How To Be a Healthy Vegetarian: 3 Key Nutrients
My friend Laura called me the other day and was completely turned around. Finished with nursing her child, she was ready to start anew, detox the body, gain energy, and brighten up her days. In her research on how to do this, she discovered a vegetarian diet was going to be part of the protocol.
I was a vegetarian for 5 years, and barring the pregnancy of my first-born, I was into it, sister. I was even vegan at one point, but then I realized I had animal products in my closet, car and I loved honey too much. I am not a vegetarian anymore because of breastfeeding my youngest, but I've been there. And would like to return next year. I've done it the healthy way and the extremely not at all healthy way.
To go crazy on pizza, ice cream and cake in the name of healthiness at having quit meat, to lose it on junk food under the guise of being a "healthy vegetarian" is a trap and something I was guilty of completely. Binging on sugary and salty stuff was not healthy, I quickly realized through feels and looks. I had to get more plants in there. Simply cutting meat does not to do the trick. You have to eat plants. You have to eat the right ones.
So I had lots of advice to give Laura, and lots of stories to tell and lots of philosophy and rants and diagnostics and challenging memories and science, but we both have kids so I knew I had to give her the quick breakdown.
Get me on my soapbox, and you'll never get me down. But I decided to stay away from it because I knew there were just a few key things to let her know for her health. She was in it for the health, which is just as beautiful as non-violence because it's love toward yourself, which is sometimes the last place we think to send it.
Anyway, whether you're in it for activism, yogic philosophy or health, you will need these 3 key nutrients so work them into your diet:
If you're going vegan, you'll just need to supplement B12. This vitamin, also known as cobalamin, is made by bacteria in your gut. This is why we get it from animals--it's made in their upper digestive tracts. B12 could happily be taken in if conditions in our soil weren't so regulated and sanitized.
Sometimes you can get nut milks that are fortified with B12, but if you can't get that, you will need to get some nutritional yeast (make sure it has B12) and season with it at every meal (delicious on eggs, soup or salad, tacos, anything really).
If you're not going vegan, you can eat eggs and yogurt (which will have B12).
Low B12 is bad: could lead to depression, weakness, GI issues, or anemia (see below).
18 milligrams of iron are recommended for premenopausal women and 8 mg for men and postmenopausal women. There are plenty of iron-rich foods in the vegetarian diet, you just have to be sure to optimize your chances of absorption since they will be non-heme.
To optimize absorption, don't eat these foods with coffee or tea and be sure to eat with a source of vitamin C (splash of lemon juice, chopped parsley, fennel, strawberries, etc.). Vitamin C is cofactor for iron absorption.
- dark leafy greens like kale, turnip greens, chard, spinach, bok choy
- blackstrap molasses
- lentils (good source of protein too if you are concerned about that)
- soybeans (ditto)
- quinoa (ditto)
- tofu and tempeh (ditto)
- black beans (ditto...see you can knock two birds with one stone)
- kidney beans (ditto)
- black-eyed peas
- dried apricots
- sesame seeds
I got the question, what about calcium? all the time. It made me laugh on the inside because that's such a bad myth. There's so much calcium in plant sources it's not even funny. You just need to be sure to get them into your mouth.
- dark leafy greens like kale (there they are again)
- almonds and almond butter (protein and fat too!)
- sesame seeds/tahini
- Beans: navy, black, great northern
- tofu/tempeh/soy beans
- fortified almond milk
- collard greens
And this is all if you're foregoing eggs and milk, which you can technically drink if you're an ovo lacto vegetarian.
If you are an ovo lacto vegetariano then you can have eggs and milk, cheese and yogurt, and you will have no problems with getting enough protein. But if you're steering away from those, then you need to remember to get enough nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, leafy greens, and grains like quinoa. millet and amaranth.
It's work to make sure to have plenty of diversity and goodness in your diet but so so worth it!
Try this, would you:
What are some ways you can make sure you have these nutrients? What are some of your own secrets to being a vegetarian? If you are already vegetarian, share your thoughts and tips below!
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