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Going vegetarian: 7 key nutrition tips

There are numerous reasons for going vegetarian, not least for the array of health benefits it can bring. Vegetarians have been found to have a reduced risk of type-2 diabetes, lower rates of heart disease, longer life expectancy and even better skin. 

Getting the full advantage of going vegetarian does require appropriate planning around your new diet. Meal options are better than ever before, but choice can still be somewhat restricted, leading some into unhealthy dining habits.  

Eating a wide variety of food and accounting for the nutrients that you lose when going meat-free is key. 

With that in mind, here are seven top tips for making the switch whilst ensuring all your nutrition needs are being met.

Plants can take care of your protein fix: A common misconception is that a vegetarian diet lacks protein. However, making an effort to get some plant protein will help you meet your recommended daily intake (0.8 daily grams for every kilogram of your body weight). Whole grains, like brown rice and quinoa, are great in this regard.

Snack on nuts: Swap out unprocessed, sugary treats for a handful of unsalted nuts when you are peckish. Almonds, walnuts and pecans all come recommended for their tasty array of nutrients.

Beans and peas are versatile: As well as being a handy protein substitute, a cup of green peas or beans offers fibre, folate, potassium and more. Chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are also very beneficial when integrated into your weekly meal plan.

Think beyond dairy for calcium: You may decide to keep consuming dairy products, which are excellent sources of calcium. If not, there’s no need to worry about your bone or dental health. Tofu is made with calcium sulfate, while calcium-fortified soy milk, cereal and orange juice are all good sources. Leafy vegetables are another great source, so try to introduce some greens into your diet, such as spinach, broccoli or kale.

Be aware of vitamin B12: This vitamin is vital for regulating your nervous system and creating red blood cells. It’s only found in animal products, so if dairy and eggs are off the menu for you, look to fortified soy products and cereals. You can also take a B12 supplement to meet your daily intake (about 1.5 micrograms a day for adults).

Walnuts are great for omega-3: These fatty acids are important for reducing inflammation, the risk of developing dementia and more. While fish is the best source of omega-3, there are alternatives out there. Just one serving of walnuts on your cereal or yoghurt, for example, will take care of your day’s omega-3 requirements (between 250-500 mg per day for adults).

Chia seeds are an excellent source, coming packed with fibre and protein. Brussels sprouts are another good source. They’re also rich in fibre, vitamin C and vitamin K.

Ease yourself in: If you are comfortable with it, making it a gradual switch will help you maintain a healthy diet. Make a weekly effort to increase the number of meat-free meals you eat, ramping up your intake of fruit and vegetables as you go. This will allow you to find enjoyable ways to swap the meat in your favourite meals for vegetarian alternatives.

For more on nutrition, visit the Vhi Health Hub.