How to create a balanced vegetarian diet

How to create a balanced vegetarian diet

Author: Canadian Living


How to create a balanced vegetarian diet

This article was originally titled, "Vegetarian Diets" in the Canadian Living special issue, Eat Right Volume 2. Visit the Special Issues page for information on how to buy this issue.

About four per cent of Canadians are vegetarian, which means that their diet is largely based on vegetables, fruit, beans, grains, nuts, seeds, and sometimes dairy and eggs. They do not consume meat, chicken and fish.

According to the Dietitians of Canada, appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthy, nutritionally adequate and may help prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease. They also note that vegetarians tend to consume less cholesterol and saturated fat but consume more beneficial fibre, vitamins and antioxidants than their meat-eating peers. If that's not reason enough to consider eating more meatless meals, think about the savings of buying beans or soy instead of steak!

Are you a vegetarian? What's your favourite healthy vegetarian meal? Share your answer with fellow readers in our comment section.

How to plan a vegetarian diet
Planning a vegetarian diet does take some knowledge. When you remove meat, chicken and fish from your diet, you’ll have to learn how to replace the missing protein, vitamins and minerals. By using meat alternatives, such as beans, lentils, soy, tofu, nuts and seeds (and eggs and dairy in some cases), you should have no problem meeting all of your protein requirements. Vitamin and mineral intake may be trickier, so here are some helpful tips.

Vitamin B12
Since this essential nutrient is mostly found in animal-based foods, such as meat, dairy and eggs, strict vegetarians have to find alternative sources. Good choices include fortified soy beverages, fortified "mock meats" (such as veggie burgers), nutritional yeast and vitamin supplements.

Vegetarians who consume two to three servings of dairy products daily will probably consume sufficient calcium. Those who restrict dairy will have to increase their intake of calcium-rich foods by including leafy greens, almonds, sesame seeds, beans, figs or calcium-fortified

The richest source of well-absorbed iron is meat, so vegetarians need to look for alternative foods. Fortified breakfast cereals, beans (chickpeas, lentils, navy, lima and kidney beans), oatmeal, firm tofu, dried apricots and pumpkin seeds all contain iron. Pair any food from this list with vitamin C–providing strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers or citrus fruit to help boost iron absorption.

An essential mineral in the diet, ample amounts of zinc are found in meat. To replace zinc, vegetarians can choose these foods: beans and chickpeas, soy nuts, cashews, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, almonds and yogurt.

Seeing a registered dietitian is a great first step to help you plan a balanced diet. They can help ensure that you meet all your nutrient needs by following a well-balanced diet. You can find a dietitian in your area at

Did you know?
Flexitarians are people who eat vegetarian meals most often but still enjoy meat occasionally. Many people choose this increasingly popular lifestyle because of their growing concern for the environment, since they believe that raising animals for the sole purpose of using their meat as food is an inefficient, planet-harming process. While animals eat large quantities of grain, they only produce small amounts of meat, dairy products or eggs in return. In fact, it can take up to 7œ kg (16 lb) of grain to produce just 500 g (1 lb) of meat.

Choosing a diet based on vegetables, beans and grains is less harmful to the food supply and to the earth, and cutting back on meat consumption is one way many environmentalists help protect the planet.

Check out these healthy and hearty vegetarian recipes.

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How to create a balanced vegetarian diet