Vegetarian eating most commonly excludes meat, fish, and poultry, but there are variations as well.
- Vegans exclude all animal products.
- Lacto-vegetarians include dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians include dairy products and eggs.
- Flexitarians or part time vegetarianseat small amounts of meat, fish, or poultry from time to time.
Benefits of Vegetarian Eating
Many vegetarians adopt healthy lifestyles in addition to their eating practices and are often physically active and often use less tobacco, illicit drugs, or alcohol. Research shows that well planned vegetarian diets can offer many benefits by:
- Being a good way to maintain a healthy body weight.
- Tending to be lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories.
- Tending to be high in fibre, vegetables, fruit, soy proteins, and anti-oxidants.
- Environmentally friendly because plant-based foods use fewer resources for production in comparison to meat, fish, and poultry.
Maintenance of a nutritious diet through vegetarian eating can also lead to:
- Reduced rates of high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.
- Reduced risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Common Essential Nutrients Lacking in a Poorly Managed Vegetarian Diet
A vegetarian can meet protein recommendations as long as their total calorie intake is adequate and they eat a variety of protein sources. Different plant-based foods lack different essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. Wheat, rice, corn, and other grain products are generally low in the amino acid lysine. Legumes (beans, lentils, peas) are generally low in the amino acids methionine and cysteine. A great way to ensure your essential amino acid intake requirement is being met is by eating grains and legumes together. If you eat a meal like black beans and tortillas, the black beans will provide the methionine and cysteine while the tortilla provides the lysine. Thus, “complementary proteins” are important for a vegetarian diet.
Sources of protein include beans, split peas, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, grains, cereals, nut butters, nuts, texturized vegetable protein, and most vegetables.
Iron that is found in plant foods is more poorly absorbed than iron found in animal products. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of iron. Knowing this, vegetarians can optimize their iron absorption by eating vitamin C rich foods (e.g., citrus fruit, bell peppers, tomatoes, dried fruit) in addition to iron rich foods.
Good sources of iron include dark leafy green vegetables, iron-fortified cereals, whole-grains, dried fruits, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Vegetarians should choose several iron-rich plant sources daily.
Vitamin B12 requirements are quite low, but it is found primarily in animal food products. This vitamin is imperative to avoid nerve damage. Vegetarians or vegans who exclude all animal-derived foods are at risk for lacking enough vitamin B12 in their diets. Vegans should be consuming vitamin B12 fortified soy milk, breakfast cereals, and a B12 supplement.
Zinc, like iron, is poorly absorbed from plant foods. The best way to ensure zinc intake is adequate is by eating a variety of nutrient dense foods and maintaining an adequate energy intake.
Good sources of zinc include soy and soy products, dried beans, peas, and lentils, nuts, seeds, grains, and fortified cereals. Vegetarians who include seafood should note that oysters, crab, and shrimp are particularly good sources of zinc.
Calcium plays a role in bone and teeth health as well as muscle contraction. Vegetarians who exclude milk products must plan carefully to consume foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Good sources of calcium include fortified orange juice and soy products, white beans, navy beans, nuts, seeds, bok choy, broccoli, and figs. It is also worth mentioning that vitamin D enhances calcium absorption, so look for products fortified with both calcium and vitamin D.
Vitamin D is another nutrient that helps maintain bone and teeth health. Through sun exposure, vitamin D can be synthesized in our skin. In Canada, however, vitamin D cannot be synthesized in this fashion between October and May due to changes of the length of rays of sun. Sunscreen also prevents the production of vitamin D. Many Canadians need to ensure they are eating foods high in vitamin D or consuming a supplement that is 1000-2000 IU per day.
Fortified soy and rice beverages are very good sources of both vitamin D and calcium. Sardines and salmon with the bones are also good sources.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent heart disease and play a role in eye, nerve, and brain development. Vegetarians who include fish in their diets can acquire omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish like salmon. Those who exclude fish should be consuming flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, and their oils.
Variety is extremely important not only for vegetarian diets but any diet.
Vegetarian Choices on Campus
Food vendors on campus take vegetarian diets into consideration when planning their menus. Remember that it is optimal to have a diet full of variety. Consider some of the nutrients that are of concern for vegetarian diets mentioned earlier when choosing foods.
Arts, Education, and Agriculture Cafeterias
These cafeterias always offer fresh, pre-cut vegetables, fruit, whole wheat toast, bagels, soups, and yogurts. Visit the arts cafeteria and try the seven-grain hummus and veggie wrap, cranberry walnut salad, barley tabbouleh salad, or the veggie fajita.
La Crepe Bistro / Extreme Pita
At these food vendors, choose a whole wheat crepe or a pita filled with vegetables. The market fresh veggie and falafel pitas are worth a try from Extreme Pita. Falafels are made from chickpeas, which are high in protein, fibre, and are also a source of zinc and folate. You cannot go wrong with a vegetarian crepe from La Crepe Bistro.
Visit Louis and try the vegetable, naan, and hummus plate. If you fancy a salad, their spinach, apple, and pecan salad might do the trick. Falafel is also offered at Louis’. There is even a vegan fire roasted vegetable wrap packed with nutrient dense vegetables as well as a vegetarian portobello burger.
Umi Sushi Express
For those who eat fish, sushi can be a good way to consume omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarians who exclude fish can also enjoy foods from this vendor, however. There is a veggie sushi combo with yam tempura and avocado rolls. Try the brown rice option when you choose sushi and limit soya sauce to reduce sodium intake. Edamame beans are also a good high protein and fibre snack option.
Choices – St. Thomas More
Choices has many nutritious vegetarian options! Increase your vegetable intake for the day with an herb roasted vegetable whole wheat wrap with light tzatziki sauce. On a cold day, try the vegan tomato minestrone soup. The bruschetta salad has it all with navy beans, olives, vegetables, and multigrain croutons all mixed together in a tangy vinaigrette. The menu changes often at Choices, so it is worth checking this food vendor out!
Marquis Hall Food Court
There are many nutritious options at Marquis Hall. Everyone is welcome. They offer vegetarian and gluten free options as well! You can find the daily menu for Marquis Hall by searching “Where to Eat” at the top of your PAWS homepage.
- Brown. J. E. (2011). Nutrition through the life cycle. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
- Gropper, S. S., Smith, J. L., Groff, J. L. (2009). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
- Health Canada. (2007). Eating well with Canada’s food guide.
- Whitney, E & Rolfes, S. R. (2011). Understanding nutrition. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.