Essential Nutrients for Vegetarians

Pack in protein. Aim for at least 20 grams of protein at each meal from a variety of foods, such as tofu (and other soy products), beans, grains, nuts, and seeds.

Seek out calcium. Collard greens, tofu, and corn tortillas—as well as calcium-fortified drinks like orange juice, almond milk, and rice milk—are good sources of this bone-building mineral.

Don’t forget D. The richest sources include dairy, fatty fish, and eggs, so if you’re eating less of those, look for vitamin D-fortified vegan options, such as soy milk, cereal, orange juice, and mushrooms (when exposed to UV light, they make their own vitamin D).

Fortify with vitamin B12. Crucial for healthy nerve function and circulation, this vitamin is found only in foods that come from animals. Include fortified cereals and nondairy milks in your diet. Cultured or fermented foods that contain live bacteria, such as tempeh, sauerkraut, and kimchi, also provide a bit of vitamin B12.

Mind your minerals. Iron and zinc play key roles in sustaining a healthy immune system. Meats, poultry, and seafood are the best sources, but even runners who eat animal products can fall short. Eat plenty of whole grains, beans, leafy greens, and nuts to make sure you’re getting enough.


A Happier Heart

Long-term studies show that people following a plant-based or vegetarian diet generally have a lower risk for heart disease, in part due to lower circulating levels of cholesterol. Plant-based diets often contain less artery-clogging saturated fats.

Lower Colon Cancer Risk

Research shows that eating a plant-based diet can significantly reduce your risk of developing colon cancer. Adding fish to your diet at least once a week can lower your cancer risk even further, research shows. The omega-3s in seafood may work in conjunction with the health-boosting compounds in plant foods to provide the added protection.

Improved Blood Sugar Control

A large study review on type 2 diabetes found that eating a plant-based diet improves glycemic control, or your body’s ability to keep circulating sugar within a healthy range. The benefit may be due to higher intakes of fiber—particularly soluble fiber, which is known to help stabilize blood-sugar levels.

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