Some Vigilance Is Required for a Healthful Vegetarian Diet

Q. I?m avegetarian. What nutrients might fall short in my diet?

A. Thatdepends on how restrictive a vegetarian diet you follow and the quality of whatyou eat. There’s good reason to go vegetarian. Studies link vegetarianism withlower rates of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease andsome cancers. Vegetarians also tend to be leaner. But all this is not automatic;you still need to be vigilant in making good food choices.

Vegetarian diets have the potential to be very healthful?richin complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamin C, carotenoids, magnesium, folate,vitamin E and disease-preventing phytochemicals. But without some forethought,they can be surprisingly unhealthful?high in refined carbs, sugar,hydrogenated oils and saturated fats (from full-fat dairy) and low in iron,calcium, zinc, D and B12.

Generally, the more foods you exclude from your diet, themore mindful you need to be in meal planning. Semi-vegetarians who eat fish (pesco-vegetarians)or poultry (pollo-vegetarians) can get the same range of nutrients as red meateaters. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, who avoid animal flesh but eat dairy and eggs,typically meet protein, calcium and B12 needs, but may have some trouble gettingenough iron and zinc. Vegans, who shun all animal foods, are most at riskfor nutrient deficiencies, especially B12, which is found almost exclusively inanimal foods.

The most healthful vegetarian diet is one that includes avariety of whole grains, legumes, soy foods, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.Keep these tips in mind:

  • Although strict protein combining at meals is not necessary, eating different sources of protein throughout the day?like beans and rice?ensures you get all the essential amino acids needed to form complete proteins.
  • To increase iron absorption from plant foods, eat foods high in vitamin C (e.g. citrus) at the same sitting.
  • Eat plant sources of linolenic acid, like flaxseed, walnuts and canola oil.
  • Limit whole-fat dairy foods, sweets and refined grains.
  • Don’t count on spirulina, sea vegetables, tempeh or miso for B12. Much of the B12 in these foods is inactive.
  • Consider supplements to fill nutrient gaps. A multi will meet B12, D, zinc and, if necessary, iron needs. Take a separate calcium or bone supplement.

For Vegetarians: Where the Necessary Nutrients Are

Nutrient

Vegetarian Sources [lacto-ovo]

Protein Legumes, soy foods, nuts, seeds, whole grains, potatoes, corn, [eggs and dairy foods].
Iron Leafy greens (spinach, mustard, chard), dried fruits (apricots, raisins, prunes), whole grains, oatmeal, beans, soy foods, lentils, black strap molasses, dulse, fortified breads and cereals.
Calcium Tofu (if processed with calcium), leafy greens (except spinach, beet, rhubarb, chard), broccoli, almonds, figs, blackstrap molasses, sea vegetables, fortified foods (cereal, soymilk, juice) and [dairy foods].
Vitamin D Fortified foods (soymilk, cereal) and [fortified milk]. Plus some unprotected sun exposure or rely on a multi.
Zinc Whole grains, lentils, bran flakes, wheat germ, soy foods, sesame and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B12 Fortified foods (soymilk, cereal), nutritional yeast (check label), [eggs and dairy foods]. Or rely on a multi.

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