Research has shown that people who follow a vegan diet are at lower risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, renal disease and some cancers. Well planned vegetarian diets can be healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in prevention and treatment of chronic diseases during all phases of the lifecycle.
A vegetarian diet is derived from plants with or without eggs or dairy. This diet focuses on plants for food. These include fruits,vegetables, dried beans & peas, grains, seeds & nuts. There is no single type of vegetarian diet. It varies in what food they include or exclude.
- Vegan Diet: Exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs & dairy products.
- Ova-Vegan Diet: Excludes meat, poultry, fish & dairy products but includes eggs.
- Lacto-Vegan Diet: Excludes meat, poultry, fish and eggs as well as the food that contains them. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, butter are included.
- Lacto-Ovo Vegan Diet: Excludes meat, fish, and poultry but allows dairy products & eggs.
People who follow vegetarian diet can get all the nutrients they need. The key to healthy vegetarian diet like any other diet is to eat a wide variety of foods to meet the nutritional needs. No single food can provide all the nutrients your body needs. The more restrictive your diet is, the more challenging it can be to get all the nutrients. Vegetarians may need to focus on various nutrients like proteins, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc etc.
Proteins: Proteins help to maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Eggs and dairy products are good sources. You can also get sufficient proteins from plant based food, if you eat a variety of them throughout the day. It includes soy products, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Calcium: It helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Milk and dairy products are top if you are eating dairy products. Tofu, calcium fortified soy milk, orange juice, cereals are other sources. Green leafy vegetables, turnip, collard greens, kale and broccoli are good plant sources if eaten in sufficient quantity.
Iron: Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, soy based foods, dried prunes & apricots, nuts, beans, legumes, whole wheat bread, rice flakes, green leafy vegetables and baked potatoes are rich in iron. To help your body absorb iron eat vitamin C rich food like citrus fruits.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These are good for heart health. Fish (salmon, mackerel, and herring) are good sources. For vegetarians good sources are flaxseeds, walnuts, avocado, and canola and soy oil. Supplements or fortified foods are fine too, because conversion of plant based omega-3 is inefficient.
Vitamin B12: It is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. It is an essential vitamin found in animal products including eggs and dairy. So, it can be difficult to get sufficient vitamin B12 on a vegan diet. For this reason it is important for vegans to take supplements.
Vitamin D: We need vitamin D to get calcium into our bones .The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. Vitamin D is added to cow’s milk, some brands of soya and rice milk and some cereals and margarines.
Zinc: If you are not eating dairy food make sure fortified cereals, dried beans, nuts, soya products like tofu; nuts, and legumes, grains are a part of your diet to meet your daily requirement for this important mineral. Vitamin C helps in the absorption of zinc.