April 2021
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Stay Healthy as a Vegetarian!

Vegetarianism is a growing practice in the world today. Many choose to follow this path because of health, religion, taste, culture, or economy. In the traditional sense, being a vegetarian means refraining from eating meat and fish, though some vegetarian diets have expanded restrictions. This can be a great way to improve your diet because it calls for an increase in consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and requires you to monitor your food intake. Paying attention to what you eat and creating an accountability program for yourself is proven to help you eat healthier.

Anyone who embarks on a vegetarian diet should have some concerns about the nutrients they are missing out on. The main concern is usually for protein, and for good reason. Some other deficiencies can occur in iron, and the essential fatty acids (EFAs).

Proteins are chains of amino acids that work in the body at a cellular level to cause chemical reactions, signal cells, and create the structure of the body. When digested, protein also acts as a fuel. There are eight amino acids that are essential to have in a diet and only a few plant sources have them all. They include sources like lupin, hempseed, chia seed, quinoa, buckwheat, and amaranth. Unfortunately most of these are not the common day to day food we stock in our fridges. Another option is having a combination of rice and beans. But again this can get old quickly especially if you have to eat it every day. A good solution to this problem is to add whey protein to your diet. Whey protein is usually in a sweet tasting, powder form that you can then make shakes from. This is a great way to get the protein you need and monitor your protein to see that you are getting enough. If you can rotate through a plant source, rice and beans, and whey, you will have a nice variety of protein in your diet.

Iron is another nutrient that your body might be missing out on if you are sticking to a vegetarian plan. One of iron’s main tasks in the body is to carry oxygen to all the cells. You become anemic when an iron deficiency occurs. This makes you feel tired, weak, and even mentally slower. Another sign is the inability for your body to maintain the needed body temperature. Long term, anemia can affect your organs since oxygen flow is restricted. Iron rich foods are common and it is just important that they are added to your diet. Some foods with iron include whole wheat bread, black beans, oatmeal, nuts, and tomato juice. If you are worried about your iron intake, a supplement or multivitamin is an easy way to get what you need.

Essential Fatty Acids are necessary to maintain the cardiovascular, reproductive, nervous, and immune systems. They basically take care of all of your cells by making cell membranes and allowing release of waste. Many Americans are already at risk for not having enough EFAs and vegetarians are in greater danger. EFAs mainly prevent future problems so you may not know you have a problem with EFAs intake until it is too late. Flaxseed oil is the best known source of EFAs though other foods (walnuts, seeds, avocado, and leafy green vegetables) contain them as well. It is very difficult to get all the EFAs you need from diet alone and so taking a supplement is usually recommended.

When you take care of your nutrition needs, vegetarianism is a great way to go. Vegetarians are generally healthier than most Americans because they actually pay attention to what they eat and care. Don’t forget to care about your protein, iron, and EFA’s as well.

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