A Beginner Woman's Guide to Vegetarian & Vegan Nutrition

People who strive to eat a plant-based diet would be classified as vegetarians. Several different types of vegetarians exist, including lacto-ovo vegetarians, lacto-vegetarians, and vegans. Someone who is lacto-ovo vegetarian will eat plants, eggs, and dairy products. Someone who is lacto-vegetarian will eat plants, dairy, but no eggs. A vegan will eat only plant-based foods without any dairy or eggs at all. Many health benefits have been associated with this type of diet. However, a woman who wants to eliminate meats from her diet will need to eat carefully to ensure proper nutrition. This is especially true for women of child-bearing age who may be or may become pregnant or who are breastfeeding. Some vitamins and minerals may be missed by people who do not eat forms of animal protein.

Ensuring Proper Nutrition

Following a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle has a number of health benefits. Generally, vegetarians and vegans have better odds of avoiding many types of cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, dietary limitations can also cause other health problems. This is especially true for people who don’t get enough protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can be especially at risk of nutritional deficits. Women who regularly experience heavy menstruation can also have health problems due to a lack of iron.

Foods and Supplements to Try

Simple dietary tweaks can ensure a vegan or vegetarian diet that is rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Sometimes, adding specific foods to the diet can be enough to ensure proper nutrition. Other times, it may be beneficial to supplement the diet to replace nutrients lost from following this type of eating plan. You might also choose to use a combined approach that focuses on specific foods while also supplementing with synthetic forms of nutrients. If you choose to supplement, choose the supplement carefully to ensure that the body absorbs it fully. Higher-quality supplements are generally more beneficial.

Nutrient

How to Get it

Protein

  • Beans
  • Quinoa
  • Fermented soy products
  • Seaweed
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds

Vitamin D

  • Go outside to get direct sun
  • Take supplements

Calcium

  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Broccoli
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Tahini
  • Almonds

Iron

  • Iron-fortified grains
  • Beans
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Molasses
  • Quinoa
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Vitamin B12

  • Soy products
  • Rice milk

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

  • Sea vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Aside from these six most common nutrients that vegans and vegetarians often miss in their diets, several other nutrients may also be difficult to get for some people.

  • Vitamin B3 is often present in animal-based proteins; thus, vegetarians tend to have more difficulty getting this nutrient. Crimini mushrooms, brown rice, peanuts, and sweet potatoes contain vitamin B3.
  • Vitamin B6 is present in many fruits. Vegans and vegetarians who eat a diet with plenty of fruits and cruciferous vegetables should not become deficient in vitamin B6.
  • Selenium is present in various types of seafood. However, it is also present in barley, tofu, brown rice, crimini and shiitake mushrooms, and sunflower seeds.

Concerns for Women

To thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet, it’s important to eat at least five full portions of fruits and vegetables every day, a starchy food at every meal, and protein-rich foods at most meals. Adding nuts and seeds will ensure adequate omega-3 fats, and at least 400 ml of plant milk fortified with calcium is also recommended. A lack of calcium and vitamin D can lead to issues with bone strength and overall health. Bone density can decrease significantly for vegetarians and even more so for vegans who don’t consume adequate amounts of calcium. Because protein is crucial for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, vegans and vegetarians will need to pay close attention to the amount of protein consumed each day. Adequate zinc and calcium will also be important.

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