Proteins are one of the many nutrients that your body needs to function in tiptop shape. Other nutrients include iron, calcium, and zinc. Dr. Caley instructed me to look for enriched breads and cereals that have iron and vitamin C, since the vitamin helps with iron-absorption. Other iron sources include leafy greens and whole wheat bread. When you make salads, pair your spinach (the iron source) with broccoli (a source of vitamin C) to make sure you take in as much iron as possible.
Calcium, like protein, is quickly associated with animal products; however, it can be found elsewhere too. University of Florida researcher Linda B. Bobroff, in her article “Facts about Calcium”, shows that calcium is needed to keep our bones and teeth strong and ward off osteoporosis. If you are trying to go vegan, or simply cut back on dairy products, there are other ways to get your daily fill of calcium. Try collards, kale, fortified orange juice, or fortified soymilk for great sources of calcium.
Zinc is an important nutrient needed for metabolic function, along with up keeping your body’s growth and immune system. “Whole grains,” suggests Dr. Caley, “are great—look to see if they’re fortified. Zinc is more absorbable in fortified products, like cereal, than in a normal muffin.” She also recommends soy beans, nuts, and seeds.
Wait, I thought. Aren’t there phyto-estrogens in soy products? Soy, in its tofu form, milk, and seed form has been causing a bit of a disagreement in health circles. “There’s still a lot of controversy about it. The jury is definitely still out.” Dr Caley told me. She explains that we need estrogen in our bodies. However, these phyto-estrogens in soy beans look chemically similar and our bodies accept them, leaving us with a deficit of estrogen.
Other vitamins that are important to stay healthy include vitamins D and B12. On his website, veganhealth.org, Jack Norris, R.D., explains how animal products are the only natural source of vitamin B12. Thanks to modern science however, we are able to recreate this vitamin in a lab, in addition to buying foods that are fortified to include this all-important vitamin. Vitamin B12 helps keep your energy levels up and protects your nerves. Without it, you would feel sluggish and tired.
Lay outside in the sun for fifteen minutes to get the recommended dosage of vitamin D, are Dr. Caley’s orders. Like most of these vitamins, vitamin D is also found in fortified food sources. Keep your eyes peeled for fortified breads, along with cow’s milk and the occasional egg yolk. You need vitamin D to help you grow and keep your immune system strong. Dr. Caley told me “This is actually a hot topic. A lot of people are deficient and we don’t know why.” If you’re not sure you are getting the recommended amount of vitamin D, pop a supplement every morning to boost your levels.
Alright, now you have the nutrition information. Now what? I asked Dr. Caley what the recommended number of servings of fruits, veggies, protein, and fats are to keep healthy. “It really depends on age [and] lifestyle, but in general: six servings of grain per day, five servings of protein, four of vegetables, and at least two of fruit, though eat more fruit if possible.” She emphasizes eating nutrient-dense food, not calorie-dense. A vegan muffin, she explains, has a lot of calories, but maybe not a lot of nutrition.
Talking with Dr. Caley had me rearing to go. I needed to find recipes! But, then again, Google is a big place. Who knows what I would get if I typed in general phrases. “A good site is the Vegetarian Resource Group…they have a newsletter and catalogue,” Dr Caley recomends. Should you venture out into the great unknown of the internet, make sure your recipe is from a reputable site, “and,” she adds, “you can always go to the government site, choosemyplate.gov.” There you can experiment with different foods and get the scoop on the nutrition.
If you’re not ready to make a total switch yet, try going meatless a few days a week, offers Tara Gidus in her U.S. News and World Reports article “Vegetarian? 6 Tips for a Healthy Vegetarian Diet.”
My own personal advice is to go easy on yourself. The world will not end if you decide to eat steak or chicken every now and then. It’s your choice—do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Whether you’re an ovo-vegetarian, a lacto-vegetarian, or a flexitarian– like me– you have so many options when it comes to eating healthy. And you now have the websites to go find delicious new recipes to try. It is great for your body, inside and out—and it is delicious too! Is there any reason not to make the switch?