come in all shapes and sizes. Some vegetarians choose their diet
because of ethical concerns, others for religious reasons, others
for the environment and still other vegetarians are thinking about
their health. The three major types of vegetarians include:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat, fish or poultry,
but they do eat dairy and egg products.
- Lacto vegetarians avoid meat, fish, poultry and eggs but continue
to eat milk and dairy products.
- Vegans avoid all animal products: from meat, fish and poultry
to eggs and dairy.
A vegetarian diet can be beneficial to your health, if you remember
to balance your nutrients and compensate for the vitamins and minerals
lost through the omission of meat. Because vegetarians tend to
avoid high-fat and high-cholesterol meat products, there is the
possibility for a lowered risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes,
some cancers and high blood pressure. The key to getting the most
benefits from a vegetarian diet is in remembering balance and compensation.
Going vegetarian doesn’t mean eating spaghetti without meatballs
and more salads. You’ll need to consider your options, substitute
your meat for nutrient and protein-containing alternatives and
eat extra legumes, vegetables and fruits.
By cutting out meat products, you’ll also cut out some basic
and important nutrients from your diet. For each nutrient you lose
in a plant-based diet, there is an alternative. Sometimes, it will
take extra effort to find or prepare that alternative, but if you
want to be a healthy vegetarian, these alternatives will have to
become a natural part of your every day diet.
- Protein: Protein is the most obvious lost
nutrient in a vegetarian diet. Protein helps your tissues repair
themselves; builds your skin, hair and nails; and it’s
a vital element in the function of your organs. The good news
is that you can get the same amount of important protein in your
diet by eating enough plant proteins. These plant proteins have
the right amount of essential amino acids that make up protein,
but you’ll need to make sure you have enough variety and
an adequate amount in your diet. Plus, many meatless products
are soy-based and contain adequate protein. You can always get
your protein from legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains and lentils.
- Vitamin B-12: Many vegetarians know about
protein, but forget about B-12. And you can only get B-12 naturally
from meat. Vitamin B-12 allows your body to produce red blood
cells—a key to preventing anemia. You can find an adequate
source of vitamin B-12 in cereals that have been fortified, some
soy drinks and a supplement.
Don’t overlook B-12, especially as a woman, who is particularly
at risk for developing anemia.
- Iron: Iron is similar to vitamin B-12 in that
it is a crucial component of red blood cells and prevents anemia.
The richest sources of iron are red meat, liver and egg yolk.
If you’re a vegetarian, you see the potential here. In
fact, most vegetarians have lower iron levels than non-vegetarians.
So, that means taking extra care to include iron in your diet.
Iron can be found in dried beans, spinach and dried fruits as
well as enriched foods and supplements, if necessary. Vitamin
C helps your body absorb iron, so upping your intake of citrus,
tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage while you eat iron sources will
improve your iron levels.
- Zinc: Zinc is present in most enzymes, and
helps to build up proteins. You need zinc for the basic functions
of growth and development. You can find zinc in grains, nuts
and legumes. If you eat shellfish, you’ll get an excellent
source of zinc. Soy products and nuts also contain zinc. If you
take a zinc supplement, make sure it has less than 15 to 18 mcg.
Too much zinc isn’t good for your health, either.
- Calcium: If you cut out dairy products, you
are in danger of low calcium intake, which can lead to osteoporosis
and other health problems. Find meat substitutes enriched with
calcium, eat broccoli, kale and collard and learn about calcium
supplements if you need to.
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