’s cell membranes and are precursors to hormone like compounds known as eicosanoids, which play a role in numerous bodily processes such as reproduction, blood pressure and inflammation.
There are different types of omega 3 fats in the diet. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in plant foods and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) found in marine foods like fish.
All omega 3 fats are beneficial to our health due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
However, EPA and DHA have been studied widely and are beneficial for heart health as they can help to lower blood pressure and triglycerides, regulate heart rhythm and help prevent the formation of a blood clot.
Plants sources of Omega 3 include walnuts, linseeds, soybeans, canola oil and foods that are fortified with Omega 3 such as bread and eggs.
9. Vegetarian Support Groups
Join a Vegetarian Support Group Online – This could include a Facebook group, vegetarian forum (message board), church group, or social group.
Or you and your friends can start your own vegetarian support group. The purpose is to get talking and exchange help, support, tips, recipes, and stay strong in the vegetarian lifestyle.
10. Don’t Get Lazy
The most unhealthy vegetarians are the lazy ones – relying on refined carbohydrates to fill the gap left by meat and other animal based foods.
Younger vegetarians are more likely to lean on bread, cereals, potato chips and desserts to fill them up – this is also common in adult vegetarians.
Grab a vegetarian cookbook and get into the kitchen! This is the best way to gain knowledge and start experimenting with different vegetarian combinations.
If you just don’t know where to start, here is a sample menu for a healthy vegetarian.
Daily Vegetarian Sample Menu
A vegetarian diet is, by definition, neither healthy nor unhealthy – like any diet, it depends on the extent of your knowledge and how much care you take to eat foods in balance, get the right nutrition for your body, and avoid overly processed foods and sugars.