In the last decades, many people have adopted the vegetarian diet and they have stopped eating meat and its derivatives.
Although people believe that vegetarianism does not provide all the essential nutrients, according to several studies, a well planned vegetarian diet can be very nourishing and beneficial to overall health. In fact, vegetarianism can reduce the incidence of metabolic chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Types of vegetarianism
A vegetarian diet can be categorized into different types, depending on the food it contains.
- Vegan. Strictly vegetarians who consume only plant-based foods and fruits.
- Lacto-vegetarian. Those who, in addition to plant-based foods, consume dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian. Those who consume plant-based foods, dairy – cheese products and eggs.
- Semi- or partial vegetarian. Those who, in addition to plant-based foods, consume chicken or fish, dairy products and eggs, but do not consume red meat.
- Pescatarian. Those who consume plant-based foods and seafood.
Nutrients and vegetarianism
Vegetarianism has many health benefits, but requires a correct combination of foods and regular biochemical and hematological testing, in order to avoid any nutrient deficiency.
It is a water-soluble vitamin that participates in hemopoiesis as well as in good neural function. It contributes to the synthesis of DNA (nucleotides) and deficiency of vitamin B12 can cause megaloblastic anemia, poor memory and an increase of homocysteine levels, which is a cardiovascular risk factor.
Eggs and dairy products are good sources of vitamin B12, but if you are a vegan, then you should alternatively consume cereals enriched with vitamin B12, soy or nutritional yeast. However, as plant sources of vitamin B12 are of low bioavailability, vegans may need to take supplements with vitamin B12, ideally in combination with other vitamins of B complex.
It is a fat-soluble vitamin which is synthesized mainly on the skin. Vitamin D deficiency affects the immune system and appears to be associated with metabolic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Rich dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, egg yolk as well as foods that are enriched with vitamin D such as milk, milk substitutes and cereals.
Iron is a metal used to hemopoiesis (red blood cells). Non-hemic iron (plant sources) is not absorbed like the iron derived from animal sources. Plant sources of iron are legumes, green leafy vegetables, dried fruits and whole grains cereals or fortified cereal products. Increased absorption of non-hemic iron requires the simultaneous intake of vitamin C.
It is one of the most important minerals in the body, especially for teeth and bones. Dairy products are the richest nutritional source of calcium. Alternative plant sources include green leafy vegetables, dried fruits, dairy substitutes and calcium-enriched foods.
A basic trace element that participates in the immune system as well as in cell growth. The bioavailability of zinc in plant foods, compared to animal one is much lower. Rich plant sources of zinc are legumes, fruits, seafood and some cheeses and dairy products.
Omega 3 fatty acids are very important for both physical and mental health. Rich dietary sources of omega 3 fatty acids are fatty fish. Vegans should increase the consumption of nuts and seeds (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseed, canola oil, chia seeds).
In addition, there are so-called functional foods that are enriched with omega 3 fatty acids, such as margarine. However, the optimum daily intake of omega 3 fatty acids is difficult to achieve, so it is recommended to take a supplement of omega 3 fatty acids, once in a while.
Proteins of plant origin are not of high biological value, as they do not contain all the essential amino acids that human body can not synthesize, especially lysine and threonine. Therefore, a vegetarian or vegan diet requires the combination of certain foods in order to achieve the necessary intake of all essential amino acids.
Nutritional tips for vegetarians
- Consume a variety of foods
- Soak the legumes before cooking
- Combine legumes with cereals, grains and pseudo-cereals (eg lentils with quinoa)
- Prefer enriched foods and beverages
- Learn how to read a nutritional label
- Vegans, it is advisable to regularly check the levels of vitamin B12 in the blood.
- Taking dietary supplements can be particularly useful in order to ensure health.
In Vita4you you can find a wide variety of dietary supplements for vegans.