Meat is a good source of many important vitamins and minerals, including iron.
For example, a 3-ounce (85-gram) serving of ground beef supplies 14% of the iron you need for the entire day (14).
Also, meat contains heme iron, a type of iron your body can absorb easily.
Plant sources of iron contain non-heme iron, which your body can’t absorb as easily. Non-heme iron is present in many types of fruits, vegetables, cereals and beans (23).
Because of this, vegetarians have a greater risk of developing iron-deficiency anemia, a condition in which there are not enough red blood cells in the body. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness (24).
However, a well-planned vegetarian diet filled with iron-rich plant foods can meet your daily needs.
If you’re a vegetarian or vegan, make sure to consume plenty of good sources of iron, including lentils, beans, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, oats and leafy greens.
Additionally, pairing iron-rich foods with foods high in vitamin C can enhance the absorption of non-heme iron (25).
Vitamin C is found in most fruits and vegetables, so including a vegetable side dish, salad or piece of fruit with your meals can help increase iron absorption.
SUMMARY:Plant foods contain non-heme iron, which the body can’t absorb as well as the heme iron found in meat. Vegetarians should include iron-rich foods in the diet and pair them with vitamin C to increase absorption.
Just because a food product is vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
There are plenty of processed foods available at the grocery store that are free of meat or animal products. However, they often contribute little to your diet.
Instead of eating these, use your vegetarian diet as an opportunity to reduce your consumption of processed foods and increase your intake of nutrient-dense, whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Increasing your intake of these foods will help you get the valuable vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need to help prevent nutrient deficiencies.
Eating whole foods rather than processed foods may give you other benefits too, such as an increased metabolism.
One study measured the metabolism of 17 participants after they ate a meal made with either processed foods or whole foods.
Both groups felt equally full after the meal, but the group that ate the whole foods burned nearly double the calories after their meal than the group that ate the processed foods (26).
To start including more whole foods in your diet, swap out refined grains for whole grains, and limit the amount of processed and convenience foods you eat.
Additionally, try adding more vegetables and fruits to your meals and snacks throughout the day.
SUMMARY:Vegetarian diets should be rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. They’ll help you maximize nutrient intake and promote a balanced diet.
Calcium is an important mineral your body needs to keep your bones and teeth strong, help your muscles work efficiently and support the function of your nervous system (27).
A calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, porous bones and increases the risk of bone fractures (28).
Though calcium is found in a variety of foods, the most well-known source of calcium is dairy products.
Those who don’t consume dairy should monitor their calcium intake and include other high-calcium foods in their diet.
Calcium-rich plant foods include kale, collard greens, broccoli, bok choy, almonds, figs and oranges. Fortified foods can also be a good source of calcium.
You can get all the calcium you need by incorporating a few servings of these foods into your meals and snacks throughout the day.
SUMMARY:Those who don’t consume milk or dairy products should consume other calcium-rich foods to meet their calcium needs.
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