A vegetarian diet is a meal plan made up of foods that come mostly from plants.
Vegetarian diets can meet all the recommendations for nutrients. Adopting a healthy vegetarian diet isn’t just taking meat off your plate and eating what’s left. You need to take extra steps to ensure you’re meeting your daily nutritional needs. A well-balanced vegetarian diet consists mostly of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
There are many reasons why people choose to follow a vegetarian diet, including financial reasons, ethical concerns and religious beliefs. Some people choose to become vegetarian for health reasons, as well. A vegetarian diet may help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity kidney disease, and cancer.
Lentils, like beans, are part of the legume family, and like beans, they’re an excellent source of protein and soluble fiber. But lentils have an edge over most beans: They contain about twice as much iron. They’re also higher in most B vitamins and folate, which is especially important for women of childbearing age as folate reduces the risk for some birth defects. For new vegetarians, lentils are also the perfect way to start eating more legumes because they tend to be less gassy.
As a general rule, vegetarians should eat five to seven servings of grains every day. Because of their significant health benefit, whole grains should make up at least half of the daily serving. The “grains” food group includes bread, pasta, rice, wheat, oats and barley. Vegetarians might also benefit from whole grains that have been fortified with additional nutrients, such as iron, zinc and vitamin B-12, which are commonly found in meat and seafood sources. Iron and vitamin B-12 assist with red blood cell production, which protects against anemia, while zinc protects the body’s cells and tissues from destruction and disease.
Nuts and seeds
Besides being a protein provider, nuts and seeds are full of those fabulous fats (including omega-3). Great for snacks, sandwiches, and salad toppings. Try almond butter for a change of pace (or if you have peanut allergies), walnuts, cashews, pistachios, almonds, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds (pepitas).
Unlike most vegetables, dark leafy greens such as spinach, broccoli, kale, Swiss chard and collards contain healthful amounts of iron—especially spinach, which has about 6 grams or about one-third of a day’s supply. They’re also a great source of cancer-fighting antioxidants; are high in folic acid and vitamin A; and they even contain calcium, but in a form that’s not easily absorbed. Cooking greens and/or sprinkling them with a little lemon juice or vinegar makes the calcium more available to your body.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables tend to be the most common types of foods consumed by all vegetarians. These foods supply a generous amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber with every serving. Vegetarians should aim for at least six to eight servings of vegetables and three to four servings of fruit per day. For vegetarians who don’t eat dairy products, dark green leafy vegetables and broccoli are excellent sources of calcium.