Focusing on your nutrition is a crucial aspect of vegetarianism. In fact, diet forms the basis of your vegetarian journey. However, you should be aware that meeting your nutritional goals becomes tougher as you limit your diet to certain foods.
So, becoming a vegetarian comes with the extra effort of ensuring that you take the right nutrients in the right amounts and from the right sources.
Vegetarians usually face a deficiency of certain nutrients because of poor nutritional planning. Therefore, we'll discuss some of the most important nutrients you should focus on to consume a balanced diet.
Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin our body needs but doesn't produce itself. Usually, people get it from animal products such as meats, dairy, eggs, etc. However, vegetarians have to look for plant-based alternatives to avoid deficiencies. Besides preventing health issues, vitamin B12 is also essential for running many bodily processes.
The amount of Vitamin B12 you require as an adult daily is just 2.4 mcg, so getting it shouldn't be a problem. Your body cannot produce red blood cells if you are deficient in vitamin B12. Usually, red blood cells are small and round, but in the case of vitamin B12 deficiency, they become larger and oval.
Due to becoming larger, they cannot move into the bloodstream smoothly, causing megaloblastic anemia. Red blood cells transport oxygen to organs. So, if they don't travel seamlessly, oxygen transport gets affected, and you suffer from continuous fatigue.
Vitamin B12 is also crucial to preventing osteoporosis and supporting bone health. Its deficiency leads to lower bone density, making them weaker and increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Luckily, there are quite a few vegetarian sources to get your vitamin B12. Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese contain decent amounts of vitamin 12 and can easily fulfill your recommended daily intake. You can also consume fortified foods like fortified yeast, soy milk, and fortified cereals to get enough Vitamin B12.
Calcium is another crucial nutrient that our body uses in multiple ways. It helps strengthen our bones and teeth. It is also crucial for heart health, as it keeps our heart beating at a normal rhythm and helps it with proper contraction. Our bones store 99% of it, while the remaining 1% is stored in other places such as blood and tissues.
Calcium keeps the bones healthy and prevents density loss when we stop growing further. Moreover, females tend to lose bone density after going through menopause. So, they are at a greater risk of having osteoporosis.
Your body needs a constant supply of calcium in the bloodstream to perform several important functions. If that doesn't happen, the parathyroid gland (PTH) comes into action and makes your bones release some of their calcium reserves into the bloodstream to keep the system running.
Similarly, Vitamin D may also be activated to ensure calcium absorption in the intestines. Either you eat the right foods and keep injecting calcium into your body, or your body replenishes it in the bloodstream by removing it from your bones. Ideally, you should restore the lost calcium through your diet, which doesn't always happen, leading to problems.
Some vegetarians have dairy, but many don't. So, you need plant-based options to have enough calcium in your body. You can have plant-based milk like soy milk or almond milk. Calcium-fortified juices and calcium set tofu can also give you a good amount of calcium.
Similarly, vegetables such as broccoli, turnip greens, and kale have calcium, so their regular consumption can benefit you. In addition to that, soybeans, black beans, chickpeas, and almonds also have calcium.
Protein is a crucial nutrient to maintain good health and needs special attention from vegetarians because they sometimes face its deficiency. Protein is essential for the maintenance of the body's tissues and growth. Similarly, athletes need more protein than normal people for muscle recovery and growth.
Mostly, protein used in our bodies to build and repair tissues equals its breakdown, but it's not always the case.
Proteins in the form of enzymes are the natural catalysts in the biochemical reactions inside our body and are essential for their proper execution. Similarly, enzymes also work in the digestive system by helping sugar absorption.
In fact, there are several bodily functions heavily dependent upon enzymes, such as energy production, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. There is a high risk of different diseases if enzymes don't function properly.
Proteins are also crucial for ensuring smooth communication between cells and tissues. Our cells have protein receptors, which receive proteins through the bloodstream whenever they move from one organ to another with a message.
In addition, proteins are crucial in forming antibodies that fight off infections from bad bacteria and viruses. By ensuring enough formation of antibodies, proteins help your body remember the invader so you can fend it off effectively the next time.
Although most people get their protein from animal sources, plant-based diets have some excellent protein options. These include legumes like lentils, beans, and peas. In addition to that, whole grains, nuts, soy, and its products.
Your body produces vitamin D naturally after sun exposure, and you can get the rest from your diet. One of the reasons people become vegetarians is weight loss, and vitamin D can help you with it too.
Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of depression, something important for beginner vegetarians who may face mood swings after switching to plant-based foods.
Vitamin D can help you fight diseases such as multiple sclerosis and heart diseases. Similarly, it also protects you from severe illnesses such as flu and infections, and its deficiency can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Some quality vegetarian vitamin D sources include eggs, mushrooms, and milk fortified with vitamin D, such as cow milk and soy milk. Besides that, orange juice is also a good vitamin D source.
