Summer is approaching, and with it comes a bounty of fruits and vegetables in all shapes, sizes and colors. It is a time that human herbivores relish. Grocery stores and farmers markets abound with examples of these colorful, mouthwatering plant foods there for the taking. Therefore, I thought this would be an appropriate time to blog about the vegetarian diet.
Are vegetarian diets healthier than those that include meat? This question is often asked, and the answer is simply “yes and no!” No, I’m not waffling with my answer. Well maybe a little. But I mean to point out that many diets can be healthy, both meat-eating and vegetarian; but it takes careful planning to consume a variety of foods and beverages that will provide all the nutrients necessary for good health. Some considerations for vegetarians:
- Don’t worry so much about complimentary protein to get all your essential amino acids. Eating a variety of vegetables and whole grains will help ensure that you’re getting adequate amounts of high-quality protein. And as long as you consume them within the same day – not necessarily at the same meal as once thought – that’s fine.
- Dairy of course is a good source of calcium and vitamin D. If you are a vegan, however, look for calcium-fortified foods and beverages, such as orange juice, soy milk, and tofu made with calcium. Some vegetables have moderate amounts of calcium, such as broccoli, kale, collard/turnip/mustard greens and bok choy.
- Vitamin D food sources, other than dairy, include cold-water fish (e.g. salmon, swordfish, tuna, mackerel, and sardines), fortified margarines, egg yolks, and beef liver. Beef liver is likely out if you are vegetarian, and if you are a strict vegan and don’t eat fish or eggs, you may need to consider a vitamin D supplement.
- Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products, so look for foods fortified with B12 or take a B12 supplement.
Good nutrition takes planning. If you are a vegetarian it may take a bit more. But done right, a vegetarian diet can be a very healthy one, considering all the plant foods you’ll be eating!