Vegetarians are people who do not eat animal food, that is, meat, poultry and seafood.
Vegans are vegetarians who abstain from eating or using all animal products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, other dairy foods, eggs as well products made from silk, wool, leather. Causes for vegetarianism range from ecological (saving the environment and its inhabitants), compassion for animals, genuine apathy for meat, health reasons, religious factors, belief in non-violence and so on.
A vegetarian diet can meet all known nutritional needs. This has been affirmed by the American Dietetic Association. The key to a healthy vegetarian diet is to eat
a wide variety of foods from the various food groups, namely whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, green leafy vegetables, other vegetables and fruits. Limit intake of high fat and high sugar foods.
Most people take up vegetarianism in an instance and give up non vegetarian food overnight. Others make a gradual change. Do what works best for you. Some people go in for quick and easy vegetarian dishes while others plan elaborate veggie meals. Whether it is tough or easy to be a vegetarian, it totally depends on how you choose to make it.
Protein: Vegetarians who eat a varied diet and get sufficient calories to maintain their weight, can meet their protein requirement. It is not necessary to plan food combinations. A good mix of proteins through the diet will supply the essential amino acids required by the body.
Vegetarian Protein Food Sources
Nuts, seeds, beans and lentils, tofu, low fat dairy products like yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, tempeh are protein sources. Many carbohydrate based foods like breads, whole grains, corn, potatoes quickly add to the protein intake.
Veg Iron Food Sources
Leafy veggies like spinach and collard greens, beet greens, prune juice, bulgur, blackstrap molasses, dried fruit are all good sources of iron (Heme Iron). To improve iron availability and absorption in the body, eat a meal which has a combination of a vitamin C rich food with an iron containing food. For e.g. Squeeze lemon on spinach soup or dried beans just before you consume them. This ensures optimal iron absorption into the body. For some more ideas, some vitamin C containing foods are citrus fruits, tomato or broccoli. Iron intake can also be improved by cooking food in iron cookware.
Calcium Food Sources:
Low fat dairy products, soybeans, brocolli, collard greens, kale, turnip greens, tofu prepared with calcium, fortified soy milk are all calcium rich foods.
Vitamin B12 Food Sources:
Vitamin B12 is primarily obtained from animal foods. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin B12 is quite low. A diet containing eggs and dairy products should provide adequate vitamin B12. Some good non animal-based foods for vitamin B12 are fortified foods such as some soy products, soy milk, some brands of nutritional yeast, grape-nuts cereal. It is wise to read food labels to ensure that they contain vitamin B12. Sea vegetables and tempeh may contain vitamin B12 but it varies and is unreliable.
However, if you do not consume dairy products, eggs or fortified foods, then a non-animal derived vitamin B12 supplement is useful to prevent deficiency. Vitamin B12 requirements and sources is an area of research.
Vegetarian diets can meet all the nutritional needs for growth and development. However, in case of a vegan diet, it is necessary to plan it well along with inclusion of fortified soy milk to avoid any deficiencies.
Among Americans, vegetarian diets are likely to be lower in fat than a typical American diet. Remember that only animal products (which include dairy products and eggs) contain cholesterol. Vegetable products do not contain any cholesterol. It is important to know that some vegetable products, like coconut oil and palm oil are rich in saturated fat. Researches have shown that saturated fats need to be limited or avoided as they have an adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels.