Vegetarian Healthy Eating Guidelines

carrot-1085063Want to go “vegetarian”? First, you need to figure out what kind of vegetarian you want to become:

  • Lacto-ovo: Eats dairy and eggs, but no other animal products
  • Lacto: Eats dairy, but no eggs or other animal foods
  • Ovo: Eats eggs, but no dairy or other animal foods
  • Pescatarian: Eats fish, possibly dairy and/or eggs, but no other animal foods
  • Flexitarian: A vegetarian who occasionally eats meat
  • Vegan: No meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, or honey

So, have you decided which group feels best for you?

Why go vegetarian?

A well-balanced vegetarian diet will reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Top Tips to Going Veg:

  • Eat a variety of “whole foods,” with plenty of beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Avoid unhealthy foods like trans fats, which are usually listed as partially hydrogenated oils. Deep-fried foods often contain trans-fats. Choose margarine that uses non-hydrogenated oil, like Earth Balance or Smart Balance.
  • Vitamin B12: It’s important to make sure that you get enough vitamin B12 from fortified foods (like most brands of soy or rice milks, some breakfast cereals, and many brands of nutritional yeast) on a daily basis or by taking a sublingual B12 tablet of 10 mcg per day.

Essential Nutrients

A healthy, balanced vegetarian diet rich in beans, lentils, nuts, nut butters, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables—along with a bit of vitamins B12 and D—will give you everything that your body needs. If you often eat on the go and don’t always have time to eat nutritious meals, taking a multivitamin might be a good option.

Calcium

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Calcium is important for strong bones and teeth, as well as a healthy heart.  Aim to eat 1,000-1,500 mg/day.

Good sources of calcium include: milk (300 mg/cup) & yogurt (400 mg/cup), calcium-fortified orange juice (400 mg/cup), and cheese.

Good sources of plant-based calcium include some dark-green leafy vegetables (such as broccoli, collard greens, and kale), almonds, sesame tahini, calcium-fortified soy or rice milk, some brands of tofu.

If you’d rather take a calcium supplement, look for a supplement that contains calcium, vitamin D, vitamin K, and other minerals that for together to help form bone and increase its absorption into existing bone. Over the counter supplements, such as Jarrow’s Bone Up and New Chapter’s Bone Strength. Also know this – calcium is best absorbed while you sleep, so make sure to take it before you go to bed, but no more than 600 mg of calcium, as your body won’t absorb more than that at one time.

Vitamin D

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Current research has pointed to the role of Vitamin D in osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, muscle weakness, gum disease, and more.

Have you had your vitamin D levels tested lately? Well, you should. We’ve found out that most people are vitamin D deficient. The exact test you need is a 25-hydroxyvitamin D test. The ideal blood levels are 50-80 ng/ml. If yours aren’t high enough, then you need to supplement.

Sunshine is one of the best sources of Vitamin D. During warmer months, your skin manufactures enough of this vitamin if your face and forearms are exposed to sunlight for 15 to 20 minutes per day.  But our desire to reduce our chances of skin cancer have us all putting on sunscreen every day. That’s great! Keep up with the sunscreen. The bad news is wearing sunscreen prevents our bodies from absorbing the rays that help your body make Vitamin D. Also, if you live at higher latitudes during the winter, the amount of sunshine and the strength of the rays are minimal, so even going out without sunscreen won’t help much in Vitamin D absorption. Your best bet – supplement with 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3 every day. Depending on your blood levels, you may need more. Some people take 2000-5000 IUs/day to get their levels up.

Iodine

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Iodine is a trace mineral that’s important for healthy thyroid function. Table salt is the most common and reliable source of iodine in Americans’ diets. (However, sodium in processed foods usually does not contain iodine.) If you don’t consume table salt, you can get iodine from a multivitamin or from kelp tablets. For vegetarian-sushi lovers, seaweed is a good source of the trace element.

Iron

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Iron is found in numerous plant foods, including black beans, cashews, kidney beans, lentils, oatmeal, raisins, black-eyed peas, soybeans, spinach, many breakfast cereals, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, veggie burgers, tomato juice, tempeh, molasses, and whole-wheat bread. Make sure you eat vitamin C-rich foods (e.g., citrus fruits and peppers) when you eat iron-rich foods to increase iron absorption. Because young women—regardless of whether they eat meat—tend to have higher rates of anemia compared to the overall population, it may be wise for them to take a multivitamin containing iron.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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Omega-3s reduce your risk of heart disease, inflammation, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and help prevent depression. The best forms of omega-3s are EPA and DHA, both found in fish. They are important for brain, eye, and heart health as well as decreasing inflammation. Plant sources of omega-3s contain ALA, which has to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but does so at a very low rate. What are your best sources?

Fish: wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, halibut
Plants: Flaxseeds (ground), walnuts, canola oil
Supplement: Algal oil (vegan), Fish Oil, Flax oil

Protein

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Protein is found abundantly in plant foods. You should consume a variety of protein sources, including legumes and foods made from them (e.g., beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter, tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk), nuts, seeds, nutritional yeast, and whole grains. The old school of thought was that you had to combine certain plant foods at each meal because each one is considered to be an incomplete protein (missing one essential amino acid). When you combine them – like beans and rice – you make a complete protein. Now we know that as long as you eat these complementary proteins at some point during the day, then that complete protein will be made.

A big bonus from eating these plant-based proteins is that they are also high fiber and full of energy-rich complex carbohydrates.

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