Sure, potato chips and candy are technically vegetarian, but that doesn't make them healthy. Losing meat and falling back on fatty, sugary snacks is a common newbie mistake. To stay healthy, you or other vegetarians in your family need a diet rich in veggies and fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. The simplest rule: fill your plate with a variety of whole foods, skipping those prepackaged or overly processed cheats. But as you chow down, there are a few essential nutrients you?ll need to increase:
In the average diet, the primary source of protein is meat. The recommended daily allowance is .8 grams per kilo of body weight, or 48 grams for a 132-pound person. Athletes or other active people may need a little more. Make a point to include a protein food (tofu and tempeh, beans, eggs, cheese) at each meal, which also helps you feel fuller longer.
An example of your daily protein intake might be:
- A bowl of multigrain cereal with soymilk 14 grams
- Two eggs 12 grams
- 1/2 cup firm tofu 11 grams
- A whole wheat pita 6.3 grams
- 3/4 cup hummus 14.5 grams
- Two slices of whole wheat bread 5.2 grams
- Total: 48.6 grams
If you eat whole grains, all but one of the B-vitamins good immunity and metabolism boosters should be covered. The exception, B-12 only comes from animal-sourced foods, including milk and eggs. Depending how stringent a vegetarian you are (take note, vegans!), rely on fortified soy milks or B-12 supplements. Red Star Nutritional Yeast also contains high amounts of B-12.
Iron in vegetarian sources is harder to absorb, so all vegetarians, especially women, should load up on iron-rich foods. Go for green leafy vegetables, beans, tofu and blackstrap molasses, and eat them with foods rich in vitamin C, which increase iron absorption. Cooking with cast iron pans also adds iron, especially to acidic foods such as spaghetti sauce.
Omega 3 and Omega 6
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are vital to healthy heart and brain development. Fish is the primary source for Omega 3, but algae-based supplements are available. Other good Omega 3 sources include flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, soybeans and sea vegetables, which are available in local natural food stores. Eggs from chickens that are fed flax are also high in Omega 3. For Omega 6, eat whole grains, nuts and seeds, and their accompanying oils.
They say milk does a body good that's because of the calcium, an essential for bone strength and growth. Non-dairy calcium comes from leafy greens, fortified soy milks, beans and almonds, but a calcium supplement is good too, especially for teens and women.
Another bone-booster, vitamin D comes from sunlight. There are supplements available, but catching some rays everyday should be enough.
Soy foods, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains have zinc, a mineral that keeps skin healthy and your immunity in shape. Eat an unrefined, whole foods diet and you'll be covered.
Note: If you decide to become a vegetarian, you should make an appointment with a registered dietitian (RD), who can create a tailor-made eating plan to meet your important nutritional needs. You can locate an RD in your area by visiting the American Dietetic Association at