People adopt vegetarian and vegan diets for many different reasons, from ethical concerns to environmental ones, health goals to a love of animals. Nutritionally, these diets can be extremely beneficial, especially when they include a wide variety of plants, complementary proteins and sufficient fats.
There are a few nutrients, however, that can easily fall short when you follow one of these diets. Dietitians and nutritionists are here to help make sure you’re covering all your nutritional bases, regardless of dietary preferences, lifestyle factors and food sensitivities.
Here are some nutritionist-endorsed ways to manage your vegetarian or vegan diet.
Looking at your vegetarian diet
By and large, a vegetarian diet is one that excludes animal meats. While there are individual differences, vegetarians tend to avoid meat, chicken and fish, while continuing to consume eggs and dairy products. When done well, a vegetarian diet lends itself to an abundance of plant-based foods including fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains and legumes – which is a wonderful thing.
However, there is one mineral in particular that some vegetarians tend to have a hard time getting enough of: iron. Iron makes hemoglobin, a protein responsible for delivering oxygen to the cells that need them. Iron also plays a role in growth, development and hormone production – suffice it to say, it’s an important mineral!
While the most iron-rich foods come from animals, there are plenty of vegetarian sources of iron, from wholegrains to fortified cereals, spinach to pumpkin seeds. A vegetarian diet should easily offer enough iron, but if you are struggling, a nutritionist or dietitian can help you find ways to up the iron-rich foods in your meals.
Vegan diet considerations
Where vegetarians don’t consume animal meats, vegans avoid any food that comes from an animal at all. That adds milk and yogurt, eggs, gelatin and even honey to the list. It is possible to have a vegan diet that doesn’t leave you short of any nutrients, but you’ll have to be more careful, well prepared and possibly include some supplements, too.
Again, low iron is a concern, and vegans can take the same approach as vegetarians to make sure they’re getting sufficient iron in their diets. But there’s the added concern that by eliminating all dairy products, vegans take away a major source of calcium. Nutritionists often give vegans pointers on including enough plant-based products like sesame, soy, almonds and chia seeds to get sufficient calcium.
Another concern is vitamin B12. This vitamin is found naturally in animal-based foods, making it near impossible for vegans to consume without reaching for supplements. A nutritionist can talk you through the best ways to supplement with vitamin B12.
Work with a registered dietitian
If you have decided to cut meat – and possibly other animal-based foods – from your diet, make sure you’re doing it safely and healthily by speaking to a nutritionist. If you’re in Tauranga or Mt Maunganui and want to make sure your vegetarian or vegan diet is on the right track, book an appointment with Fiona Boyle, a qualified and registered dietitian and nutritionist, at Food Solutions.