Essential Nutrients for a Balanced and Healthy Vegetarian Diet
As long as there is balance in the nutritional intake by eating a variety of foods, a vegetarian diet is on the right track. But to give a clearer idea on how this works here are a few things a vegetarian may need to keep in mind.
Because not all vegetarians eat meat by-products such as milk which is rich in calcium, a vegetarian needs to consume foods that are rich in calcium. Excellent sources of calcium can be found in cereals, orange juice and soy milk or other calcium-fortified foods which means the manufacturers have added calcium to it. Other great choices of calcium are found in legumes, green leafy vegetables, tofu and seeds. You may also have the option of consulting your doctor about taking in calcium supplements.
○ Vitamin D
Just like calcium, vitamin D is also an essential nutrient in keeping our bones strong. As mentioned earlier, for vegetarians who do not drink or eat milk products they may consume breakfast cereals or soy milk. Our bodies can also produce vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight regularly. If you feel that your vegetarian diet isn't providing enough vitamin D for the body you may consult your doctor about taking in supplements.
Our bodies do not absorb iron from plant foods well compared to meat so it is essential that vegetarians eat a variety of food particularly foods that are rich in iron. Great sources of iron are found in green leafy vegetables, peas, lentils and cooked dried beans. Because iron is best absorbed with the help of Vitamin C, a vegetarian may take in foods rich in this vitamin and if it helps, iron supplements may be taken in too.
○ Vitamin B12
Since vitamin B12 is found in animal sources only, vegans will have to get this from foods that are fortified with it such as soy milk or better yet take in supplements. This is crucial most especially for vegan women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.
One of the common worries of vegetarians is not being able to get sufficient protein in their diet but protein may also be gotten from grains and legumes.
○ Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The best source of omega-3 fatty acids is usually found in fish and even eggs but since these are exempted from a vegetarian diet, a vegetarian may get it from soybean oil, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and canola oil.
Similar to iron, zinc is best absorbed when we eat it from meat rather than plants but this won't be much of a problem for vegetarians because there are foods that are excellent sources of this vitamin such as lentils, vegetables, whole grain bread and soy.