For people who are just embarking on a vegetarian lifestyle, planning a diet that meets all of your nutritional needs can be a little confusing. Even for those of us who have been eating vegetarian for a while, there can be gaps in our vegetarian diets that leave us wanting in some areas of nutrition.
It’s easy to make sure that your vegetarian diet is balanced and complete once you’ve done it for a while, especially if you keep certain guidelines and tips in mind. The folks at the University of San Diego have posted a terrific article on vegetarian diets for athletes that can really help. Even if you aren’t an athlete or don’t work out very regularly, having your body operate at peak performance is a goal all of us can share. Here’s what UT San Diego has to say about creating a vegetarian diet that gives your body everything it needs to be healthy and strong.
Protein and the Vegetarian Diet
As you might expect, one of the first components they address is protein. Finding adequate sources of protein is a problems for some vegetarians, especially newcomers. However, there are plenty of delicious and nutritious plant-based proteins available.
Although most plant sources do not contain complete proteins, eating complementary plant protein sources during the same day adequately meets the athlete’s needs for protein production. This would entail combining grains with beans, such as rice and beans, bread and split-pea soup, tofu and brown rice or corn bread and chili with kidney beans.”
Getting Enough Iron is Touch for Some Vegetarians
Another issue for many vegetarians is getting enough iron. This really doesn’t need to be a problem. Although a great deal of the iron in most people’s diets comes from meat, there are excellent sources in plant-based foods. The problem is that plant foods provide non-heme (blood based) iron, which isn’t as easily absorbed by the body, so vegetarians need a diet that’s especially rich in iron.
Plant foods contain a form of iron called non-heme iron that is not as well absorbed as the heme iron found in animal foods. Consequently, vegetarians must include more iron-rich foods in their diets. Good sources of non-heme iron include whole grains, leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, collard greens), pistachios, cashews, chickpeas, dried apricots, sesame seeds and tahini.”
The article also points out that Vitamin C aids iron absorption, so you want to be sure you get plenty of it.
B-12 and Calcium from Plant-Based Sources
Vitamin B-12 can also be lacking in the vegetarian diet, since it’s only available in animal products. If you eat milk and eggs, you should be getting enough. If not, fortified foods like soy milk, cereals and nutritional yeast should do the trick.
Calcium is another nutrient that some vegetarians don’t get enough of. You can find a good dose of it in dark, leafy greens, broccoli, figs, almonds, chickpeas and many other foods.
Getting balanced nutrition on a vegetarian diet may seem tricky at first, but you’ll get the hang of it quicker than you think. There’s a huge variety of vegetarian foods out there that you’ll not only love, but feel good about eating. As a bonus, you’ll feel amazing, too.