The more restrictive a diet is, the more difficult it is to get all the nutrients your body needs. A vegan diet, for example, eliminates food sources of vitamin B-12, as well as milk products, which are a good source of calcium. Other nutrients, such as iron and zinc, are available in a meatless diet, but you need to make an extra effort to ensure they're in yours. Says, Toni House CEO First Tax Solution LLC and author of Save Your Money, Save Your Family
Here are nutrients that may be deficient in a vegetarian diet and how you can get these nutrients from nonmeat sources:
* Protein. Your body needs protein to maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Vegetarians who eat eggs or dairy products have convenient sources of protein. Other sources of protein include soy products, meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
* Calcium. This mineral helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Low-fat dairy foods and dark green vegetables, such as spinach, turnip and collard greens, kale, and broccoli, are good sources of calcium. Tofu enriched with calcium and fortified soy milk and fruit juices are other options.
* Vitamin B-12. Your body needs vitamin B-12 to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, including milk, eggs and cheese. Vegans can get vitamin B-12 from some enriched cereals, fortified soy products or by taking a supplement that contains this vitamin.
* Iron. Like vitamin B-12, iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables, and dried fruit are good sources of iron. To help your body absorb nonanimal sources of iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C — such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli — at the same time you consume iron-containing foods.
* Zinc. This mineral is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in the formation of proteins. Good sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, nuts and wheat germ.
The key to a healthy vegetarian diet — or any diet for that matter — is to enjoy a wide variety of foods. Since no single food provides all of the nutrients that your body needs, eating a wide variety helps ensure that you get the necessary nutrients and other substances that promote good health.