Being Vegetarian With Plan And Purpose

Whether you watched a disturbing movie on the cattle industry, were told you have high cholesterol, or simply are morally opposed to eating meat, following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is a decision that should be made with plan and purpose.  A study just released from the Loma Linda University finds that people following a vegetarian lifestyle have a number of health benefits compared to those who consume meat including a longer lifespan of 9.5 years for men and 6.1 years for women.  Click here for full study results.  While following a variation of a vegetarian diet is the way of life for nearly 13% of Americans, doing so healthfully requires a bit of nutrition knowledge and advance planning.

A vegetarian diet can mean several different things.  Vegetarianism is defined as the elimination of animal based products including meat, poultry and fish.  Vegetarians known as lacto-vegetarians do include dairy products in their diet, ovo-vegetarians include eggs in their diet, and lacto-ovo vegetarians include both eggs and dairy on a regular basis.  Vegans eat a completely plant based diet, omitting animal based products and by products including dairy and eggs.  No matter which style of vegetarianism or veganism you subscribe to, it is important to keep your eye on 3 main areas of your diet that are essential to good health.

Protein is the food group that is restricted in such diets, therefore consumers should take care to meet their protein needs.   Those obtaining protein solely from vegetable based products should increase their protein intake by 15% because animal based protein is often more easily absorbed than plant based protein.  This translates to about 65 grams of protein for a woman that is 5’5” tall and 90 grams of protein for a man that is 5’11”.  To calculate your protein needs visit this link. Excellent sources of protein in a vegetarian based diet include: soy, beans, lentils, nuts, quorn (mushroom based protein), eggs and dairy.  Choose different sources of protein at each meal to help ensure completeness in your diet.

Several common minerals require close monitoring as well.  Iron intake, which is commonly obtained from meat, is essential for the proper functioning of red blood cells.  It is important for those following a restricted diet to choose plenty of whole grains, vegetables and beans to ensure adequate iron intake.  For a full list of the iron content in common foods click here.

Calcium is a multifunctional mineral which strengthens bones, clots blood, regulates the heart, helps the body use iron and wards off premenstrual symptoms. Obvious calcium sources are dairy products–milk, cheeses, yogurt–but getting enough calcium can be a problem for vegans. They can find ample calcium in certain dark green vegetables, soybeans, almonds, fortified soymilk, tempeh or tofu. Most adults need around 1,000 mg of calcium each day.  For a complete list of the calcium content of foods click here.

Vitamins including Vitamin D and Vitamin B12 also deserve extra attention when following a limited diet. Vitamin D enhances the absorption of calcium, which helps fight bone loss. Vegans are especially vulnerable to not getting enough D. Fifteen minutes of sun exposure a day to the face and hands is often sufficient, but if the weather’s dreary and if fortified soymilk and cereal aren’t available, you can get enough D through a vitamin supplement.

Vitamin B12 fights Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, prevents anemia, promotes growth, maintains a healthy nervous system and reduces fatigue.  Neither vegetarian nor vegan diets naturally contain B12, but are typically high in another B vitamin, folic acid, which masks symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency.  Lacto-ovo vegetarians can receive enough B-12 from dairy and eggs if eaten regularly.  Other sources of vitamin B12 include nutritional yeast, cows’ milk, fortified soymilk, yogurt, eggs, fortified cereals and fortified meat substitutes such as veggie burgers.

Through a moderate amount of planning, following a vegetarian or vegan diet can be fulfilling and improve your quality of life and longevity