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Vegetarian Diet Guidelines
Healthy Eating Advice for Vegetarian and Vegans
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Guide to Healthy Diet & Foods For Vegetarians & Vegans

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines

Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid - What is it?

The Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid is a general guide that lets you choose a healthy diet that's right for you. The Food Pyramid calls for eating foods from a variety of food groups each day to get the nutrition you need and at the same time the right amount of calories to maintain or improve your weight. The Vegetarian Food Pyramid suggests you limit your fat intake because most Americans diets are too high in fat, especially saturated fat.

Click: Vegetarian Food Guide Pyramid

Use the Vegetarian Food Pyramid to help you eat better every day...the Dietary Guidelines way. Start with plenty of breads, cereals, rice, pasta, vegetables, and fruits.

Add 2-3 servings from the dairy/non-dairy group and 2-3 servings from the Dry Beans, Nuts, Seeds, Eggs and Meat Substitutes group.

Remember to go easy on fats, oils, and sweets, the foods in the small tip of the Pyramid. The Food Guide Pyramid emphasizes foods from all major food groups.

Each of these food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you need. Foods in one group can't replace those in another.

No one food group is more important than another - for good health, you need them all.

General Dietary Guidelines and Advice for Healthy Vegetarian Eating

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Protein

Plant sources of protein alone can provide sufficient amounts of essential amino acids if a variety of plant foods are eaten. Research indicates that complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same time and that consumption of various sources of amino acids over the course of the day is sufficient. Although vegetarian diets are lower in total protein and a vegetarian's protein needs may be somewhat elevated because of the lower quality of some plant proteins, research suggests that protein intake in both lacto-ovo-vegetarians and vegans appears to be adequate. The following foods are all good sources of protein, so try to include a mixture of these in your diet each day, and vary the types you choose: pulses (such as lentils and beans), nuts and seeds, eggs, soy, mycoprotein (sold as Quorn) wheat proteins, such as cereals, bread, rice and maize.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Iron

Although vegetarian diets are higher in total iron content than nonvegetarian diets, iron reserves are lower in vegetarians because the iron from plant foods is less well absorbed. That said, iron deficiency anemia rates are similar in vegetarians and nonvegetarians. Although meat is the best source of iron, other good iron sources include: pulses, green vegetables such as watercress, broccoli, spring greens and okra, fortified bread, and fortified breakfast cereals. Remember that it's easier to absorb iron from food if we eat it with foods that contain vitamin C, so have some fruit or veg, or a glass of fruit juice with your meal.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Vitamin B12

Plant foods are not a reliable source of B-12 for vegetarians. Much of the vitamin B-12 present in spirulina, sea vegetables, tempeh, and miso has been shown to be inactive B-12 analog rather than the active vitamin. Although dairy products and eggs contain vitamin B-12, research indicates that lacto-ovo-vegetarians have low blood levels of vitamin B-12. Thus supplementation/ use of fortified foods is advised for vegans or vegetarians who limit animal foods. Good vegan sources of vitamin B12 include: yeast extract, fortified bread, fortified breakfast cereals.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Calcium

Vegetarians who eat eggs and milk (lacto-ovo-vegetarians) have calcium intakes that are comparable to those of nonvegetarians.

Calcium intakes of vegans (non egg/milk eaters), however, are generally lower than those of lacto-ovo-vegetarians. It should be noted that vegans may have lower calcium needs than nonvegetarians because diets that are low in total protein and more alkaline have been shown to 'use-up' less calcium.

Also, when a person's diet is low in both protein and sodium and regular weight-bearing physical activity is engaged in, their calcium requirements may be lower than those of a sedentary person who eats a standard Western diet.

These factors, and genetic influences, may help explain why bone health is not solely dependent on calcium intake.

Calcium Dietary Guidelines - Vegans

The good news for vegans is that calcium is well absorbed from many plant foods, and vegan diets can provide adequate calcium PROVIDED the diet regularly includes foods rich in calcium. Such foods include poppy seeds, sesame seeds, tofu, fortified soy milk, almonds, soy beans, figs, haricot beans, spinach, brazil nuts, chickpeas, kale, broccoli, spring greens, white cabbage, plus rice or oat drinks fortified with calcium. Dietary supplements are not advised for vegans unless they do not meet calcium requirements from food.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Vitamin D

Vitamin D is poorly supplied in all vegetarian diets unless vitamin D-fortified foods are eaten. Vegan diets in particular may lack Vitamin D. However, vegan vitamin D-fortified foods - such as soy milk and cereals, are becoming more widely available. Furthermore, sunlight exposure is a major contributor to vitamin D levels and dietary intake is not important if sun exposure (to hands, arms, and face for 5 to 15 minutes per day) is adequate. Unless sun exposure is inadequate, vitamin D supplements are not recommended for vegans.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Zinc

Most studies show that zinc levels in hair, serum, and saliva are in the normal range in vegetarians. However, because of the low uptake of zinc from plant foods vegetarians should attempt to meet or exceed the zinc RDA.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Pregnancy

Lacto-ovo-vegetarian and vegan diets can meet the nutrient and calorie needs of pregnant women.

Birth weights of infants born to well nourished vegetarian women have been shown to be similar to birth-weight norms and to birth weights of infants of nonvegetarians.

Diets of pregnant and lactating vegans should be supplemented with 2.0 micrograms and 2.6 micrograms, respectively, of vitamin B-12 daily and, where sun exposure is limited, with 10 micrograms vitamin D daily.

Supplements of folate are advised for all pregnant women, although vegetarian women typically have higher intakes than nonvegetarians.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Daily Summary

  • Choose a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and, if eaten, dairy products and eggs.
  • Choose whole, unrefined foods often and minimize intake of highly sweetened, fatty, and heavily refined foods.
  • Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  • If animal foods such as dairy products and eggs are eaten, choose lower-fat versions of these foods. Cheeses and other high-fat dairy foods and eggs should be limited in the diet because of their saturated fat content and because their frequent use displaces plant foods in some vegetarian diets.
  • Vegans should include a regular source of vitamin B-12 in their diets along with a source of vitamin D if sun exposure is limited.
  • Do not restrict dietary fat in children younger than 2 years. For older children, include some foods higher in unsaturated fats (eg, nuts, seeds, nut and seed butters, avocado, and vegetable oils) to help meet nutrient and energy needs.

Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines - Further Information

You might be interested in these websites:

Vegan Society
Vegetarian Diet Nutrition Information

Sources include: American Dietetic Association - www.eatright.org
UK Food Standards Agency - www.foodstandards.gov.uk/healthiereating/

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