Before I became vegetarian I was an expert at cooking tuna helper and shake and bake pork chops, that was the extent of my cooking knowledge! I was a heavy meat eater and didn’t know what a vegetarian diet was. Yes, my dad was a good role model and made sure I ate healthy but when I became pregnant and moved out on my own I was influenced by heavily commercial advertising and cheap burger joints. I could easily buy pre-packaged meats and I didn’t need to peel or mash potatoes because they came in a box. Life was good until my doctor said I had high cholesterol. Yes, at the age of 18 I had high cholesterol! So not long after, my junk food and meat eating days came to an end, I became vegetarian. When I announced to my family that I decided to cut out red meat and poultry, it was like the world was coming to an end. The same questions were continuously thrown at me. How are you going to get enough protein? How will you supply your body with essential nutrients? This way of thinking drove me crazy and can not be further from the truth!
In my experience, vegetarians tend to eat the healthiest by supplying their diets with a variety of proteins, carbs, fats and fiber. The nutritional deficiencies in this diet tend to be the same as the vegan diet, because many people claim to be vegetarian but do not follow the more healthful approach of avoiding pastas, breads and other “healthy junk food” as I call it. It’s important to shop the perimeter of the stores and stay away from the tempting isles of packaged foods. Healthy foods require a little more preparation, but it doesn’t need to be complicated.
Vegan – diets exclude meat, meat by-products (gelatin, animal broths), animal by-products (eggs, dairy, honey)
Lacto Vegetarian – diets exclude meat, meat by-products (gelatin, animal broths), animal by-products (eggs). Does consume dairy.
Ovo Vegetarian – diets exclude meat, dairy by-products (milk, cheese).
Does consume eggs.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian – diets exclude meat.
Does consume eggs and dairy.
Pollotarian – diets exclude red meat (beef, lamb, pork, venison), fish and seafood.
Does consume poultry, fowl, eggs, and dairy.
Pescatarian – diets exclude red meat (beef, lamb, venison, pork), poultry and fowl.
Does consume fish and seafood, eggs and dairy.
Most vegetarians who choose this way of eating do so more for health reasons. They eat more wholesome foods and avoid refined flours and other empty calorie treats. For this reason they tend to be among the healthiest, with lower incidences of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and obesity.
As I mentioned before, the vegetarian diet can be one of the healthiest diets, but it can also have disadvantages which become apparent when people move away from fresh whole foods and more into the prepackaged convenience foods. Here I list some of the more common deficiencies to be aware of.
• Vitamin B-12 is stored in the liver for about three years but I would suggest a yearly B12 test to ensure you are on the right track, especially if you aren’t eating fish, eggs or dairy.
• Non-heme Iron (plant) may be more difficult to absorb than heme iron (animal) iron. Make sure proper food combining is done and a vitamin C food is added with the meal.
• Vitamin D is low unless you live in a warm sunny location and are exposed to full body sunlight for 30 minutes three times a week. For this reason it’s a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked every winter.
• Zinc may be low unless nuts and seeds are consumed daily.
• Protein is usually not a concern especially when complementary protein, such as grains with beans, or eggs or dairy foods eaten with vegetable protein foods. Vegetables do contain protein but are low in 1 or 2 of the essential amino acids and when eaten alone does not provide adequate levels of all essential amino acids which are the building blocks required to build tissue, white and red blood cells.
Note: A high-fiber vegetarian diet may not provide enough of the minerals iron, calcium and zinc due to the high phytic acid content in grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Phytic acid combines with these minerals in the intestinal tract and reduces their absorption. For this reason it’s important to soak these foods over night in warm water.
Deficiency symptoms: Fatigue and weakness, dizziness, heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, memory loss, numbness, tingling, soreness in hands or feet, poor concentration, Female: menstrual disturbances.
Food sources: fish, nutritional yeast. Bacteria in the digestive tract can produce B-12 just by consuming fermented foods daily (sauerkraut or kimchi, with each meal is best), but don’t rely on this method alone to supply you with an adequate amount of B-12.
