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Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarians generally do not eat any animal flesh and may not eat animal-derived products. There are different types of vegetarians. For instance, lacto-ovo vegetarians consume dairy products (lacto) and eggs (ovo) whereas vegans do not eat any animal/insect-derived products, including milk, eggs and honey.

People may choose to follow a vegetarian diet for a variety of reasons that may relate to health, ethics & animal rights, the environment, human hunger, economics and religion.

A well-planned vegetarian diet can have potential health benefits. It takes careful planning to ensure nutrient needs are being met when omitting animal-based foods.   

Nutrients of Note for Vegetarians:

If you are following a vegetarian diet, ensure you are getting enough of these key nutrients by including a variety of these foods daily in your diet:

  • Iron – Iron helps to maintain red blood cells and energy levels. Legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, soy products; nuts and nut butters; seeds; iron-fortified breakfast cereals; blackstrap molasses;  certain vegetables like green peas and kale; and dried fruit such as apricots and prunes are good sources of iron.  Eggs, fish, shellfish, and meat also contain iron.  Adding a source of vitamin C with iron-containing plant foods enhances the absorption of iron in the body.   Red or green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges, strawberries, and kiwis are good sources of vitamin C.
  • Vitamin B12 – Vitamin B12 helps to maintain red blood cells and energy levels.  Vitamin B12 is found naturally in animal products including meat, fish, eggs and dairy.  Foods may also be fortified with vitamin B12.  Soy, almond, and rice milks as well as soy-based meat substitutes may be fortified with vitamin B12.  Red Star Y 6635 Nutritional Yeast is a reliable food source of vitamin B12 that is also acceptable to vegans.  Vegans may consider taking a synthetic vitamin B12 supplement. 
  • Protein – Protein supports growth through the lifecycle and maintains muscles.  Legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, soy products; nuts; nut butters; and seeds are good sources of protein as are meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. 
  • Omega 3 fats – Omega 3 fats maintain proper nerve function and heart health.  Omega 3 fats are found in certain nuts (walnuts, soy nuts, pecans) and seeds (flaxseed,chia seed, pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts), and vegetable oils (flax, canola, walnut, soybean oils).  Foods may also be fortified with omega 3 fats such as eggs, dairy products and non-dairy beverages such as soy, rice or almond milk.  Fish and seafood are naturally high sources of omega 3 fats.
  • Zinc – Zinc contributes to a healthy immune system and supports normal growth and development for all ages.  Zinc is found in legumes, nuts and seeds, wheat germ, and bran. Zinc is also found in dairy products, eggs, meat, and shellfish.
  • Calcium - Calcium maintains structure of bones and teeth and helps the heart to work properly.  Vegetarian sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, and kale; tofu prepared with calcium sulfate; navy and baked beans; tahini; almonds; and blackstrap molasses.  Calcium is also found in milk products and calcium-fortified beverages such as soy, rice, almond, and orange juice.  
  • Vitamin D – Vitamin D enhances the immune system and aids in bone health.  Vitamin D is naturally present in few foods, an exception is fattier fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna . Cow’s milk contains added vitamin D as do many soy, rice, and almond beverages.  Sunlight can be a major provider; however vitamin D production varies throughout the year related to one’s geographical location. For people living in Manitoba, supplementation should be considered.

How much of these nutrients to you need? Click on each to find out: Iron ; Vitamin B12, Omega 3; Zinc; Calcium; Vitamin D. If you have questions about vegetarian diets, contact a dietitian (Dial a Dietitian). A dietitian can help you make a plan that’s right for you!

Vegetarian Supports and Resources:

In your Community:

For More Information:

Recipes:

 

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