There’s more to being a vegetarian than cutting meat from the menu. The February issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource offers suggestions for a well-balanced vegetarian diet - and some reasons why it’s worth considering.
The vegetarian menu emphasizes the food that U.S. dietary guidelines say all Americans should eat regularly - fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes. Vegetarian diets often are lower in calories than the typical American diet. So it’s no surprise that on average, vegetarians are thinner than their nonvegetarian peers. And eating a mainly plant-based diet can reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
The increasing variety of meat-free options makes the transition to vegetarian easier than ever before. With a little planning, a vegetarian diet can meet all nutritional needs. Important nutrients to include are:
Protein: Eggs, dairy products, soy products, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains fill this important role. Meatless products such as tofu dogs, soy burgers and texturized vegetable protein can be excellent sources of protein. Many meat substitutes, such as tofu and tempeh, are made from soybeans. Soy offers a balance of all essential amino acids, just as meat does. These meat substitutes often are lower in calories and saturated fat than meat.
Calcium: Low-fat dairy and dark green vegetables such as collard greens, kale and broccoli are good sources of calcium. Tofu enriched with calcium and fortified yogurt and juices also are options.
Vitamin B-12: This is found almost exclusively in animal products including milk, eggs and cheese. Vegans - those who eat only plant-based foods - can get B-12 from enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by taking a supplement.
Iron: Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, baked potatoes with skin, dark leafy vegetables and dried fruit are good sources of iron. Eating foods high in vitamin C (strawberries, citrus fruits) along with iron-rich foods can help increase iron absorption.
Zinc: Zinc is found in whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts, wheat germ, mushrooms and peas. It’s also found in dairy foods and eggs.
Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource is published monthly to help women enjoy healthier, more productive lives. Revenue from subscriptions is used to support medical research at Mayo Clinic
Source: Mayo Clinic