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A Vegetarian’s Guide To A Nutrient-Packed Diet

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A Vegetarian’s Guide To A Nutrient-Packed Diet

Here are tips to ensure your plant-based diet is healthy (and meets your nutritional needs!)

Vegetarianism is embraced for various reasons, including health, religious, compassion for animals and environmental concerns. Buddhists, prior to the celebration of Vesak Day, eat a vegetarian meal to cleanse and purify themselves – in observation of one of the five precepts of the teachings, which is abstaining from killing.

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And according to nutritionists going meat-free isn’t about being “hip and new-agey” (though those are apparently valid reasons for some). There are some serious benefits as a vegetarian diet is a complete diet, linked to high consumption of fibre, vitamins C and E, folic acid, magnesium, unsaturated fat, and numerous phytochemicals. These help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart diseases. Not only that – vegetarian meals are also a lot easier for the body to digest!

Health Benefits

Lowers Cholesterol Levels – Cholesterol only comes from animal products, so vegetarian diets are cholesterol-free. But wait – isn’t cholesterol an essential component of each human cell? Yes, it is – and your liver produces all of the cholesterol that your body needs to function.

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High In Fibre – Fibre is necessary for proper digestion – it helps improve body metabolism and helps to eliminate toxins and other chemicals from the body quickly. Fruits and vegetables are usually water-based, so they help in maintaining the required liquids in the body.

Improves Metabolism – While fruits and vegetables may move through your system in less than a day due to the higher fibre content, meat and fish take more time, effort and extra specific enzymes to be broken down and digested. And so a plant-based meal naturally keeps the metabolism of an individual in good state.

Keeps Obesity At Bay – A vegetarian meal is often made up of lesser calories than a meat dish. And the general rule is that if you eat more calories than you use, you'll gain weight. So deliberately consuming lesser calories would help you lose weight or maintain the weight you desire!

Make Your Skin Glow – If you’d like to have a healthy skin, then you need to consume the right amount of vitamins and minerals with plenty of water. Not only are the fruits and vegetables super rich in vitamins and minerals, they are also a rich source of antioxidants that help you stay disease free, with healthier skin.

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Get The Best Nutrition

To ensure you get the most out of a vegetarian diet, go for a variety of plant-based foods such as fresh whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. Avoid highly-processed, soy-based vegetarian foods such as veggie burgers, nuggets and pseudo meats as these contain a whole host of artificial ingredients that aren’t healthy at all. The following are essential nutrients for the body to function at its best, so be sure to include them in your diet.

Protein – An important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood, protein is found in eggs and dairy products. Once could also get sufficient protein from plant-based foods such as soy products, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes.

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Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These are essential for a healthy heart, and they’re mainly found in fish and eggs. Vegetarians could instead go for canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed and soybean – along with fortified products or supplements.

Calcium and Vitamin D – To build and maintain strong teeth and bones, you need calcium, and milk and dairy foods are super rich in calcium. So where can vegetarians get their calcium fix from? Green vegetables such as broccoli, bak choy, green beans, spinach, okra and kale. Foods that are calcium-fortified include soy milk, tofu, juices and cereals. Vitamin D, meanwhile, is needed for bone health; it’s added to foods like cereals, margarines and soy milk.

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Iron & Zinc – Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to transport it throughout your body. Good iron sources include spinach, legumes, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, broccoli, tofu, dried apricots, baked potatoes and dark chocolate.

Zinc, meanwhile, is an essential component of many enzymes, and helps the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses. Good zinc sources include spinach, mushroom, whole grains, legumes, seeds, nuts, soy products and wheat germ.

Vitamin B-12 – This essential vitamin necessary for the production of red blood cells (and prevent anemia) is almost exclusively found in animal products. Vegetarians should consider vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products.

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Photos © iStock by Getty Images

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