A person who chooses to forgo meat consumption is said to be a vegetarian. It could be to improve their heart health or the welfare of animals. However, the vegetarian diet does leave out some vital nutrients the body needs – six of them, to be exact:
Thankfully, there are other foods a vegetarian can add to their diet that ensures they get these and other essential vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy body.
One-third of your daily dose of protein and iron are found in a single cup of beans, and you get half your fiber from them too – much of which is a soluble fiber that helps in lowering your cholesterol level.
In that same cup, you can get many of your vitamins and minerals such as:
If you choose canned beans, rinse them thoroughly they’re loaded with salt.
In the past, people thought they needed to add proteins to a grain (rice, bread, or pasta) to get the full daily dose of protein. However, just eating the two on the same day means you get your daily dose – no reason to combine them. Add the beans and vegetables in with whole wheat pasta or create chilis and soups out of them. Include them in grain salads if you like.
Moreover, if you’re going for unique, try the canned heirloom varieties.
Dried fruits are very natural iron sources. Then, throw them in with mixed nuts, and you got a fantastic source of both protein and iron taken anywhere you go. On top of that, dried fruits – apricots, cherries, cranberries, dates, figs, pineapples, and prunes – are loaded with all kinds of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Best of all, kids love to eat them!
Dried fruits can be eaten alone or in various dishes such as salads, chutneys, pureed sweet potatoes, and squash, etc. You can also make a snack mix concoction for yourself, mixing them with seeds and nuts. You can add them to pudding or pie fillings, cookies, oat bars, oatmeal, cold cereal, etc.
Many cereal manufacturers have developed enriched whole-grain cereals loaded with the hard-to-get vitamin B12 – some of them offering 100 percent of your daily requirements in a single serving. They also have calcium, iron, and other vital nutrients.
If you consume no dairy or eggs in your vegetarian diet, you need to take a B12 supplement. Whole-grain foods such as cereal loaded with other B vitamins, along with insoluble fiber and zinc. These helps to eliminate cholesterol in the body and decrease the chances of various digestive problems and colon cancer.
Since grains have their nutrients, it’s always good to give yourself some variety. While you may like brown rice, you don’t want always to consume it. Instead, mix the grains up – eat wild rice, pumpernickel bread, bulgur, and oatmeal. Go with ancient grains as well – Kamut and farro. These can be found in most whole food stores.
Leafy greens – broccoli, collards, kale, spinach, and Swiss chard – are loaded with all kinds of vitamins and minerals. For example, spinach contains a healthy dose of iron (roughly six grams’ worth).
These foods also contain antioxidants that can fight cancer. They are high in vitamin A and folic acid and even have bone-building and strengthening calcium. The only drawback is that they cannot be absorbed quickly.
Give your leafy greens some flavor by adding some vinegar or lemon juice while also making it easier for your body to take in the calcium.
You want always to consume iron-laden, high in vitamin C foods, as it will help in iron absorption. Dark, leafy greens have this naturally. Use them in salads along with other vitamin and mineral-rich foods such as carrots, tomatoes, red and yellow peppers, mandarin oranges, etc. If you like cooked vegetables, add a minute amount of olive oil and sauté them with a little bit of onion, garlic, and sweet peppers.
Lentils fall under the legume family category – similar to beans. Moreover, that’s not where their similarities end. They are a great source of soluble fiber and protein, but there is something that makes lentils even better than beans. They have two times more iron than beans do, are higher in folate and most B vitamins.
Folate is crucial to women in their childbearing age since it can decrease the possibility of congenital disabilities.
Novice vegetarians should start with lentils as their food source since they’re not near as gassy as other foods in the legume family.
How can you use lentils for a meal? One of the most common meals people make with lentils is lentil soup, but there’s also the opportunity to add them to vegetable stews, casseroles, and chilis. You can also add them to red onions, tossing them with a vinaigrette. If you love making curry, you can add lentils to them. The key here is to experiment and find lentil-friendly recipes that, are not only healthy but taste good too.
There is no doubt how great nuts are for a protein and vitamins/minerals boost. Nuts such as almonds, Brazilian nuts, cashews, macadamias, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts are excellent sources of vitamin E, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds even have a good amount of calcium in half a cup.
Nuts are also great in that they can help with weight loss. Yes, they are high in calories, but people who have a nut-rich diet weigh less than people who don’t consume nuts regularly. Even peanuts are thought to aid in weight loss efforts.
It’s not clear why this is and why nuts don’t do the exact opposite (make you gain weight), but the suspect is that you feel full and are unlikely to consume other types of food in excess amounts. Other researchers theorize that due to the amount of processing it takes for the body to digest nuts that it’s burning calories off more than the calories consumed.
Plus, studies suggest that nuts raise the fat amount that goes through the digestive tract, which may be another reason for weight loss and not weight gain. Indeed, more research must be done!
Be sure to mix up your nut products, as each one will give your body the nutrients it needs. For instance, half of cup of almonds will provide your four times as much as fiber as cashews. Cashews, on the other hand, have two times as much zinc and iron as most other nuts. Walnuts and pecans are ideal for calcium, zinc, magnesium, and potassium.
You can either eat them by the handful or throw them in salads. Put them in creamy soups to add some crunch or put chopped nuts into a bread product (muffins, banana nut bread, etc.) You can even crush the nuts to make a pie crust.
Seaweed is an excellent source of phytochemicals and iron, and seaweeds like – kelp, agar, alaria, and nori – can provide your body with the much-needed nutrients it needs, such as:
Seaweed is considered the superfood of superfoods!
You can use seaweed in all kinds of foods. Chop up dulse and add it to your sandwich or salad. You can sauté it with other vegetables or throw it into a soup. Nori sheets used as wrappers for sushi. After toasting kelp, crumble it up in rice and pasta — seaweed found in many grocery stores, but also specialty stores for Korean or Japanese markets.
While meat lovers cringe at the very idea of tofu, the reality is that it’s an excellent protein source, iron, and zinc. It can also help in lower cholesterol levels and provides 100mg of calcium in half a cup amount. In the same amount, calcium-rich tofu will provide up to 350mg of calcium, which is one-third of the body’s daily needs. It’s also 30 percent of the body’s need for vitamin D. Basically, tofu gives your body the calcium it needs to build and strengthen bones.
You also want to look for enriched soymilk, as it includes vitamin D and calcium too.
Now, you may be wondering how much tofu you would need to replace meat in your diet. It’s an even amount. If you add a pound of beef to a recipe, you add a pound of tofu to it instead. Use firm tofu when sautéing or grilling it.
If you plan on going vegetarian, either by choice or need, there are all kinds of foods you can make and eat. Despite what you may think, you are not limited in your food choices. Open your mind, do your homework, and go ahead and follow the diet. Just be aware that you need to consume enough to get your daily nutrients filled.