Iron is a mineral crucial for having healthy blood. The hemoglobin found in our blood mostly contains iron, which carries oxygen from the lungs throughout the body. If there's an iron deficiency, the number of red blood cells isn't enough to transport oxygen throughout the body.
Similarly, iron is also a major part of myoglobin, used for storing oxygen in muscle tissues. In addition to that, iron is also crucial for healthy growth in infants and children and brain development.
Iron deficiency can lead to anemia, the most common nutritional deficiency, which affects around 5 million Americans. Anemia results in excessive fatigue and hinders your body from doing everyday tasks.
You can consume two kinds of iron, heme iron and non-heme iron. The absorption of heme iron in our body is quicker and better than non-heme iron, and the food sources for both are also different.
Heme iron comes from animal-based products, while nonheme iron comes from plant-based products such as legumes, nuts, veggies, fruits, whole grains, coconut milk, etc. Vegetarians can get heme iron from supplements for a complete iron intake.
Vegetarianism also helps you tackle several diseases, as you consume less saturated fat and cholesterol compared to meat-eaters. Similarly, vegetarians eat more fiber, vitamins, potassium, magnesium, etc., than meat-eaters. So, vegetarians are better positioned to control bad cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI).
If you eat a balanced vegetarian diet, you can also decrease the chances of diseases and lead a healthy life. Let's discuss some of the ailments and see how vegetarian diets can counter them.
There is enough evidence to suggest that vegetarians have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases than meat-eaters. A study found that vegetarians were at a 19% lower risk of dying from heart diseases than meat-eaters. So, it is clear that a vegetarian diet is definitely beneficial for heart health.
Vegetarian foods have a low glycemic index and are digested slowly, so they don't cause a spike in your blood sugar levels. Similarly, consuming soluble fibers also aids your cardiovascular health.
On the other hand, starch-based products can raise blood sugar levels and put your heart health at risk. Therefore, you should limit white rice, potatoes, and refined flour as much as possible.
Nuts are an excellent nutrition source, which can also be instrumental for your cardiovascular health. With a low glycemic index and a rich collection of protein, minerals, fibers, and fatty acids, you can definitely count on them to keep your heart beating at a healthy pace.
However, be careful not to eat too much of them, as they have lots of calories and you wouldn't want to gain weight. By eating the right amount, you can satisfy your appetite and keep your weight in check.
The best Omega-3 fatty acid source in carnivorous diets is fish. On the other hand, walnuts provide an excellent substitute for fish on the plant-based menu. Although the Omega-3 found in walnuts work slightly different from those found in fish, both reduce bad cholesterol.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world. However, you can significantly bring down the chances of having it with a plant-based diet. Usually, stuffing your plate with fruits and vegetables does the trick, which isn't that hard to do. Adding legumes to the mix makes things even better.
Research has revealed that those who don't eat meat have a much lower chance of having cancer than those who do. In fact, people who consume diets devoid of fish, eggs, and dairy have the lowest chances of having cancer than anyone else.
However, just eating a vegetarian diet doesn't prevent cancer, as you also need to have a lower body mass index and must stay active.
A study showed that women who consumed more fiber were less likely to develop cancer than those who didn't. Similarly, vegetarians are less likely to be overweight due to consuming fewer calories, which can also help prevent cancer.
Diabetes is another disease plaguing the health of millions. Luckily, a plant-based diet can tackle it effectively. Research has revealed that those who eat a vegetarian diet have a less risk of developing type 2 diabetes than their carnivorous counterparts.
The main reason why a vegetarian diet is so effective in controlling diabetes is that people consume fewer calories resulting in a healthy body weight. However, eating a vegetarian diet doesn't automatically ensure less body weight, as you still have to monitor what you consume.
For instance, eating meals packed with cheese and fats coming from nuts can increase your weight significantly. Resultantly, you will increase the risk of diabetes.
Bone health is another important aspect that has to be discussed here. Sometimes, vegetarians miss their recommended target of calcium intake, which weakens their bones and increases the chances of osteoporosis.
However, bone health isn't just dependent upon calcium. You also need other nutrients, such as vitamin K, vitamin D, etc. Usually, green leafy vegetables are considered a good stock of Vitamin K, but they can't always be enough.
So, you may need to consume fortified foods to get enough vitamin K in your diet, such as rice milk, soy milk, cereals, orange juice, etc. In addition, you may also have to increase your vitamin D intake, as it helps absorb calcium better.
The biggest danger for those switching to vegetarianism is the lack of scientific advice, specifically regarding their diet. It can lead to health issues such as nutritional deficiencies and diseases. Therefore, a scientific guide like this will help you fix your dietary choices and ensure you become a healthy vegetarian.