We’ve touched on the need for proper nutrition previously in this book and this chapter is dedicated to helping you understand how you can ensure you get the right levels of nutrition from the foods you are eating. This is very important for new vegetarians to ensure you do not become deficient in any vitamins or minerals which could harm your health.
A vegetarian who doesn’t eat the right type of diet could end up with chronic fatigue and a compromised immune system so it is important that you eat the right types of food. Firstly you need to decide what type of vegetarian diet you are going to follow. A lacto-ovo vegetarian is going to get a lot more essential nutrients than a pure vegan, but you can still be healthy when following the latter diet.
You need to understand the vitamin content of food and ensure that you eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit and vegetables, as these are your primary sources of vitamins. You want around six to eight portions of vegetables and three to four of fruit every single day. If you are not getting these then you are going to become deficient in vital nutrients.
Protein is essential and it isn’t hard to get the required levels on a vegetarian diet. However, you need to make sure it is coming from good sources such as tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas and so on. You can get protein from textured vegetable proteins (meat replacements) though this is highly processed and can contain chemicals, saturated fats and other unwanted additives.
You can also get your protein from whole grains and leafy green vegetables as well as dairy products and eggs. If you are concerned about your protein levels then you can use vegetarian protein powders mixed into smoothies or juices.
If you feel that you are lacking in the proper nutrition then get some vitamin tablets and start taking them. You may find you are not getting enough vitamin B-12, calcium and iron but you can get iron from mushrooms, tofu and cashew nuts. If you do choose to take an iron supplement then you will need to also take a vitamin C supplement to help you absorb the iron.
Calcium is found in the leafy green vegetables as well as fortified products such as soy milk and so on. If you are taking a calcium supplement then also take a vitamin D supplement as this will help you absorb the calcium properly. B-12 is the big problem for pure vegans because it is found in animal products and not in vegetables. However, you can get this from fortified yeasts, cereal or soy milk. It is found in eggs and dairy products if you are a lacto-ovo vegetarian. You will also need Omega-3 fatty acids which are vital for your brain development, eyesight and muscles. This is found in eggs but can also be found in pure vegetarian sources such as soybeans, tofu, walnuts, flaxseed oil and canola oil. If you are in doubt about how much of this you are getting then take a supplement.
When you are getting the right nutrition from your vegetarian diet you will feel fantastic and really benefit from following this way of eating. Make sure you are getting all the right vitamins and if you feel you aren’t then take some supplements to give your system a boost.