Danielle Hamo Blog

Going Vegetarian – all you need to know

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whether you are already vegetarian or thinking about switching, this article will give you information you need to know. From important nutrients and minerals, to health benefits, and tips and tricks!

Health Benefits of going vegetarian 

The vegetarian and vegan diet have vast amounts of health benefits. These benefits are also shown in semi-vegeterians, so even if you cannot cut out meat and fish completely, lowering to 1-2 times per week will greatly impact your health. A healthy vegetarian diet is more than just cutting out your meat, it requires thoughtful planning. A dietitian such as myself, can help you form a diet to make sure you get all the protein, vitamins, and minerals you need.

some health benefits include:

  • Reduced risk for heart disease
  • Reduced risk for heart attacks
  • Reduced risk for stroke
  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Lower BMI and weight
  • Reduced risk for some types of cancers
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced risk for type 2 diabetes

Studies even showed 16% reduced mortality risk than none vegetarians.

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Protein

  • Vegetarians require about 1 g/kg of protein per day (to calculate, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get kg of weight and that is the grams of protein per day you need, for example a 150 pound person weighs 68 kg and requires 68 grams of protein) 
  • Sources of protein for vegetarians include: Beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts, grains, edamame, tofu, and tempeh.
  • Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are a major part of a vegetarian diet. They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, antioxidants, healthy fats, and low in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
  • To avoid digestion issues from legumes drain out the liquid it is soaked in in cans and rinse with fresh water. Soak dried beans 8-10 hours and rinse with fresh water before cooking. Also try taking enzymes such as bean-o prior to consumption.
  • The notion of eating “complementary protein” together at one meal to assure you get all amino acids is no longer supported, you may do so, but as long as you eat a variety of protein sources throughout the day your body will receive all the essential amino acids it needs.

Vitamins & Minerals of concern

There are 4 major micronutrients that you have to make sure you are getting, that is easy to be deficient in a vegan or vegetarian diet.

Vitamin D – If Dairy, yogurt, and cheese are apart of your diet, you can get enough from food. If you do not eat these foods or only small amounts consider vitamin D fortified orange juice and cereals. Being outside for 15 minutes a day in the sun also produces Vitamin D. Another option is supplements, and they are recommended at 100% the RDA for vegans and vegetarians who do not eat dairy. 

Iron – Vegetarian diet is deficient in iron, and even the iron it contains if less well absorbed than iron from animal sources. Cook using a cast iron skillet to increase your iron intake. Also, eat iron fortified cereals and soy products. Another tip is to eat iron with vitamin C containing foods, vitamin C aids in absorption of iron. Vitamin C containing foods include: broccoli, brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, and circus fruits. Iron congaing foods include: Beans, tomatoes, baked potatoes, soybeans, and pumpkin seeds. Do not take supplement of more than a 100% RDA of iron without doctor supervision. You can get too much iron, so try to get it from foods before resorting to supplements.

Calcium – You can get calcium from fairy, milk, and yogurt products. However if you do not consume these products you will need calcium fortified tofu and milk substitutes. Vegetarian sources of calcium include legumes, dark leafy vegetables, almonds, and sesame seeds. If you do not think you are getting enough calcium consider a calcium citrate supplement.

Vitamin B12 – A vegan and vegetarian diet is deficient in vitamin B12 and a supplement is recommended.

Additional resources: 

for more infomration download these if you are considering going vegetarian or vegan:

  1. Vegetarian starter kit from physician committee for responsible medicine – online download of this 16 page publication is available for free. http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit
  2. Vegan starter kit – vegankit.com 

Source: Today’s Dietitian

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