Nutrition Know-How: The components of a vegetarian diet

The following article was written by RACHEL HEINEN and is handy to have on hand for those occasions when people ask you that inevitable question: “But how do you get your protein?”

If you follow the link below you’ll also find a recipe she has provided for Vegetarian Southwest Egg Rolls

Are Vegetarians Missing Something?

A vegetarian is a person who does not eat meat or seafood, or products containing these foods. Vegetarian or vegan diets are often associated with a number of health advantages including lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure levels, lower risk of heart disease and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Below are some nutrients found in meat or dairy that are often misconstrued as lacking from  vegetarian diets.


Research indicates that an assortment of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all protein needed in healthy adults. This fact shows that complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal in order to provide the “complete” amount needed. Complementary proteins are foods with plant proteins eaten together to help increase the body’s absorption.  Plant protein can be found in foods such as beans, peas, nuts, and some grains such as quinoa.


Our bodies do not utilize iron from plant sources as well it does iron from animal foods. Since this is the case, vegetarians may need to take an extra step to ensure they are getting the necessary amounts. Some food preparation techniques such as soaking and sprouting beans, grains, and seeds, and the leavening of bread can help enhance iron absorption. Because of the lower availability, the recommended amount of iron for vegetarians is 1.8 times those of non-vegetarians.


Many vegetarians meet their calcium needs through calcium fortified foods, such as cereal and orange juice. Some other good dietary sources of calcium for vegans are green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, and bok-choy.

As you can see, vegetarians and vegans have the opportunity to have as much of a well-rounded diet as their carnivore friends. The only difference is that vegetarians may need to do a little more preparation and planning to be sure they are receiving the most out of the healthy foods they eat.    Then again, who couldn’t use a little more planning to improve their health?

 Source:  Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. July 2009; 109: 1266-1282.

Click here where you’ll find a recipe for Vegetarian Southwest Egg Rolls

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