Recently I’ve seen an increase in vegetarian and vegan clients. Many of which have only become vegetarian or vegan from watching documentaries such as Cowspiracy or What The Health. My opinion on those documentaries can be saved for another day, but, if you are considering giving up meat and becoming a vegetarian there are a few things you need to consider.
As with all dietary patterns, it’s important not to become lazy and rely heavily on processed foods and takeaways, which can be high in sugar, unhealthy fat and sodium.
The key to a healthy vegetarian diet, as with all diets, is to include a variety of foods. No single food can provide your body with all the nutrients it needs to thrive. Vegetarians already have an advance over some meat eaters as often they consume lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, however there is a lot more to think about in terms of other nutrient requirements. It’s especially important for older adults to be aware of their nutritional needs, since ageing can increase the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Everyone is different & no one diet fits all. If you would like to chat about developing a healthy vegetarian eating plan that meets your personal needs feel free to get in touch.
Here are 4 Things To Consider When Following A Vegetarian Diet:
Protein is important because it provides structure to every cell and is vital for the maintenance of healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. It IS possible for your protein needs to be met if you eat a balanced vegetarian diet. Ensuring you eat a variety of protein sources each day is the best way to ensure this — it's not enough to just eat a whole lot of quinoa and call it a day. Proteins are made up of amino acids — essential amino acids, and non-essential amino acids. To make sure you're consuming all amino acids, you want to make sure you're eating a variety of vegetarian protein sources throughout the day.
Eggs and dairy products are good complete protein sources, and you don’t need to eat large amounts to meet your protein needs. You can get sufficient protein from plant-based foods (e.g. soy products, legumes, lentils, seeds, nuts and whole grains) providing you eat a variety throughout the day.
Iron is an extremely important mineral that’s present in all cells and is essential for transporting oxygen through your body. There are two dietary forms of iron, heme (found in animal products) and non-heme (present in plant foods). The type of iron that’s found in grains and vegetables is not absorbed by the body as well as the iron found in meat. This means that even though as a vegetarian you might be eating decent amounts of iron, your body can’t process it as effectively, therefore, you'll require more non-heme iron to maintain a normal iron store in your body. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world so it’s very important for vegetarians to have recent blood tests to ensure you don’t become anaemic. To help your body absorb iron eat foods rich in vitamin C (e.g. berries, citrus fruits, capsicum or tomatoes) at the same time as you’re eating iron-rich foods.
Dark leafy green vegetables, spirulina, legumes, lentils, dried fruit such as medjool dates, black strap molasses are good sources of iron.
3) Vitamin B12
Vitamin B-12 is necessary to make red blood cells and DNA (the source of genetic information for all body cells). B12 is also required for making a protective layer around nerve cells in the nervous system. It’s extremely hard to obtain optimal levels of B12 through vegetarian sources. Small amounts of vitamin B12 can be obtained from dairy foods and eggs (if you choose to eat these). Although I am all about food first there are additional supplements I recommend to my vegetarian clients and B12 is one of them. The number of forms of B12 on the market can be overwhelming. Before rushing out the door for a supplement ensure you’re getting the correct form and dosage for your body.
4) Essential Fatty Acids
It's no secret that omega 3 fatty acids are great for our health (cell structure, skin, hormonal and brain health, reducing inflammation). It’s difficult for those who don't eat foods derived from animals, such as eggs and milk to get adequate omega-3 fatty acids from their diets, since the two essential omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are most redily available in fish oil. Vegetarian sources of omega-3s provide only ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a precursor form that the body cannot convert efficiently to the DHA and EPA it needs. Clinical studies suggest that tissue levels of omega 3 fatty acids are lower in vegetarians, particularly in vegans, therefore omega 3 requirements may be higher for vegetarians than for non-vegetarians, as vegetarians must rely on conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA. Sardines, salmon, tuna are the best sources of omega-3 (if you choose to eat these foods), otherwise flaxseeds, walnuts and flaxseed oil are the next best sources, but contain ALA.
I hope this helps you understand a bit more about why these nutrients are essential for great health when consuming a vegetarian diet.
If you need help with exploring this or new ways to move forward as a vegetarian or vegan, please don't hesitate to make contact.