October is Vegetarian Awareness Month, and we’re spotlighting how this trendy eating style can be a healthy option for your family.
Ask ten vegetarians to define their diet, and chances are you may get ten slightly different answers. Here’s a general roundup: A true vegetarian diet excludes meat and seafood or products containing meat products. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians generally eat grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, seeds, nuts, dairy products and eggs, while lacto-vegetarians exclude eggs. A vegan diet excludes all animal products, including dairy and eggs.
SPECIAL NUTRITION CONSIDERATIONS
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, properly planned vegetarian diets are healthful and provide adequate nutrition for all stages of life, including childhood. In order to plan a vegetarian diet that provides all the nutrients the body needs, choose a variety of foods, and focus on the following nutrients:
- Protein: Protein functions as the building blocks of all the cells in the body. Vegetarian sources of protein include beans and peas, nuts, seeds, eggs, soy products, and dairy products. We now know that consuming complimentary proteins at the same meal is not important, but rather eating a variety of plant foods throughout the day and from day to day can provide all of the essential amino acids and meet protein needs.
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- Iron: Iron is a carrier of oxygen in the bloodstream. Vegetarian source of iron include fortified cereals, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, peas, lentils, molasses and whole-wheat bread. Nonheme iron from plant foods is not absorbed as efficiently as heme iron from animal products. Consuming nonheme iron with a source of Vitamin C, like citrus fruits, can increase the amount of iron the body is able to absorb. For example, topping a spinach salad with orange sections will increase the amount of iron from the spinach that the body is able to absorb.
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- Calcium: Calcium is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. Vegetarian source of calcium include dairy products, fortified soy milk and orange juice, fortified cereals, and dark leafy greens, including collard, turnip, and mustard greens. Most lacto-ovo-vegetarians have sufficient calcium intakes from food, but vegans may require a calcium supplement.
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- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells and in the maintenance of the central nervous system. Vegetarians can get adequate Vitamin B12 by consuming dairy products and eggs. No unfortified plant foods contain a significant amount of Vitamin B12, so vegans may require a supplement.
MEAL-PLANNING TIPS FOR VEGETARIANS
- Choose a variety of foods each day, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans and peas, nuts, seeds, and if desired, eggs and dairy foods.
- Choose lower-fat protein sources, like beans, peas, lentils and whole grains as the center of your plate rather than consuming large amounts of high fat cheese.
- Choose low-fat dairy products, including low-fat milk, yogurt and cheeses.
- Use processed vegetarian products, like frozen veggie burgers and vegetarian meat substitutes, in moderation, and choose a variety of fresh foods as the basis of your diet.
The eMeals Vegetarian meal plans take the work out of planning simple, family-friendly vegetarian meals. Written and reviewed by Registered Dietitians, these plans provide seven healthy, well-balanced vegetarian dinner recipes your whole family will love each and every week.
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Do you subscribe to a vegetarian diet? We’d love to hear what you do to stay healthy!