Making sure we are eating a balanced diet, ensures that we are getting all the nutrients we need to live a healthy and active life. However people that have specific food requirements often need to pay a little more attention, just to make sure they are not missing out!
Here are 6 essential nutrients that all vegetarians and vegans should make sure they are getting enough of!
Protein - Many people often worry that being vegetarian means that they have to gain their protein from supplements. But this just isn’t the case. Yes protein is very important in everyone’s diet, in fact it should make around 10-30% of your daily calorie intake, however meat is not the only source of complete protein. Great vegetarian sources of complete protein include: Tempeh, quinoa, buckwheat and seitan. Other incomplete protein sources that can be eaten together (or within the same day) to provide all the 9 essential amino acids you need include: Rice, beans, nuts, seeds, grains.
Vitamin B12 - B12 is vital in the growth of red cells as well as maintaining the nervous system. The problem is that the only unfortified and completely natural sources of B12 are meat, dairy and eggs. So this means that vegetarians, especially vegans, are at risk of not getting enough. Vegetarians should consider eating egg and dairy products on a daily basis, and vegans should look out for B12 fortified vegan cheeses, burgers, cereals etc. It isn’t a bad idea to have your B12 levels checked next time you visit your GP, because low B12 levels can leave you feeling tired, unfocused and sometimes a little depressed. You may just need to take supplements to help keep your levels healthy.
Iron - Most vegetarians have heard the spiel about the importance of getting enough iron in their diet. Iron is an essential part of haemoglobin, which means that it plays an important role in ensuring that oxygen is transported from your lungs to your heart, brain and every other single cell in your body. There are two types of iron; heme and nonheme. Heme is more readily absorbed in the body and is only found in meat, poultry and fish. Non-heme is less easily absorbed and comes from both meat and plant based foods. This is why it is recommended that vegetarians ensure they are eating enough iron to stay healthy. Contrary to common belief, green leafy vegetables are not actually the best vegetarian source of iron because they often also contain an acid called ‘oxalates’ which binds to the iron and makes it hard to absorb. Excellent vegetarian sources include; legumes, prunes, raisins, nuts, seeds, broccoli, kale and grains.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids - These are another nutrient that vegetarians need to ensure they get enough of because they have numerous health benefits; including reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and they also help reduce the risk of dementia and depression! Unfortunately though, omega 3’s are most readily found in fish and fish oil. Vegetarian options include flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybeans and spinach.
Calcium - Calcium is one of those nutrients that can become more of an issue for vegans than vegetarians, because it is readily available in most dairy products. It plays an important role in blood clotting and bone building. Vegean options for calcium include oranges, chick-peas, broccoli, dried figs and other foods fortified with calcium.
Vitamin D - Vitamin D is integral in the absorption of calcium and only found in animal based foods such as milk, yogurt, eggs and salmon…. Fortunately it is also found outside on a nice sunny day! Sunshine should provide you with all the vitamin D you need.