Adapting a well-planned, plant-based diet can offer amazing health benefits. But lack of variation and knowledge, and focusing on the mainstream marketed products instead of eating a varied diet filled with whole food sources may leave you missing out on essential nutrients.
From animal-free to fish-friendly, we’ll explore the variety of vegetarian diet preferences and what to watch for when minimizing animal products.
There are many reasons why you may choose to adapt a more vegetarian lifestyle such as cultural trends, environmental concerns, animal welfare, and personal health. When it comes to vegetarian diets, the type varies depending on what animal-based foods you decide to exclude:
Some people may also follow a flexitarian diet which is mainly plant-based but may include small amounts of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy on occasion.
Vegetarian diets have been shown to improve heart health, balance blood sugar levels, promote a healthy weight, and help prevent illness (2). This is because plant-based foods contain lots of nutrients such as dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C and E, and phytochemicals with less saturated fat and cholesterol (3). Additionally, the food is often less calorie dense on a plant based diet than on a diet that includes animal products, which can be both helpful and challenging depending on the individual goal. Using a tool such as Lifesum app will help you keep track of your calorie intake and guide you towards your goal.
In most cases, a plant-based whole foods diet can fulfill your body’s nutrient needs without additional supplements. But this takes some awareness and planning. It’s best to focus on lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans and lentils), whole grains, nuts and seeds.
The more “strict” the diet, the greater the chance for missing out on nutrients. So if you’re avoiding all animal products, make sure to focus on adding these in your daily meals (3):
Omega 3 fatty acid is important for brain function and heart health. Since the type of omega-3s found in vegan sources (ALA) are more difficult for your body to convert into the more beneficial forms (EPA and DHA) found in seafood, it’s recommended that vegans make sure to include plenty of these in their diet (4).
Vitamin D is needed to regulate calcium in the body which helps with healthy bones, teeth, and muscles. It also helps with immunity and mental wellbeing (5). Vitamin D is found in eggs, fish and seafood so this nutrient is less of a concern if you include these kinds of food in your diet. Nowadays vitamin D is also found in fortified dairy products, and luckily for those who want to lower their intake of animal products- the alternative plant-based dairy products are commonly fortified as well. So if on a plant based diet including these to increase the intake of vitamin D:
Calcium is important for the health of bones, heart, muscle, and nerve function. This mineral is found in dairy products and some seafood so not a concern if you munch on those foods. Some plant-based dairy alternative products are also fortified with calcium. Here are some food rich in calcium, that are great to include in a plant-based diet:
Zinc is essential for a healthy immune system, metabolism, and helps with wound healing. Zinc is less of a concern for pescaterians and lacto-vegetraians since some is found in dairy and lots is found in seafood. However, zinc can also be found in plant-based foods such as:
Absorption of zinc increases by using yeast-based breads, sourdough, sprouts, and pre soaked legumes (7).
Iron is a mineral which helps move oxygen and energy around the body (8). Iron is found in fish, seafood, meat, eggs and small amounts are found in dairy. For those who want to exclude all animal products, iron can also be found in these foods:
Adding vitamin C to vegetarian sources of iron helps increase the absorption (8). Vitamin C can be found in red bell pepper, oranges, limes, lemons, tomatoes, and strawberries.
Here’s a great example of an iron optimized meal which includes lentils, eggs and tomato: Shakshuka with Lentils
Vitamin B12 helps contribute to energy and metabolism, healthy hair and skin, and digestion. It’s mainly found in animal products so for those who eat a strict plant-based diet and excludes all animal products, it is important to keep track of the levels of B12. Fortified foods or supplements might be necessary (9) such as:
Protein is important for muscle building, repairing tissues, making enzymes, hormones, and building the structure of the body. It’s a long standing myth that you can’t get enough protein from vegetarian and vegan diets. The trick is to include lots of varied sources. Check out some plant-based protein sources here: Plant-based High-protein Eating
In most cases, a well planned plant-based diet can fulfill nutrient requirements. If you think you may be at risk for a nutrient deficiency and are considering a supplement, check with your physician.
Keep in mind that just because something is marketed as “vegan” or “vegetarian” doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Aim to limit processed and packaged meat alternatives as well as sugary foods and refined grains, since they might be filled with added sugars, saturated fats and have a high amount of sodium.
To get the best benefits of a vegetarian diet, focus on healthy plant-based foods such as whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables.
Not sure if you’re getting the nutrients you need? Enjoy hundreds of vegetarian friendly recipes with the Lifesum app.
All of the content and media on Lifesum is created and published for information purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Users should always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice. If you have or think you are at risk of developing an eating disorder, do not use the Lifesum app and seek immediate medical help.