Going vegetarian is a good way to “eat green” and clean up your diet. After all, with a concentrated intake of raw, natural foods, you’ll provide your body with the nutrients required to counteract the negative effects of processed, artificial, and toxin-rich food. However, the downside is that you’re at risk of certain nutrient deficiencies. It’s vital that you eat certain nutrient rich foods for vegetarians in order to get enough of the essential nutrients below:
Meat and animal products are the best sources of the amino acids your body needs in order to build muscle. However, they’re not the ONLY place you can get protein. Legumes like beans, lentils, and chickpeas are also loaded with some of the essential amino acids, and you can get the rest from whole grains like brown rice, barley, and quinoa. You can also find protein in nuts and nut butters, as well as soy products. If you’re not averse to eating eggs and dairy products, you can get a good deal of protein from these foods.
Calcium is vital for healthy bones. Without calcium, your body won’t be able to produce new bone tissue. It also won’t be able to activate stored fat for burning, leading to higher fat storage. Dairy products are the best source of calcium, but what do you do if you don’t eat dairy in your vegetarian diet? Plant-based milks (soy and almond) are rich in calcium, as are fortified cereals. You can find juices and tofu that are fortified with calcium as well. For natural foods, try dark leafy greens and broccoli. Soybeans, chickpeas, and black beans are loaded with calcium, as are almonds (and almond butter). You can still get plenty of bone-healthy calcium from these vegetarian foods.
Iron is needed for the production of red blood cells, which are responsible for transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. Red meat is the best source of iron, but vegetarians will be able to get more of this mineral by eating a lot of dark leafy greens. Spinach, kale, chard, and bok choi are all loaded with iron. You can also get more iron from fortified breakfast cereals, as well as from soy beans and legumes in general. If your diet permits, you can add eggs into the mix—they’re one of the best sources of iron around!
Vitamin D is a nutrient required for the absorption and utilization of both calcium and Vitamin A. Most dairy products in the U.S. are fortified with Vitamin D, but what can you do if you’re cutting dairy from your diet? Many soy milk products are fortified with Vitamin D, as are a number of ready-made cereals. However, the best way to get more Vitamin D is to spend more time in the sunlight. Your skin produces Vitamin D as a result of UV rays. With just 30 minutes of direct sunlight per day, you’ll get a lot more of this vitamin!
Vitamin B12 plays a central role in your metabolism, encouraging your body to burn calories rather than storing them for fat. Red meat is one of the few dietary sources of Vitamin B12, but you can also get this vitamin from eggs and dairy products. For vegetarians that are cutting all animal products from their diet, there are certain foods that are fortified with Vitamin B12: nutritional yeast, ready-made cereals, soy milk, and meat alternatives. These foods can help you get enough Vitamin B12 in your diet WITHOUT having to resort to meat, milk, or eggs.