Eating right is essential to keeping your body running at its best. During National Nutrition Month®, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds you to build an eating plan with your unique lifestyle and nutritional needs in mind. So whether you’re a vegetarian, flexitarian – or you fall somewhere in between – it’s important to “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.”
“There’s no one-size-fits-all way to eat that’s right for everyone,” says registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Jim White. “In reality, if the diet doesn’t fit with your lifestyle and unique needs, it won’t work in the long-term and can even leave you missing out on the nutrition you need to get you through the day.”
Experts agree that vegetarians who eat a wide variety of foods can meet the body’s nutritional needs. But depending on your vegetarian lifestyle this may be “easier said than done.” The lacto-ovo vegetarian diet focuses on grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy products, and eggs. The lacto-vegetarian excludes eggs as well as meat, fish, and fowl. The vegan diet—sometimes described as the total vegetarian—excludes eggs, dairy, and all other animal products. But that’s not all. Some vegetarians eat fish and refer to themselves as pescatarians; others consume a mostly plant-based diet and call themselves flexitarians; and then there are 22.8 million Americans who say they follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.
Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids, and other phytochemicals. However, vegans and some other vegetarians may have lower intakes of vitamin B-12, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, and omega-3 fats.
Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of vegetarianism, including a variety of whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit in your diet will help to ensure adequate intakes of all nutrients.
Whole Grains are important sources of dietary fiber, B vitamins; thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate, and minerals; iron, magnesium, and selenium. Brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, oatmeal, grits, quinoa, corn and millet are all great whole grain choices. Be sure to include fortified cereals. They provide vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Aim for 5 or more servings daily. In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal (1 ounce by weight), or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal is one serving.
Legumes are excellent sources of plant protein and dietary fiber and also provide other nutrients such as folate, potassium, iron and zinc. This group includes kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, lentils and the full range of soy products such as: tofu, soymilk, tempeh and veggie burgers. Fortified soymilk is another reliable source of vitamin D and B12 in the diet.
Aim for 2 or more servings per day. A serving is 1/2 cup cooked beans or peas; 4 ounces tofu or tempeh; 8 ounces soy milk.
Vegetables are important sources of many nutrients, including potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Dark green leafy vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens and watercress provide both calcium and iron. Vegetables are naturally low in fat and calories and don’t have any cholesterol.
Aim for at least 4 or more servings per day. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens is one serving.
Fruits are sources of many essential nutrients that are under consumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate. Fruits have no cholesterol and most are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories.
Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the Fruit Group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. Dried fruits deserve special mention because of their high iron content.
Aim for 3 or more servings per day. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice, or 1/2 cup of dried fruit can be considered as one serving.
To get essential omega-3 fats in the diet add small amounts of flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans and their oils to your daily meal plan.
Whatever your vegetarian lifestyle, set yourself up for success by planning a diet that is adequate, balanced and varied. Click here to develop a more personalized vegetarian plan that fits your unique nutritional needs and taste. “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.”
Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD is an award winning registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She is the author of The African American Guide To Living Well With Diabetes and Eating Soulfully and Healthfully with Diabetes. Follow Brown-Riggs on twitter @eatingsoulfully.