I would like to become a vegetarian. I think it is unhealthy eating meat opposed to eating other animals. Could you tell me what kind of foods can replace meat? What should I eat regularly in order to get the useful ingredients of meat?
I should mention that from an early age I had iron deficiency and I want to overcome it. What is the best way to deal with it?
The key nutrients you will need to think about if you’re considering becoming a vegetarian are iron, iodine, selenium, vitamin B12, omega 3 fats and possibly protein. Sources of iron suitable for vegetarians and vegans include; pulses, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, dried fruit, nuts, seeds and eggs. The iron found in plant foods is less readily absorbed than that from animal products but there are ways to increase absorption of iron from plant-based foods. These include consuming a food or drink containing vitamin C at the same time e.g. adding a piece of fruit to egg-based meals. Avoid drinking strong tea with meals as it contains compounds called polyphenols which can bind with the iron making it harder for the body to absorb it.
If you are avoiding all fish, you may miss out on getting enough omega 3 fats and iodine. Alternative sources of omega 3 fats include; flaxseed, rapeseed oil, soya products, walnuts and fortified eggs. For iodine, look for iodized salt to use in cooking. However, be mindful to use this sparingly as too much salt in the diet can be harmful to your health. Meat, fish and nuts are the best sources of selenium, so if you're a strict vegetarian, it's important to make sure you're eating enough nuts, particularly Brazil nuts, cashews and pecans. If you eat dairy foods then you should be able to get enough vitamin B12 from your diet. Soya and quinoa contain good amounts of all the essential amino acids and are known as complete sources of protein. Most other vegetarian sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids but it is possible to get these by combining different types of protein foods at the same meal such as cereals and pulses e.g. rice and beans.
Answered by Dr Sarah Schenker.
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