If you have made the choice to eat vegetarian or vegan, the good news is that your diet is full of fiber, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants as well as low in saturated fat. The not so good news is that there may be vital nutrients that are missing from your diet that are found in meat and dairy and you may not be feeding your body properly to keep your energy level up. That doesn’t mean you have to return to carnivore ways, but it does mean you need to make sure you are finding plant based substitutes for these nutrients. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics lists the main nutritional concerns for vegetarians and vegans as including protein, vitamin D, iron, zinc and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Replacement Nutrition for Vegetarians and Vegans
Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet does require you to do a little planning to make sure your body is getting all the nutrition it needs to stay healthy and perform. Let’s take a look at the nutritional concerns for these types of diets and ways to address them. Depending on whether you are eating vegetarian or vegan you may not be including dairy in your diet, but we are going to list any non-meat foods and you can pick what fits your particular diet.
Protein – Protein is necessary for building muscle, bone and skin, repairing damaged muscle tissue, for strong hair and nails, and making chemicals the body needs to function. Generally you can figure out how much protein you should eat daily by dividing your weight measured in pounds by 2.2. This will give you your weight in kilograms and the number of grams of protein you should eat each day. So for example if you weigh 180 lbs., that would be 81.81 kilograms and 81.81 grams of protein needed or rounded off to 82. Non-meat foods for protein include beans, legumes, nuts, soy, milk, eggs, cheese, tofu, soy milk, whole grains, and seeds.
Vitamin B12 – You need adequate amounts of vitamin B12 for your nervous system function and to make red blood cells. A lack of this vitamin that is prevalent in meat, dairy and eggs can lead to macrocytic anemia, heart palpitations, memory loss, dizziness, nerve damage and loss of vision. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12 for adults is 204 mcg. and spreading your vitamin B12 foods throughout the day can help you absorb them better. Non-meat food sources for vitamin B12 include vegan cheese, yogurt, eggs, dairy products, fortified cereals, fortified veggie burgers, and nutritional yeast.
Calcium – Calcium is of course needed for strong bones and if you are between the ages of 18 and 50 you need 1000 mg a day and 1200 mg a day if you are over 50. Milk and dairy products are a good source of calcium as are chickpeas, broccoli, dried figs, enriched breads, tofu that is calcium set, vegan cheeses that are calcium fortified, and fortified juices and cereals.
Iron – Iron is needed for taking oxygen from the lungs to body cells through the blood. There are two types of iron – heme and non-heme. The body is better able to absorb heme iron. The Institutes of Medicine and The Vegetarian Resource Group report that the iron obtained through meat, poultry and fish sources are 40% heme and 60% non-heme. Iron food sources that are plant based are non-heme which makes the RDA for iron more for vegetarians and vegans than for people who eat meat. After menopause for women and for men the Institutes of Medicine recommend 14 mg a day of iron and prior to menopause for women they recommend 33 mg a day. Non-meat food sources for iron include legumes, fortified vegetarian faux meats, soy products, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, prunes, raisins, fortified cereals and grains, kale and broccoli and other dark green leafy vegetables. While spinach, beet greens, rhubarb, and Swiss chard also have iron, they also contain an acid that keeps the body from absorbing it. To increase the absorption of iron you can eat vitamin C rich foods along with your iron food sources, cook with cast iron pans and avoid drinking tea or coffee at the same time as your iron food sources.
Zinc – Zinc is needed for a healthy immune system, metabolism and for the body to heal. The National Institutes of Health recommend that those on a vegetarian or vegan diet get 50% more zinc than meat eaters. The recommended amount for meat eaters is 40 mg for adults. Zinc is another mineral that is not absorbed as well by the body when it comes from plant based food sources such as whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, miso, cheese, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs and dairy. You can increase the absorption by soaking nuts, beans and legumes overnight before eating them and sprouting brown, green or French lentils.
Omega-3 fatty acids – Omega-3 fatty acids have a variety of health benefits including lowering risk of heart disease, eye health, brain health, decreasing blood pressure, helping with arthritic joint pain and inflammation, and reducing risks of dementia and depression. Meat eaters get this essential fatty acid primarily from fish, but you can also get it from flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, walnuts, soybeans and soybean oil, fortified soy milk and cereals, olive oil and hemp oil. AFA bluegreen algae is another excellent plant based source of omega-3’s. This Aphanizomenon Flos-Aquae organic edible microalgae is one of the Earth’s most basic and powerful raw foods that provides a wide variety of phytonutrients, plant-based proteins, minerals, essential fatty acids in the right balance, and lots of micronutrients. Similarly, this form of AFA has all the same nutrition that has been manufactured with a special process to remove the cell wall making it better able to cross over the blood brain barrier to nourish the brain. Both forms are also certified Kosher, Halal, Paleo Friendly, Vegan, and are Dairy-free, and Soy-free. Supplementing your diet with AFA bluegreen algae is a great way to fill in the nutritional gaps for nutrients that may be lacking in the diet. If you are particularly finding your vegetarian diet leaves you lacking in energy, this algae and ubiquinol supplement may be of interest to you. Ubiquinol is the active and bioavailable form of the antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 that body cells use to produce energy. Additionally, using a powerful digestive enzyme supplement with 12 natural plant based enzymes can help break foods down so that you get the most nutrition possible from your foods and supplements.
You can absolutely live a healthy life and keep your energy level high while eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. Just be sure you aren’t missing out on any of the nutrients your body needs to perform and function its best. Picking the right foods in the right amounts and using whole food supplements when necessary can help you keep to your preferred diet and still get all the nutrition you need.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider leaving a comment or subscribing to the feed to have future articles delivered to your feed reader. Also, check out the free health resources or order blue-green algae products on our website.