Supplement: B12 methylcobalamin (1000mcg sublingual). B12 works synergistically with 1mg 5-MTF (Methyltetrahydrofolate = active folic acid). Injections may also be necessary.
Deficiency symptoms: Lack of energy or strength, dizziness, pale skin or pale lower eyelid, dark circles under the eyes, ‘spoon’ shape nails.
Food sources: Lentils with bell pepper, beans and dark green leafy vegetables with lemon juice, blackstrap molasses, curry leaf with one date, 1-teaspoon spirulina or wheatgrass with 1-teaspoon camu berry powder, Supplement: 10mg or more for 3-4 months.
NOTE: Avoid substances that may interfere with iron absorption: Calcium foods or supplements, zinc or vitamin E supplements, coffee and chocolate, polyphenols (peppermint tea or chamomile tea). Always try to consume iron foods with a vitamin C food.
CAUTION: Iron supplementation is not recommended unless absolutely necessary. It is an oxidant vitamin and will do more harm than good if you consume more than is needed so make sure you check with your doctor first.
Deficiency symptoms: muscle weakness, osteoporosis, malformation of bones, muscle cramps, and insomnia
Food source: Shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks, cod liver oil, cold water, fatty fish, goat & sheep’s milk
Supplement: 1000 IU – 5000 IU of vegan vitamin D (mushrooms). Check with your doctor to discuss the correct amount for your needs.
Deficiency symptoms: White spots on fingernails, acne, poor sperm production, cuts/wounds heal slowly, poor dream recall, loss of appetite.
Food sources: Pumpkin seeds, brewer’s yeast, wheat germ, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, soybeans.
Supplement: Adults: 15 to 50 mg daily. Children: 10 mg
NOTE: Long turn zinc supplementation can induce a copper deficiency. At 30-50 mg daily add 2-4mg of copper.
Deficiency symptoms: Anemia, low white or red blood count, muscle wasting, premature aging, hair loss, brittle nails, mood swings, depression, insomnia, nervousness, general, overall weakness, edema, nausea or dizziness.
Food sources: Eggs, yogurt, fish, legumes (e.g., beans, lentils, peas, peanuts) combined with nuts, grains or seeds or eaten within that day.
Supplement: The best way to obtain protein is through food. Protein supplements can be expensive but can be another way to start your day especially for busy people. A good quality protein powder such as sprouted rice, hemp, or pea protein may be beneficial especially for athletes, bodybuilders and the elderly.
Protein – Required Daily Intake based on body weight: Multiply your weight in pounds by .36g. Example: .36g x 150 lb. = 54g of protein a day (for a sedentary adult). If you are active multiply your weight in pounds by .7 to find out your daily requirement. (Example: .7g x 150 lb. = 105g of protein)
1 egg = 7.3 grams protein
3 oz salmon = 23 grams protein
1/2 cup plain yogurt = 6 grams protein
1 cup quinoa = 8 grams protein
1 cup buckwheat = 23 grams protein
1 tbsp. hemp seeds = 5.3 grams protein
It’s not necessary to stress over combing incomplete proteins within single meals if you are eating a variety of foods. Our bodies will store amino acids as we eat them, and use them as needed. The list below is an example of foods that should be eaten within the same day or even eaten in the same week. But as you may notice, some of these combos happen naturally because they taste great together.
Food combining proteins:
Beans + rice
Lentils + rice
Tofu + whole grain noodles
Refried beans + whole wheat tortilla
Peas + corn
Oatmeal + milk or soy milk
Oatmeal + nuts and seeds
Chickpeas + sesame seeds
Gains + eggs or cheese
Vegetables + eggs or milk
Breakfast: Apple muesli with toasted almonds
Lunch: Skinny taco salad
Snack: Garlicky ranch dip with veggies
Dinner: Cajun fish tacos
Breakfast: Roasted potato frittata
Lunch: Black rice sushi bowl with carrot ginger dressing
Snack: Raspberry cheesecake popsicle
Dinner: Chipotle chili, salad
Breakfast: Berry delicious smoothie
Lunch: Falafel with pickled beets
Snack: Honey almond butter with green apples
Dinner: Mediterranean zucchini boats, salad