Most people now know that vegetarians and vegans can be just as healthy as their omnivorous friends. A well balanced diet of the right vegetables, grains and legumes can provide more than enough sustenance for non-meat eaters. Vegetarians are even at a lower risk for heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and a number of other health problems.
Nonetheless, vegetarians and vegans do need to pay special attention to the nutrients that are primarily found in animals and be sure to supplement their diets appropriately. Below are some important nutrients that vegetarians need to look out for.
Soy products like soy milk, tofu and other meat substitutes are the most popular forms of protein for vegetarians. Beans, nuts, seeds and even some grains like quinoa are also great resources of protein. Protein bars and powders abound, though vegans should know that many protein shakes include whey.
Plants, eggs and dairy products all contain iron, but the body is unable to absorb as much iron from those sources as it can from meat. If you don't want to take an iron pill, spinach and similar greens are a tasty source of iron.
Fortunately, a diet high in whole-grains and fiber is very healthy. Unfortunately, consuming too much can block the absorbtion of Zinc, so vegetarians may need a supplement. Dried beans, seaweed and soy products are great sources of zinc.
B12 is an extremely important vitamin that is generally found only in animals. Research associates B12 deficiencies with nerve and neurological complications. B12 supplements come in pill form, can be injected or can even be found in B12-fortified foods. The B12 vitamins used in supplements are grown from bacteria, not animals.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Nuts, seed oils and avocados all contain fatty acids, but they are not as a good of a fat source as meat. Dietary pills are usually the easiest way for vegetarians to substitute.
Vitamin D helps the body absorb nutrients and promotes a strong immune system. Fortunately, a supplement for Vitamin D exists that is free and useable to anyone: the sun! A pill supplement may be a better option if you live somewhere with limited daylight.
Women especially need to get enough calcium. Calcium is found in a plethora of foods like broccoli, collard greens and even molasses. Of course, a pill supplement is always an option.