Going vegetarian is one of the oldest and most popular dietary approaches, yet people still make mistakes doing it. There are statistics showing vegetarians are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals more often than omnivores. But it doesn’t have to be that way. A well put-together vegetarian diet can be very healthy even in the long term.
Cutting out meat from your diet means that you will lose a very good source of protein, B vitamins, iron, calcium, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and many other key nutrients. So, to do a vegetarian diet right, you should know where to looks for alternative sources of these. Let’s go through the most discussed nutrients.
The average adult should get roughly 1 g of protein per 1 kg of body weight. But protein shouldn’t be a problem on a vegetarian diet. There are plenty of quality protein-rich foods outside of meat. Here is a list of several great options along with how much protein they contain in a given portion.
• 4 Eggs – 24 g
• 200 g of cottage cheese – 22 g
• 200 g of Greek yoghurt – 20 g
• 200 g of cooked lentils – 18 g
• 50 g of almonds – 11 g
• 200 g of cooked quinoa – 9 g
• 200 ml cup of milk – 6 g
Vitamin B12 sources
It is recommended adults get 2,4 mcg of vitamin B12 a day to cover the needs. Unfortunately, vitamin B12 is often deficient in a standard diet, so when you take away a good source like meat you have to make sure you get enough from other stuff. Also note that good amounts of vitamin B12 are only present in animal foods.
• 2 eggs 1,5 mcg
• 250 ml cup of milk 1,3 mcg
• 50 g of Swiss cheese 1,7 mcg
• 250 g of cottage cheese 1,2 mcg
Omega-3s are essential nutrients that have powerful health benefits for your body and brain. The problem on a vegetarian diet is that docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), the types of omega-3 that the body uses, are best sourced from fish. Eggs do contain small amounts of these omega-3s but not enough to cover the recommended 1 g a day. Plant sources contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which the body can convert to EPA and DHA, but the conversion is very inefficient. Try to get at least 4 g of ALA from plant foods, and maybe even consider some EPA/DHA enriched foods. Here are some good sources of ALA omega-3s.
• 1 tablespoon of chia seeds – 2,4 g
• 1 tablespoon of flax seeds – 1,6 g
• 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds – 1 g
• 50 g of walnuts – 4,5 g
Iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin A
Much like with omega-3s, plants contain only precursors of vitamin A called beta-carotene that the body uses to manufacture the vitamin itself. Also minerals like iron, zinc, and calcium that come from plants are harder to absorb than those coming from meat, they have a lower bioavailability. All of this means one thing – you have to eat a wide variety of fresh wholesome fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes to sufficiently supply your body with everything. If you’re unsure about what exactly variety means, check out the shopping list in the next article and you’ll do better than most meat eaters!