Did you know that a vegetarian diet can reduce your risk for obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, and many other forms of cancer (1)? Additionally were you aware that the majority of doctors and nutritionists agree that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and nuts can be an excellent support to good health (2)? The decision to practice a vegetarian diet is not only beneficial to your body, it is also beneficial to animal life and the environment as it puts less strain on the earth’s resources. Commonly when we think of being a vegetarian we think that we have to limit ourselves to eating only vegetables, fruits, grains, and nuts, when in reality, there are many varieties of vegetarian.
What are the types of vegetarian diets
Vegetarian diet is just not one style, but there are several differt types:
- Vegan – Includes meals comprised of vegetables, fruits, legumes (dried beans and peas), grains, seeds, and nuts.
- Lacto Vegetarian – Combines the above with the inclusion of dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian – Adds to the lacto vegetarian diet by adding eggs.
- Pescatarian – This is a vegetarian diet that includes fish and seafood.
- Semi-Vegetarian – includes chicken and fish, but not red meat
Where can I find vegetarian dietary guidelines?
A vegetarian diet can be a healthful diet as long as you follow these recommendations:
- Include a wide variety of foods and enough calories to meet your energy needs
- Avoid eating many sweets and fatty foods (low in nutrients)
- Choose whole or unrefined grains or use fortified or enriched cereal products.
- Use a wide variety of fruits and vegetables
- If you use milk or dairy products choose fat-free/nonfat varieties.
In addition, make sure the vegetarian diet of your choice include the following nutrients:
- Protein: Although animal products come to mind when thinking of how to acquire protein that your body needs, plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs. Tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers, beans, nuts/nut butters, and eggs all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids.
- Iron: Vegetarians tend to have a greater risk of iron deficiency than nonvegetarians. It is crucial for vegans and all other vegetarians to make sure they are getting enough of this nutrient. Dried beans, spinach, baked potatoes, whole-wheat bread, enriched products, brewer’s yeast, dried fruit (in particular prunes & apricots), soy-based foods, and eggs are all excellent ways to include iron in a vegetarian diet.
- Vitamin B-12: Unfortunately, this vitamin is only naturally gained from animal sources. Vegans must be the most careful, out of all vegetarian diet groups, to get a reliable source of vitamin B-12. A lack of vitamin B-12 in a vegetarian diet can lead to anemia and blindness, but also has the potential to cause muscle weakness, tingling, and numbness. For your diet, look to fortified (not enriched) breakfast cereals and soy beverages, fortified veggie “meats”, and some brands of nutritional brewer’s yeast and other foods (check the labels) as well as vitamin supplements.
- Vitamin D: Vegans also must have a reliable source of vitamin D. Being outdoors in the sunlight is a good way to get this vitamin. However, if you don’t go outdoors much, then you should buy a supplement.
- Riboflavin: Almonds, fortified cereals, cow’s milk, yogurt, mushrooms, and soy milk are riboflavin-rich foods.
- Zinc: Zinc is an essential vitamin to support the immune system. The best plant sources of Zinc are: wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, peas, grains, nuts, and legumes; soybeans, soymilk, fortified breakfast cereals, nuts, and breads are ways that you can include it too. Shellfish are also an excellent source for obtaining zinc. Be cautious if you decide to buy a supplement for zinc that you select one containing no more than 15-18 mg of zinc per serving.
- Calcium: Calcium is a nutrient that both vegans and ovo-vegetarians (egg eating vegetarians) must be careful to make sure they are getting. A lack of calcium in a vegetarian diet normally leads to weak bones and even osteoporosis. On a positive note, studies have shown that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium from foods than non-vegetarians do. Spinach, broccoli, kale, collard greens, bok choy, almonds, some legumes, calcium fortified orange juice, and soybean products are all good sources of calcium from plants.
- Linolenic acid (Omega-6): Canola oil, flaxseeds, and flaxseed oil contain linolenic acid. Additionally, soybeans, tofu, walnuts, and walnut oil also contain linolenic acid.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Cold-water fish, particularly mackerel and salmon, are high in omega-3 fatty acids. If you are a vegetarian who would rather not eat fish, look to flaxseed, walnuts, soy, and canola oils to include omega-3’s in your diet.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture website provides detailed guidelines for all varieties of vegetarian. You can also find additional information with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. When considering a vegetarian diet, please talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Where can I get more information?
(1) American Heart Association. Vegetarian Diets. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/vegetarian-and-vegan-diet
(2) WebMD. Vegetarian and Vegan Diet. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/vegetarian-and-vegan-diet