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Vegetarians and Nutrition

A meatless diet can be low in fat and high in fiber, but vegetarians still need to pay attention to nutrition.

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Vitamins are as important as protein in a vegetarian diet.

With the variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains available, vegetarian dining is more interesting and varied than ever. Like everyone else, vegetarians need to keep an eye on fat, calories, and cholesterol while ensuring they also get adequate nutrients.

Some vegetarians are concerned about getting enough protein; however, because many plant foods (with the exception of fruits) are rich in protein, getting enough protein usually isn't an issue. The nutrients more likely to be lacking in a vegetarian diet include vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. Good vegetarian sources of these nutrients include:

Vitamin B12: Breakfast cereals, eggs, dairy products, soymilk products, and vegetarian burger patties fortified with vitamin B12. If you eat dairy products or eggs, you'll most likely get enough B12.

Vitamin D: Milk is fortified with vitamin D. If you do not drink milk, look for breakfast cereals and soymilk fortified with the nutrient.

Calcium: If you consume two to three servings of milk, cheese, and yogurt daily, your calcium intake should be adequate. If you avoid dairy products, opt for green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified orange juice, fortified soymilk, soy cheese, and tofu.

Iron: Reach for legumes, dark-green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified cereals and bread, whole-grain products, seeds, prune juice, dried fruit, and blackstrap molasses. Keep in mind that eating a vitamin C-rich food at every meal will help your body absorb the type of iron that's found in plant sources.

Zinc: Whole grains (especially germ and bran -- note that grains processed into refined flour lose zinc), whole wheat bread, legumes, tofu, seeds, and nuts are good sources for zinc.

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