More and more people are being or becoming vegetarian nowadays. Some because they want to lose weight, others because they feel sorry for the animals or for environmental reasons. However, there is the risk of missing nutrients when not eating meat. But that doesn’t mean that vegetarians can’t get them somewhere else.
“What needs to be taken into account is plenty of preparation and if you fail to prepare, you are prepared to fail,” says Fiona Loughran. The health coach from Cork knows that it is important to keep a varied diet, which means “eating lots of colorful food and a well balanced meal plan.” What vegetarians and vegans should especially check every now and then are their levels of iron and vitamin B12, which a lot of women are lacking even if they are not vegetarian. That is because women lose blood regularly due to their menstruation.
Speaking of Vitamin B12, Regiments Lukosius wants to clear up some prejudices. The nutritionist and personal trainer says that B12 doesn’t only occur in animals, but is also produced by bacteria in the soil as well as in the human gut. However, he is also aware that it is produced way too far down in the gut to be absorbed in sufficient quantities. That is why B12 is the only supplement he would recommend to every vegan and vegetarian, “even those on a meat-based diet if they are over 55.”
Other than that, it is in his opinion that it’s most important to eat enough. “When people switch to a vegan diet, the foods they eat will be more nutrient dense, but calorie poor.” As foods that are especially important for vegetarians, Loughran highly recommends dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, or broccoli for soups; or adding some Spirulina and chia seeds to a smoothie. “Make sure to have some vitamin C to help absorb the iron,” is another tip. Pulses, especially lentils are “an incredible source of iron,” Lukosius adds.
Indian Dhal is only one example of a cheap and “most amazing super-food” to boost your iron intake, says the nutritionist. “Have an orange as a desert after and you are sorted.” For him, it is important to look at the bigger picture. While everyone can google “foods high in iron” nowadays, it is important to consider that foods work synergistically and enhance the bioavailability of nutrients.
An example for that is turmeric. “Most people already know of the incredible properties of turmeric,” says Lukosius. However, many are not aware of the hundred-fold increase in bioavailability of cucumin, which is an active ingredient in tumeric, that is achieved when adding black pepper to it. “Once again, thinking of Dahl, makes you wonder,” says Lukosius. In general, he thinks that no food or nutrient is better than any other. Rather, the variety is way more beneficial to overall health.
Whether being vegetarian or vegan is healthy is even a difficult question for the two experts to answer. “I feel it is healthy but again what you put in you get out, so it is important to stay informed and empowered to the food you are consuming,” says Loughran.
For Lukosius, it’s not just black and white. In general, he would say that a vegan diet can be healthy. However, vegan as well as vegetarian nutrition can have different food items in them. A person drinking soft sugary drinks, eating crisps, Oreo cookies, and vegan doughnuts is going to be very different from a person eating oats and berries for breakfast, beans and greens for lunch, and a whole grain bread for dinner. In conclusion, the nutritionist would agree that vegetarian or vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases – if they are appropriately planned.
For someone who wants to become vegetarian or vegan, Lukosius would recommend finding people who already eat that way. “We are social creatures and do not do well in isolation.” For him, food is more than just nutrients. “We eat together, we share our lives and stories around the table. It is part of who we are.” Hearing from the experiences of other people also makes it easier to get practical tips like having a regular source of B12.
And his last tip: “Make sure you eat enough and vary your diet.” That includes experimenting with different cuisines and looking up recipes. “And most important – enjoy it!”, says Lukosius. “Health is not only defined by what we eat. It is happiness, love, good sleep, social networks, and a manageable stress level.” According to him, that is all that needs to be remembered when looking at the plate.