I have been a vegetarian (technically a lacto-ovo-pescatarian if Kyle were telling people) for 9 years now. It was a choice I made when I was on a mission trip, coincidentally to LA. One of the people on the trip was a vegetarian, and all the food he ate looked so much more appetizing than what was on my plate. At that time I was a junior in college, studying nutrition, and eating horribly. If I remember correctly, cereal was my preferential choice for dinner most nights. How sad is that? I, obviously, was not getting all the nutrients that I needed, especially not enough protein. As a student of nutrition that was not acceptable, so I had to make some changes. When I decided to be a vegetarian, it was to take control of my food intake and make sure I was getting all the essential nutrients that I needed. It didn’t – and still doesn’t – have anything to do with killing animals. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals and think they should be treated well, but I also think that some of them are on this earth for people to eat. I am just choosing to not be one of those people.
I think the motivation behind choosing this lifestyle is the detriment to most people’s success. It is usually always motivated by the fact that they think people who choose that lifestyle are skinny, and they want to be that way, too. Or they don’t like the way animals are treated but have never eaten well, and expect different results after they eliminate meat. When there is no conviction or education behind the choice, it will always end in poor results. You have to be conscious of the food you are putting into your body, considering you have eliminated an entire group of food from your diet. Just eating pasta every meal is not going to fly. There has to be thought of where you are getting essential nutrients from, what foods to pair together, and how to plan meals in order to be a healthy vegetarian. When you do this efficiently you can get most all of the nutrients your body needs, but there will be times when taking a multivitamin or supplement could be beneficial as well.
Complete proteins (when all essential amino acids are present) are only found in animal products and tofu. Once you have eliminated animal products – chicken, beef, pork – from your diet, there has to be pairing of certain foods together to achieve a complete protein. These are called complementary proteins. The good thing about this is most people who are eating a healthy (more whole foods, less processed foods) diet are already achieving a complete protein. It isn’t something that should keep you from choosing a vegetarian lifestyle, it is something that you should just be conscious of. You also don’t have to pair these foods together at the same meal. As long as you eat them in the same day it can still ensure that your body is getting all the essential amino acids. How great is our body?! If you do want to pair them at the same meal here is a list of how you should pair the foods, and some examples.
Be creative and have fun playing around with different combinations to ensure you are getting all those essential amino acids.
The source of iron that is most easily absorbed into your body comes from animal sources. When you are eating a vegetarian diet there are still foods you eat that have iron in them, but unfortunately, it is in a form you can’t really absorb. So, the foods that are on this list need to be combined with a source of vitamin C – lime juice, orange juice, lemon juice, bell peppers, etc.
1. Legumes – black beans, kidney beans, etc.
2. Dark Leafy Green Vegetables – spinach
3. Dried Fruit – raisins, apricots
When you make a salad or a dish that contains any of these items make sure you add a source of vitamin C before eating. My favorite is lime juice with beans, like in this recipe I did awhile back.
One of the main sources from where people get B12 is red meat. You can find it in some vegetables, but it is not readily available to be absorbed. B12 is a really important vitamin that you have to make sure you are getting enough of. It is involved with memory, metabolism, and cardiovascular health to name a few. The good news is there are some sources that fit into a vegetarian lifestyle. Salmon, crab, mussels, and clams are good sources of B12. If you aren’t a fan of fish then supplementing is an option. Vitamin B12 is so vital that as a vegetarian you HAVE to make sure that you are getting enough. If choosing foods that are high in B12 isn’t going to happen, then a multi-vitamin or a B12 supplement can be an ok choice. Make sure to discuss this with your doctor or dietitian to ensure it is the right move for you!
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS
Most people don’t think about fatty acids as being something they need to think about. Unfortunately with the food choices of today, more processed – less whole foods, there is more of a chance that we aren’t getting all the essential fatty acids our bodies need. Essential means our bodies can’t produce it, so we have to get it from our diet. If you are a vegetarian – or have a poor diet – that consists of pasta, bread, some veggies, and the occasional fruit, then you definitely aren’t getting all the essential fatty acids you need.
Sources of these fats include:
I know it can be hard to think about all the different aspects of being a vegetarian. That’s why I am here to help. When you are a vegetarian, there just needs to be an extra bit of planning to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body needs. This allows you to be the healthiest version of yourself.