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Vegetarian Diets - How can vegetarians eat a balanced diet?

You may be worried that you won't get all the nutrients you need with a vegetarian diet. But as long as you eat a variety of foods, there are only a few things you need to pay special attention to.

  • Calcium for vegetarians who don't eat milk products. If you don't get your calcium from milk products, you need to eat a lot of other calcium-rich foods. Calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, soy milk, and orange juice are good choices. Calcium-fortified means that the manufacturer has added calcium to the food. Other foods that have calcium include certain legumes, certain leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and tofu. If you don't use calcium-fortified foods, ask your doctor if you should take a daily calcium supplement.
  • Vitamin D for vegetarians who don't eat milk products. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important to keep bones strong. Vegetarians who don't eat milk products can use fortified soy milk and breakfast cereals.
  • Iron.Getting enough iron is not a problem for vegetarians who take care to eat a wide variety of food. Our bodies don't absorb iron from plant foods as well as they absorb iron from meats. So it's important for vegetarians to regularly eat iron-rich foods. Vegetarian iron sources include cooked dried beans, peas, and lentils; leafy green vegetables; and iron-fortified grain products. And eating foods rich in vitamin C will help your body absorb iron.
  • Vitamin B12 for vegans.Vitamin B12 comes from animal sources only. If you are a vegan, you'll need to rely on food that is fortified with this vitamin (for example, soy milk and breakfast cereals) or take supplements. This is especially important for vegan women who are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Like everyone else, vegetarians also need to make sure they get the following nutrients:

  • Protein. When considering a vegetarian diet, many people worry that they will not get enough protein. But eating a wide variety of protein-rich foods such as soy products, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds will give you the protein you need.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. If you don't eat fish or eggs, you need to find other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, such as hemp seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, certain leafy green vegetables, soybean oil, and canola oil.
  • Zinc. Your body absorbs zinc better when it comes from meat than when it comes from plants. But vegetarians don't usually have a problem getting enough zinc if they eat lots of other foods that are good sources of zinc, including whole-grain breads, cooked dried beans and lentils, soy foods, and vegetables.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 25, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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