Important Nutrients for Vegetarians
By Sara Butler
There are many benefits to a plant-based diet, but there are some important things to remember about the foods you do eat when you’ve cut meat or other animal products from your diet. If you’ve committed to a plant-based lifestyle, then here are some important nutrients you need to make sure to include to keep your diet as healthy and balanced as possible.
When you tell people you don’t eat meat, they probably harp on you about how on earth you get enough protein! The truth is, there are many plant-based foods with plenty of protein to support good health. As long as you have a plan for ways to replace animal proteins in your diet and don’t just replace them with carbohydrates, then you should be just fine.
How much protein do you need? Divide your weight by 2.2 and you’ll find roughly about how many grams of protein you need per day. If you weigh 200 pounds, then you need about 90 grams of protein per day to stay healthy and give your body what it needs. Of course, eggs, milk, and cheese are a great way to pack in the protein, but nuts, soy, beans, and legumes are also excellent sources.
Vitamin B12 is tricky because it’s only found in sources of animal protein such as eggs and dairy. Your body needs it to maintain the health of the central nervous system and grow red blood cells to deliver oxygen to your organs. Vegetarians can often lose out on this vitamin, especially if you’re a vegan.
You need about 2.4 micrograms of Vitamin B12 per day for your health. If you eat eggs and dairy, those provide enough. If you don’t, then you can get enough in fortified foods such as cereals, vegetable burgers, nutritional yeast, or fortified vegan cheese and yogurt.
Iron is essential to the hemoglobin that carries oxygen in your blood. According to the Institutes of Medicine, about 40 percent of the iron your body needs can be found in poultry, meat, and fish. This type of iron is easier for your body to absorb, which is why, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, the recommended daily allowance of iron is higher than meat eaters. The iron found in vegetables is simply not absorbed as well, so you have to eat more of it.
Reach for legumes, kale, broccoli, seeds, nuts, raisins, prunes, and fortified cereals to help you get enough iron per day -- about 30 milligrams per day if you’re a pre-menopausal woman or 14 milligrams per day if you’re post-menopausal or a man.
When you're a vegetarian or vegan, proper nutrition is essential!
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