If you’re a meat-free vegetarian or dairy-forgoing vegan, eating foods with enough key nutrients, such as iron and calcium, can be a challenge. Whether you eat meat or not, a well-rounded diet of a variety of foods is necessary to provide all the nutrients your body needs to be healthy and function properly. Be mindful of what’s on your plate and plan meals ahead of time to make sure you’re getting enough of these five essential nutrients vegetarians and vegans need.
Most of us have heard it: Drink your milk for strong and healthy teeth and bones. Well, if you’re not a vegan, that is.
Try: Even though milk and dairy products boast the highest calcium content, foods like dark green vegetables, collard greens, and kale and broccoli are great plant-based calcium sources, while calcium-enriched fortified products, like soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu, do the job as well.
Iron is the mineral champion for a healthy immune system. Without it, you will feel and look tired and unnourished. Since iron isn’t as easily absorbed from plant sources, the Mayo Clinic says that the consumption of iron for vegetarians is so important, it’s almost double that recommended for non-vegetarians.
Try: Add more beans and whole grains to your diet. Particular foods that are rich in vitamin C, such as citrus, broccoli and cabbage, enable the body to absorb iron more quickly.
Protein is the building block for healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. If you’re a vegetarian, turn to eggs and dairy products as good sources of protein.
Try: We’re back to consuming those iron-packed beans, which also offer a ton of protein, while legumes, lentils, nuts and whole grains are also great protein sources.
Zinc backs up protein, as an essential component of enzymes that help in healthy cell division and in the production of proteins. For vegetarians and vegans, zinc is harder to consume since it’s more easily absorbed in animal products than plant sources.
Try: Cheese, if you’re a vegetarian; whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts and wheat germ for both vegans and vegetarians.
5. Vitamin B-12
If you’re a vegan, it’s especially difficult to find natural foods with sources of vitamin B-12, an essential nutrient that produces red blood cells and prevents anemia. Sometimes, a vitamin B-12 deficiency can be masked by the vitamin folate (found in dark leafy greens, beans and bean sprouts), which is often consumed in a vegan diet, and can cause major problems later on.
Try: Vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products.
Source: Mayo Clinic