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Vegetarian Nutrition Basics For The Health Conscious

If you are a vegetarian, nutrition should be an important factor in your daily life. A vegetarian typically lives on a diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and sometimes certain animal products like eggs and milk. Because of this limited diet, a vegetarian must ensure that they get enough nutrients from their plant-based diet to live healthily.

Vegetarian Basics

There are many kinds of vegetarians, ranging from those that eat some animal products like fish, dairy and eggs, to those that do not eat any animal products. The reasons for vegetarianism vary greatly among cultural and social lines. Many people adhere to different levels of a vegetarian diet for religious, health, ethical, economical or ecological reasons.

Most vegetarians eat a diet that is high in fiber and low in overall fat content and calories. This type of eating has shown a relationship between risk reduction for many chronic diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and breast and colon cancers.

Vegans and B12 Deficiencies

Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets can potentially be beneficial or harmful to your health, depending on how you plan your diet. Vegans face the biggest challenge to intake an adequate amount of calories and maintain a desirable body weight, without eating any animal products. Additionally, they need to be sure to include B12 supplementation in their diet. This can be easily added to the diet by eating vegetarian meat supplements fortified with B12 or by taking a supplement.

Riboflavin and Vitamin D Deficiencies

Getting adequate riboflavin and vitamin D is also a concern for anyone following a diet that does not include milk or milk products. Vitamin D is synthesized by the body when skin is exposed to sunlight, so if there is also little sun exposure, vitamin D supplementation may be necessary.

Vitamin C and Iron Absorption

As with any diet, eating a wide variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, low-fat dairy products and fortified soy substitutes is key to maintaining good health and nutrition. Vegetarians should eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and always be sure to include a good source of vitamin C to really enhance their iron absorption.

Vegetarian Daily Food Recommendations

Vegetarians should use whole and unrefined grains when possible, eat low-fat dairy products and limit egg yolk intake to keep cholesterol low. Overall vegetarians should also follow some basic daily food recommendations to ensure optimal health, including:

  • 4 servings of milk
  • milk products or soy milk
  • 2 servings of legumes
  • 1 serving of nuts
  • 6 servings of whole grains
  • 7 or more servings of fruits and vegetables 
  • 1 to 2 servings of oil

By varying your diet and eating a wide variety of foods, you are likely to not have nutritional problems on a vegetarian diet. If you are concerned about your nutrition, consult with a registered dietician or your doctor to determine if your diet is healthy and that you are getting all the nutrients that you need to have lots of energy and feel great.

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