Designing a Balanced Vegetarian Diet

 
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The popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets is on the rise!  And although these plant-based diets are typically associated with excellent health outcomes, there are still plenty of meat-free eaters digging into processed packaging and refined carbs.  All diets require balance, variety and a little bit of planning to ensure all essential nutrient needs are being met, and for vegetarians there are a few nutrients they’re at risk of missing out on; specifically iron, calcium and vitamin B12. 

Iron: If you’re getting plenty of sleep but still finding yourself exhausted and irritable, it might be time to get your iron levels checked. While plant foods certainly contain iron, the type of iron (known as non-heme iron) is harder for the body to absorb than the iron found in animal foods (known as heme iron).  So to ensure sufficient iron intake, good plant-based sources of iron should be included in your diet; this can include legumes, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains (oats, quinoa and barley).  

Calcium:  Typically, milk and cheese are recognised as good sources of calcium, but what does this mean for vegans?   In the media, spinach usually takes the crown as the plant-based hero, but sometimes high calcium content isn’t enough.  Good sources of calcium need to provide well-absorbed calcium, which spinach is not.  Therefore, to ensure sufficient calcium intakechoosecalcium-fortified plant milks, soy products, calcium enriched cereals, and easily absorbed vegetables; such as broccoli, bok choy, silverbeet, kale and chinese cabbage.

Vitamin B12:  Vitamin B12 is exclusively found in animal foods and there are no adequate plant based forms that can be relied on to meet Vitamin B12 needs.This is a nutrient that plant-based eaters mustsupplement.  To ensure sufficient Vitamin B12 intake;visit a health professional to find a vitamin B12 supplement right for you.

A vegetarian diet can certainly be healthful, but no matter what eating pattern you choose to follow, healthy habits require planning to ensure they’re nutritionally adequate.