Vegetarian Diet: How To Get the Best Nutrition
The more restrictive the diet, the more challenging it is to get all the nutrients your body needs. A vegan diet, for example, eliminates food sources of vitamin B-12, as well as milk products, which are a good source of calcium. Other nutrients, such as iron and zinc, are available in a meatless diet, but you need to make an extra effort to ensure they're in your meals.
These are typical nutrients that may be deficient in a vegetarian diet and how you can get these nutrients from nonmeat sources:
- Protein. Your body needs protein to maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Vegetarians who eat eggs or dairy products have convenient sources of protein. Other sources of protein include soy products, meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
- Calcium. This mineral helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Low-fat dairy foods and dark green vegetables, such as spinach, turnip and collard greens, kale, and broccoli, are good sources of calcium. Tofu enriched with calcium and fortified soy milk and fruit juices are other options.
- Vitamin B-12. Your body needs vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, including milk, eggs and cheese. Vegans can get vitamin B-12 from some enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by taking a supplement that contains this vitamin.
- Iron. Like vitamin B-12, iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit are good sources of iron. To help your body absorb nonanimal sources of iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C — such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli — at the same time you consume iron-containing foods.
- Zinc. This mineral is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in the formation of proteins. Good sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, nuts and wheat germ.
The key to a healthy vegetarian diet, or any diet for that matter, is to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Since no single food provides all of the nutrients that your body needs, eating a wide variety helps ensure that you get the necessary nutrients and other substances that promote good health.
How To Vegetarian
Getting started - If you're thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet but are not quite sure where to begin, start with menu planning.
- Start with what you know. Make a list of meatless meals you already prepare regularly, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce or vegetable stir-fry.
- Make meatless substitutions. Select meals that could easily become meat-free with a couple of substitutions. For example, you can make vegetarian chili by leaving out the ground beef and adding an extra can of black beans or soy crumbles. Or make fajitas using extra-firm tofu rather than chicken. You may be surprised to find that some dishes require only simple substitutions.
- Experiment with new meal ideas. Buy or borrow vegetarian cookbooks. Scan the Internet for vegetarian menus or for tips about making meatless substitutions. Check out ethnic restaurants to sample new vegetarian cuisine. The more variety you bring to your vegetarian diet, the better the chance you'll meet all your nutritional needs.
Weight Watchers Versatile Vegetarian brings you 150 easy recipes that highlight the best of vegetarian food. From delectable lasagna and other pastas, to pizza, main course salads and sandwiches, skillet meals, appetizers and creative side dishes. Recipes are low in fat, especially saturated fat, which has been linked to heart disease and many forms of cancer.
Sample Vegetarian Diet
- Breakfast - 1 bagel with 2 tsp vegan margarine, 1 medium orange, 1 cup Cheerios cereal, and 1 cup soymilk.
- Lunch - Sandwich of hummus made with 3/4 cup chickpeas and 2 teaspoons tahini (a sandwich spread made from ground sesame seeds) on 2 slices of whole wheat bread with 3 slices of tomato and ½ sliced avocado.
- Dinner - 1 cup of cooked pasta with 1/4 cup marinara sauce, 1/3 cup carrot sticks, 1 cup cooked broccoli (frozen or fresh), and 1 whole wheat roll.
- Snack - 1/2 cup almonds, and 1 cup soymilk
Types of Vegetarians
There are a number of different vegetarian diets, although it need not be a completely restrictive diet. The core theme across all vegetarian diets is the avoidance of all red meat (such as beef, lamb, and pork).
- Vegan – Eats no food sourced from animals
- Lacto-ovo – Includes milk and eggs.
- Lacto – Allows milk but will not eat eggs.
- Ovo – Eats eggs only – but no other animal foods.
- Pesco – Eats fish but no other animal foods (pescetarian)
- Pollo – Allows chicken
- Fruitarian - (sub-set of vegan – includes only fruiting portion of plant)
As vegetarian diets are based on consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, these diets are high in fiber. Also vegetarian foods have other health advantages in that they are normally lower in calories, saturated fat, and refined sugars. With the correct understanding and careful planning, all types of a vegetarian diet can provide adequate nutrition
A Healthy Vegetarian Meal Plan
- Cereal / cooked oats / muesli (granola) with full-cream / low-fat milk.
- Grapefruit / grapefruit juice
- Wholemeal toast with butter (or margarine)
- Full-cream or low-fat milk
- Water, tea, coffees, herbal tea
- Cottage cheese
- Wholemeal toast with butter (or margarine) plus other spreads.
- Orange or orange juice
- Low-fat milk, water, tea, coffee, herbal tea.
- Muesli (granola) or oatmeal with soya milk and sugar.
- Wholemeal toast with margarine plus spreads.
- Orange or orange juice.
- Barley soup
- Mixed green salad with salad dressing
- Cottage cheese
- Wholemeal bread with butter (or margarine)
- Bean soup
- Sesame crackers
- Baked apple
- Low-fat milk
- Split pea soup
- Wholemeal bread with margarine plus spreads
- Fruit and seed salad, and tofu ice cream
- Soya bean and brown rice casserole
- Bake pumpkin
- Coleslaw and mayonnaise
- Wholemeal bread with butter
- Fresh fruit
- Wholemeal bread roll with butter or margarine
- Fruit yogurt
- Vegetable paella
- Sunflower seeds
- Wholemeal crackers
- Roasted soya beans
- Wholemeal roll
- Shelled almonds
More Sample Foods For Vegetarians
- Breakfast - Rice krispies with soy milk.
- Lunch - Vegetable soup with crackers.
- Dinner - Fajita salad with veggie chicken strips (by Morningstar Farms).
- Snack - Peanut butter with carrot sticks.
- Breakfast - Apple cinnamin oatmeal.
- Lunch - Baked potatoes with Smart Balance.
- Dinner - Spaghetti.
- Snack - Tortilla chips and salsa.
Split Pea and Barley Soup
Ingredients: About 5-6 servings
1-1/2 cups green split peas, rinsed and picked over
1/2 cup pearled barley
6 cups good tasting vegetable broth
1 large white onion, diced
3 carrots, sliced
3 ribs of celery, sliced
1-1/2 tsp thyme
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste
1. Spray a large pot, or if non-stick add a few tablespoons of water.
2. Saute onion for 5 minutes, or until translucent.
3. Stir in garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.
4. Add in peas, broth, thyme, and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
5. Cover pot and simmer over low heat for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until the peas have broken down.
After an hour, start your second pot (a medium sauce pan will do).
1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil and stir in barley, set temperature to medium low and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.
2. Stir in carrots and celery and simmer another 15-20 minutes, or until the barley and veggies are tender to your liking.
When it is time to combine both pots
1. Drain some or all of the liquid in the pot with the barley, depending on how thick you want your soup.
2. Remove bay leaf from the first pot, and then pour the barley/veggie mixture in.
3. Stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Another option would be to keep this all in one large pot, by timing the addition of the barley and vegetables appropriately for everything to be done cooking at once (adding water as needed). Either way works great !