It’s easy to make the choice to go meat free. It is healthier, more environmental friendly, and definitely more humane. BUT (and there is always a big BUT, right?) special care must be taken when planning a vegetarian or vegan diet to ensure proper amounts of nutrients are included daily.
Specifically, here are the ones us veggies need to watch out for in terms of deficiencies
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin D
The good news is that all of these be easily incorporated into your vegetarian or vegan lifestyle with the proper planning. Here are some guidelines to consider when you are planning your weekly shopping trip and organizing your weekly menu.
- Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied, and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. Soy proteins, such as soy milk and tofu, have been shown to be equal to proteins of animal origin.
- Vegetarians may have a greater risk of iron deficiency than non-vegetarians. Dried fruits and beans, spinach, and brewer’s yeast are all good plant sources of iron.
- Vitamin B-12 can be found in some fortified breakfast cereals and soy beverages, some brands of brewer’s yeast as well as vitamin supplements. Read the labels of other foods carefully; you might be surprised what food is B-12 fortified.
- As a vegetarian or vegan, it’s essential that you have a reliable source of vitamin D, in your diet. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light stimulates your body produce its own vitamin D. Daytime outdoor exercise is a great alternative for obtaining this important nutrient. Yes, this includes taking a 10 minute walk in the sun! Obtaining vitamin D from food or the sun is preferable because you can get more of it. Those who don’t have the opportunity to get out and soak up the sun, or eat enough vitamin D rich foods will definitely want to consider adding a supplement to their diet.
- Vegetarians and vegan often absorb and retain more calcium from foods than their meat eating counterparts. Vegetable greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli, and some legumes and soybean products, are good sources of calcium from plants.
- Zinc is imperative for growth and development. Good plant sources include grains, nuts and legumes. However, zinc daily zinc requirements are actually quite low. Take care to select a supplement that contains no more than 15-18 mg zinc.
- Vegetarians may have a greater risk of iron deficiency than non-vegetarians. Dried beans, spinach, enriched products, brewer’s yeast and dried fruits are all good plant sources of iron. When eaten alongside a fruit or vegetable containing high amounts of vitamin C, your body more willingly absorbs the needed iron, so be sure to team these two vital nutrients up as much as possible when meal planning.
Finally, for you fellow mamas out there. I hear you. Kids can be picky, especially when they are young. Keep offering these nutritious and healthy foods to your family. My pediatrician told me that kids need to be offered certain foods at least 7 times before they will accept it. In the meantime, there is no shame in a vitamin supplements. Frankly, I feel like this holds true for any diet. I promise, the incredible gift of a meat free lifestyle that you are giving your kids will be worth it!