The question that many of us ask ourselves is: can you be a vegetarian and meet all the requirements you need to be healthy? Of course yes. In June 2003 the American Dietetic Association (ADA) together with the Dietitians Association of Canada published an official position paper on the vegetarian diet making it very clear that they endorsed properly planned vegetarian diets. Later in July 2009, the ADA reviewed and reaffirmed its position. Thus, a well-planned vegetarian diet will cover all our requirements, so if we decide to be vegetarian in adulthood we only have to learn how to do it.
Types of vegetarian diets
A vegetarian diet can be ovolacateovegetarian, that is, include dairy and eggs in the diet or be a strict vegetarian in which only foods of plant origin will be included.
What nutrients should we pay more attention to in a vegetarian diet
Contrary to what most people think, the main problems that we find in the vegetarian diet in the first world are the same as in omnivores: excess sugars, processed foods, excess information that often causes misinformation and sedentary lifestyle.
Another thing that may surprise you are the nutrients that we should pay more attention to. These are vitamin B12, calcium, along with vitamin D and omega 3 fats. No, I have not neglected proteins, since meeting the requirements is not difficult, and with regard to iron the deficiencies that we find they are the same as in the rest of the population.
In people who follow a strict vegetarian diet, the requirements are a little higher because absorption is lower due to the greater amount of fiber that is usually consumed.
We will perfectly cover the needs based on legumes, cereals, quinoa , soy derivatives such as tofu, tempeh, soy drink or soy yogurts and nuts. And in the case of ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets, dairy and eggs will also help.
Iron that comes from plant foods is also called non-heme iron, a chemical form that is more difficult for the body to assimilate. Although over time the body will adapt and better assimilate this type of iron.
To improve the absorption of iron, it will be recommended that when we consume foods rich in iron, such as legumes and whole grains, we do so together with foods rich in vitamin C such as raw fruits or vegetables to improve their assimilation at the intestinal level.
In this sense, you should also ensure that when you eat foods rich in iron, do not do it together with foods rich in calcium as they will hinder its absorption.
Obviously in ovo-lacto-vegetarian diets there will be no problem to get calcium since it will be obtained from dairy.
In the case of strict vegetarian diets, we can obtain calcium through enriched vegetable drinks, fortified breakfast cereals and calcium-rich vegetables such as oranges, almonds, dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, white beans, chickpeas, soybeans. and all its derivatives such as tofu.
Almost more important for bone health than calcium is vitamin D, it regulates the passage of calcium into the bone. The latest research indicates that Vitamin D deficiency is quite common, so it will be important to control analytical levels at least once a year, especially in winter. In the case of having low values, it will be advisable to consume a supplement.
As for the sources from which we can obtain this vitamin, the best one is sun exposure without protection for half an hour a day, although in summer you should try to avoid the hours of greatest radiation
Omega 3 fats
These are found in blue fish. In a vegetarian diet we can get them from another chemical form that is ALA. To meet the needs we simply have to consume daily olive oil, 2 or 3 walnuts and 5-8g of crushed flax.
This is a vitamin that we only find in foods of animal origin, therefore supplementation will be necessary. And not only in strict vegetarians, since it has been concluded that also in an ovo-lacto-vegetarian diet supplementation in vitamin B12 is necessary . To make it easy and not be aware of taking it daily, I recommend taking 2000 micrograms of vitamin B12 once a week.