A Balanced Vegetarian Diet
Perhaps the most common concern about vegetarian diets is how to make sure you’re getting balanced nutrition. Most people wonder how vegetarians get enough iron and protein. There are other important facets to vegetarian eating besides these common issues, such as getting enough vitamin B12 and making sure the diet doesn’t rely too heavily on any one type of food.
Many would-be vegetarians shrug off the idea of giving up meat for fear they would not get adequate amounts of protein. The truth is, vegetarians have no trouble getting enough of this vital nutrient. Balanced vegetarian diets contain plenty of protein derived from beans, cheese and other dairy products as well as grains and nuts. Protein is also abundant in soy-based foods like tofu and meat substitutes, which many vegetarians readily consume. Vegetarians watching their weight and fat intake should make sure not to rely on dairy as their primary protein source.
Iron is readily present in beef, and while this is the most common source of the nutrient, is certainly isn’t the only, or most plentiful source. Cruciferous and green leafy vegetables contain high amounts of iron, as well as vitamin C, which, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, increases iron absorption. Dried beans also have high levels of irons. The RDA recommends 14 milligrams of iron for adults daily, and according to the Vegetarian Resource Group, “vegetarians do not have a higher incidence of iron deficiency than do meat eaters.”
Vitamin B12 is required in very, very small doses in the body to support cell production and division. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, it’s a common misconception that animals produce B12. B12 is actually a byproduct of bacterial contamination. Animals eat this bacteria, and we eat these animals. By skipping the middle step, vegetarians can also get adequate amounts of B12. Common sources are dairy, vitamin supplements, fortified soy milk and nutritional yeast flakes.
Vegetarians who eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, as well as dairy, will have an adequately balanced diet that meets or exceeds the recommended daily allowances set forth by the FDA.