In 2016, 7.3 million Americans considered themselves vegetarian, while an additional 22.8 million said they follow a “vegetarian-inclined diet,” according to online research databases. Moreover, 5 percent of people surveyed said they were “definitely interested” in following a vegetarian diet in the future.
In light of vegetarianism’s popularity and World Vegetarian Day which is recognized in October, it is worth exploring the types of vegetarianism that exist, and the nutrients vegetarians need to focus on obtaining given the absence of animal products in their diets.
There are all different types of vegetarians.
- There are those who call themselves vegan and do not include any type of meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy products in their diet.
- Some individuals follow the lacto-vegetarian diet, which does not include meat, poultry, fish or eggs, but will include dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt in their diet.
- Lastly, a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet excludes meat, fish and poultry, while eggs and dairy products are eaten in their daily meals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate recommends that an adult aged 19-30 should be eating 2 cups of fruit, 2 and a half to 3 cups of vegetables, 6 to 8 ounce equivalents of grains, 5 and a half to 6 and a half equivalents of protein, 3 cups of dairy and 6 to 7 teaspoons of oils.
Based on USDA recommendations, following are some easy tips on how vegetarians can sustain their bodies with their chosen lifestyle, even if it is devoid of all meat, dairy or fish products.
Vegans do not eat any milk or dairy products and are at risk for calcium deficiencies, which could lead to an increased likelihood for developing osteoporosis, a disease in which your bones are weak and brittle and you are more likely to break them. In order to avoid a calcium deficiency as much as possible, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends eating green vegetables, for example, collards, mustard and turnip greens, kale, and bok choy. Calcium fortified orange juice and soy milk throughout the week is alo another way to maintain a healthy dose of calcium in your body. If you drink soymilk or another liquid that is fortified with calcium, be sure to shake the container well as calcium can settle to the bottom not be as effective, says the NOF.
After speaking to your doctor and dietitian, taking a calcium supplement can be another option for your levels to be at a healthy level for your age.
There are many vegan sources of protein to choose from. Quinoa, beans, tofu and nut butters are some of the few foods that will fulfill your daily percentage of your diet that should be filled with protein. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that one should be eating 10 to 35 percent of calories in protein filled foods.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential part of our diet as well. Our bodies cannot make them, so it is important to be eating them as part of our daily diet. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that Omega-3 fatty acids help our brain function, and are involved in many aspects of our growth. They are found in fish such as, salmon, albacore tuna and sardines. Those who don’t eat fish can find their omega-3’s in ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Iron is a crucial mineral for our health. Iron is significant for our genetic makeup, because if our bodies don’t hold enough iron, they can’t make enough healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells that will be sent throughout the body. Without these red blood cells, one will be constantly fatigued, and may not be able to fight off colds.
Good sources of iron come from red meat, poultry, and seafood. The Vegan Society recommends eating chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, kale, raisins, hemp seeds and fortified breakfast cereal to gather the necessary amount of iron in one’s diet.
Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products. This vitamin is important for our nervous system to work effectively, and are needed in amounts necessary for healthy skin and hair. Milk, eggs, yogurt and cheese, are good lacto-vegetarian options that contain a significant amount of vitamin B12. For vegans, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recommends eating vitamin-fortified almond, soy, hemp, or coconut milk. Vitamin B12 is also found in nutritional yeast.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine provides a great resource for those pursuing vegetarianism, along with some tasty recipes. Enjoy!
Sara Scheidlinger is currently completing her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics at Queens College in New York City. She hopes to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and pursue a career in either nutritional fertility, oncology, nutrigenomics and public health, or combine all four! She hopes to live in a world that allows healthy food to be available for everyone, anytime, anywhere.