More and more people are becoming vegetarian. Whether it be for health reasons or personal beliefs, it’s not a terrible thing. It’s a health trend and people wonder, is eating vegetarian healthy? To answer your question, yes, eating vegetarian can be healthy as long as you are eating a balanced diet and getting the nutrients you need.
To explain this, here are two examples of eating a vegetarian diet: one, which is healthy, and the other, not so healthy.
Example 1: Samantha decided to go vegetarian because she loves animals. Her diet consists of waffles or cereal with soymilk in the morning, snacking on chips during the day, and eating a frozen cheese pizza for some of her meals. She also eats a lot of frozen vegan products.
Example 2: Mikayla decided to go vegetarian for health reasons. She was never fond of the texture of meat, so it’s something she won’t miss. Her diet consists of eggs, avocado, and whole wheat toast in the morning along with soymilk in her coffee; tofu or beans (pinto or black) with vegetables and brown rice, or whole wheat pasta with roasted veggies for lunch/dinner; and snacks on nuts and fruits or fruit/veggie (from the spinach) smoothies with protein powder when she’s hungry.
Which diet is healthier?…… Example 2!
- Mikayla is eating a variety of foods that are fresh and NOT processed and is getting a lot of nutrients from eating those foods.
- Samantha is eating a lot of processed foods that may be high in sodium. The frozen vegan products she consumes could be ready to go frozen meals, which include vegetables, but it looks like she is not consuming a variety of foods to get the nutrients she needs.
There are a few concerns when it comes to going vegetarian.
- If the diet is not balanced or the person is not eating the right foods, they could become deficient in some nutrients, including: protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D, ω-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, and zinc. These nutrients are high in meat products but not in fruits and vegetables.
- Some people use a vegetarian diet to mask disordered eating to limit the foods they eat (I was guilty of doing this for a period of time in high school. My diet is 100% different than what it was in high school. I’ll write about that in another post).
So, what can you do to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need if you decide to go vegetarian? Here are a few foods that can help address some of the nutrient concerns:
- Protein: tofu, soy products such as soy burgers/sausages, beans (pinto, black, garbanzo, etc.), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. You can make black bean burgers or falafels if you want to change it up!
- Vitamin B12: This is only found in animal products. If you are vegan, you may want to consider consuming fortified products or taking supplements.
- Vitamin D: egg yolks, cheese, fortified orange juice/soy milk, mushrooms treated with UV light (look for vitamin D on the mushroom packaging), and of course, being out in the SUN!
- ω-3 fatty acids: eggs, canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed and soybeans. You may want to eat foods fortified with the omega-3 fatty acids as plant based ones are not readily available to use in the human body.
- Calcium: milk and dairy products (if you choose to consume dairy), dark greens (broccoli, spinach), tofu, calcium enriched/fortified food products (cereal, soy milk/yogurt, etc.)
- Iron: Not easily absorbed from plant sources. Some foods include beans, lentils, iron fortified foods, and darky leafy green vegetables. Eat vitamin C rich foods with these iron sources as vitamin C helps the body absorb the iron. Think strawberries and oranges.
- Zinc: Not easily absorbed from plant sources. Cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts and wheat germ.
In my next post, I will be posting some meal ideas that you can incorporate into a vegetarian diet. I will also include vegan options! And remember, always consult with your physician or a Registered Dietitian.
What are some of your favorite vegetarian foods?