Becoming vegetarian can have a number of physical and mental benefits, from cutting back on often inherently high-fat foods like meat and getting more fruits, vegetables and whole grains into the diet, to knowing that an animal didn’t have to die to get dinner on the table. However, if a vegetarian diet is not carefully balanced, people may unwittingly be missing out on some key nutrients. With this in mind, check out the following vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that may be lacking in vegetarians, as well as how to get a decent supply of these key substances:
Beef, seafood and other meats are all great natural sources of vitamin B-12. Fortunately, it is pretty easy to get enough vitamin B-12 from vegetarian foods; for example, if you are not going the full vegan route, eggs and milk are both rich sources of this nutrient, and many breakfast cereals have also been fortified with vitamin B-12.
As it turns out, not all proteins are created equal. In order to eat a “complete protein” that can easily assimilate into your body, you need to eat foods that have complementary chains of amino acids, and this can be tricky to do on a vegetarian diet. While beans and nuts are great sources of protein, they are not complete forms. But if you add in something like isolated soy protein from a source like soy milk, the other proteins can be more easily absorbed into your system. Another great solution to the protein problem is to blend milk or water with a meal replacement blend like BodyKey from Amway; their shakes are make from whey, which is derived from milk, along with soy protein, along with 22 essential vitamins and minerals. As a bonus, BodyKey shakes are tasty and offer a quick and convenient way to have a meal on those days when time is tight — in addition to your home pantry, keep some in your desk drawer at work for those times you need a pick me up.
A meat-based diet encourages your body to absorb zinc, but a plant-based vegetarian diet can prohibit it. In order to make sure you are getting enough zinc that your system will readily absorb, up your consumption of this key mineral by eating more sunflower seeds, cashews and soybeans and eat them at the same time as a vitamin-C-rich food. Citric acid can help your body to assimilate the zinc that is found in foods, so when you are hungry at work, grab an orange and a handful of nuts for a zinc-rich and tasty vegetarian snack.
Like protein, there are different forms of iron. While “heme” iron from meat like beef and chicken is more readily absorbed than “non-heme” iron from plants, you can still get enough of this necessary mineral. Start off by eating foods that are naturally rich in iron; these include legumes like tofu and lentils, grains like quinoa and brown rice and nuts like pistachios. Then, to ensure that this non-heme iron can actually get into your body, use the zinc/vitamin C tip and pair your pinto beans with vitamin-C-rich salsa or add plenty of lemon juice to your hummus recipe. Also, since caffeine can interfere with iron absorption, avoid drinking iced tea or coffee while eating an iron-rich meal.