Can vegetarian diets be nutritious?
Vegetarian diets can be healthy and nutritious if they are carefully planned to include the right foods. For example, a diet of fruits and veggies is nutritious because it is high in fibre and low in fat – factors known to reduce blood cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight, which in turn improves overall cardiovascular health.
To ensure adequate nutrition, vegetarians should consume a wide variety of foods including unprocessed whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and soy products daily.
So how do vegetarians get their daily dose of essential nutrients?
- Protein – Animal-based food is not the only source of protein. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids our bodies require as long as the sources of dietary protein are varied, and the caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs. Foods such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. In fact, soy protein is known to provide the same amount of protein nutrition as meat, so it’s a substantial source of nutrition for vegetarians.
- Iron – Iron include: breakfast cereals, spinach, kidney beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, turnip greens, molasses, whole wheat breads, peas, and some dried fruits such as dried apricots, prunes, and raisins.
- Calcium – Studies show that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium from foods than non-vegetarians do. Vegetable greens such as spinach, kale, broccoli, some legumes, and soybean products are good sources of calcium.
- Zinc – Sources of zinc for vegetarians include many types of beans such as white beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas; zinc-fortified breakfast cereals; wheat germ; and pumpkin seeds. For lacto vegetarians, milk-based products are a key source of zinc.
- Vitamin B12 – Sources of Vitamin B12 for vegetarians include milk products, eggs, and foods that have been fortified with Vitamin B12 (breakfast cereals, soy-based beverages, veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast).
- Vitamin D – Vitamin D is not easily present in a vegetarian diet; therefore, vegetarians have to take vitamin supplements to get their required nutrition.
Today, an increasing number of people choose to be vegetarian because they realise the amazing range of benefits that plant-based diet offers–from aiding weight loss to preventing disease.
The American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, and American Heart Association all recommend having a vegetarian diet because it contains antioxidants, phytochemicals, fibre, and low levels of saturated fat and cholesterol.