*** A Healthy Vegetarian is a Thoughtful Nutrient Focused Meal Planner***
Although there are many ethical, health, and environmental reasons for vegetarianism, it can be detrimental to your health if not carefully planned. Animals serve as thoughtless/easy sources of protein, essential fatty acids, Iron, vitamin B 12, etc that may not be as easily obtained from nonmeat sources. I personally recommend a daily multivitamin for this lifestyle.
“Beef is full of protein but cows don’t eat other animals… they eat grass!… so where do cows get their protein from?”
The Most common question a vegetarian is asked is, “Where do you get your protein?” Protein is actually very available from beans, tofu, chickpeas, etc. What you should be concerned about is Vitamin B12, Iron, & Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs).
21 Sources of Protein for Vegetarians: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/vegetarian-protein-sources.html
I’ll list a few common/easy vegetarian Protein Sources from the above webpage: Garbanzo beans (14.5 grams), Soybeans (28 grams), 1 cup tofu (22 grams), 1 cup lentils (18 grams), 1 cup yogurt (13 grams), Avocado (10 grams).
There are many sites that list plant vitamin B12 sources, but unfortunately, vegetables, seaweed, and whatever other plant sources mentioned are NOT reliable sources of adequate B vitamins. The levels of B12 in plants are highly dependent on where it is grown, when it is picked, and how soon it is eaten after picking. Although I consider myself a “clean eater”, the most reliable way to get sufficient B12 is via fortified cereals & B12 vitamin supplements which are inexpensive & effective. If you are not vegan; Milk, yogurt, and eggs are great vitamin B12 sources.
Good, easy to read article on the importance of Vitamin B12 & appropriate sources: http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/articles/getting-enough-vitamin-B12.php
Iron Sources: Green leafy vegetables, prunes, chick peas, beans, millet.
12 Top Vegan Iron Sources & daily Iron Requirements: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/12-top-vegan-iron-sources.html
Tannins in Coffee & tea can decrease Iron absorption so don’t drink it within 2 hours of eating your iron rich foods. I will emphasize that tea, especially Green Tea is an excellent source of antioxidants. Just try to avoid drinking it with your high Iron foods. Vitamin C increases absorption of Iron. So eat all the oranges and other vitamin C rich foods you want with Iron Sources. Conveniently, many foods that are rich in Iron are also rich in vitamin C. Popeye must have been on to something 😉 Side Note: If you decide to take Iron supplements, drink plenty of water and increase your fiber intake, as Iron supplements commonly cause constipation.
EFAs: flax seed oil, olive oil, avocados, nuts.
EFA: Research articles-Good for those with science background: Achieving optimal essential fatty acid status in vegetarians: http://www.ajcn.org/content/78/3/640S.full . Vegetarian’s Challenge-Optimizing Essential Fatty Acid status http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/020810p22.shtml (a bit easier to read than the first article)
Easy read to understand importance of essential fatty acids and sources: http://www.savvyvegetarian.com/articles/omega-3-vegetarians-vegans.php
Whatever your reason for considering vegetarianism, use those same reasons to work a little harder to ensure you obtain the nutrients you need for a full, long, healthy lifestyle that is free of animal cruelty. Besides…you’re not helping the cause when you are sick and malnourished with your hair falling out.
Wonderful link on nonmeat nutrient sources: http://www.veggieglobal.com/nutrition/proteins.htm#efa