Anyone following a vegetarian diet needs to make sure to get enough important nutrients. This is because it may be hard to get all the calories and nutrients needed for growth and development and to maintain good health. Careful planning may be needed for certain groups of people such as:
- Young children and teens
- Pregnant or breast-feeding women
- Older adults
- People with cancer, more severe lung problems, and other illnesses
Vegetarian diets are usually high in fiber. High-fiber diets may lack calories, which can lead to:
- Growth and development problems in infants and children
- Poor growth of a baby while still in a mother’s womb
- Weight-loss in those who are ill or older
Vegetarian diets often lack certain vitamins and nutrients. You may want to pay attention to the following:
- Sources include eggs, milk products, and foods that have B12 added to them (fortified).
- This vitamin is found in fatty fish, egg yolks, and foods that are fortified with vitamin D, such as soymilk and cereals.
- Zinc: Sources of this mineral include beans and foods fortified with zinc, such as milk and cereals.
Iron: This mineral is found in beans, green vegetables, and foods fortified with iron such as cereals.
- Eating foods that are high in vitamin C at the same meal as iron-rich foods increase iron absorption. Vitamin C helps the body absorb iron.
- Calcium: Sources of this mineral include milk, seeds, beans, nuts, green vegetables, and foods fortified with calcium such as fruit juices.
Protein: Sources of protein include fish, eggs, beans, soy products, nuts and nut butters.
If you eat fish, eggs, and dairy, getting enough protein should be easy. Even if you do not, proteins from plants can still provide a healthy diet:
- Soy protein, such as soy nuts, tofu, veggie burgers, chicken substitute, and soy cheese
- Legumes and beans, such as navy beans, split peas, chickpeas
- Nuts, peanut butter and other nut butters, almond milk
- Whole grains
Vegetarian diets that include some dairy products and eggs are nutritionally sound.
You may want to work with a dietitian to ensure that your nutrients are adequate.