A vegetarian diet can be well balanced, whilst meeting the healthy eating recommendations for all populations including children, adolescents, pregnancy and adults. A well balanced vegetarian diet should incorporate a wide variety of whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds plus dairy foods/or eggs if not vegan.
The health benefits associated with a vegetarian diet are due to the absence of meat and the increased consumption of plant foods. In general the characteristics of a vegetarian diet:
- are lower in fat, in particular saturated fat
- are higher in dietary fibre
- low in cholesterol
- contain plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes
- are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals
As well as the above benefits, a vegetarian diet has economic and ecological advantages such as lower production uses of water, land, phosphate fertilisers, and fossil fuels, and less greenhouse gas emissions.
Nutrients that you need to be considering in a vegetarian diet include protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega-3. If you decide to choose to consume eggs and dairy as part of your diet most of these nutrients can be easily met. Protein, iron and zinc can be found in the food sources that Angela Jackson has mentioned above. Omega-3 can be obtained by eating plant sources such as chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds however, the conversion to the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA is not as efficient as obtaining omega-3 directly from fish or fish oil. You can also get omega-3 fortified products such as eggs and some milks (i.e. soy)
I would recommend that you get a full blood profile done including checking the levels of the nutrients I have mentioned to see if you have adequate levels. My best advice is to seek the expert advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) who can help you to develop a nutritious vegetarian diet. You can find one at www.daa.asn.au
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