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Vegetarianism part 2: Tips towards a balanced diet

How do you meet your nutritional needs on a veggie diet? Ahram Online finds out

Ingy Deif, Wednesday 15 Feb 2012
vegetarianism
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Types of vegetarian diets may vary, but as with every any kind of diet, cons may outweigh the pros, and special attention should be paid to any nutritional elements that could affect health.

Dr Iman El-Tahlawy, assistant professor of public and environmental health at the National Research Center, sheds more light on the general guidelines that should be in the back of a vegetarian's mind to achieve nutritional balance.

As we already know now, there exists more than one type of diet when it comes to vegetarians, and the more restrictive the diet is, the higher the risk of malnutrition due to the lack of vital food components that are a necessity to nutritional balance and thus good health, which – at the end of the day – is the main goal of switching to a vegetarian diet.

Therefore, special attention should be paid to compensating these elements in particular:

Iron

 It's practically a stereotype that vegetarians have issues with anaemia due to insufficient amounts of iron, as it's primarily present in meat; so extra attention should be paid to attaining the right level of this element through other sources like whole grains, lentils, dried fruits, dried beans, and leafy green vegetables. Another very valuable piece of advice is to couple the previous kinds with others like citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli and tomatoes containing vitamin C, as the latter facilitates the absorption of the iron content.

Omega-3 fatty acids

This nutrient is important for the wellbeing of the heart, brain development, and eyesight, and because it is generally found in eggs and fish which are avoided by many vegetarians, other sources can be a substitute, like supplements.

Calcium

It is a well known fact that calcium is vital for bones and teeth, so strictly devoted vegetarians who don’t consume milk and dairy products have to opt for other sources in abundance, like dark green vegetables. Although not always available, calcium-fortified cereals and juices could be useful.

Protein

You can find proteins which are essential for the body in dairy products and eggs, so if these are off the menu, opt for lentils, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

Iodine

Iodine is important for hormones responsible for regulating growth and metabolism, so it is required by key organs like the kidneys, brain and heart. Many vegetarians lack this element so they must ensure that the salt they are using in their food is iodised.

Zinc

This element is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal sources so other options should be consumed in abundance like legumes, nuts, soy products and whole grains. If you eat dairy products, cheese is a very good source, and remember that this element is vital for the formation of proteins and cell division.

Vitamin D and Vitamin B-12:

As with calcium, Vitamin D is vital for bones, and sometimes supplements will be necessary to ensure you get enough of it if you are a vegetarian. As for Vitamin B-12, the bad news is that animal products are almost the sole source, and it's easy not to notice its absence in the body until the damage is already done. That’s why it's advisable to take supplements of this element, which is necessary to the production of red blood cells and prevention of anemia.

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