The first thing people tend to assume when you tell them you’re vegetarian is that you’re a health guru or a wannabe “hippie”. This is probably one of the most common misconceptions when it comes to vegetarianism. Contrary to popular belief, it’s harder to maintain a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet while choosing to be vegetarian! Sorry to burst your bubble, but we don’t just eat plants. The most common form of vegetarianism involves the consumption of dairy (lacto) and egg (ovo) and excludes the consumption of meat, fish, and seafood; this is referred to as lacto-ovo vegetarian. Cutting out meat from your diet can result in not getting enough vitamin B12, protein, and iron. As someone who has practiced a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for 7 years, I’ve experienced the deficiencies that come with the certain dietary restrictions. After doing research and learning from many lectures on how to eat properly from my mom (thanks, Mom), I finally learned how to treat my body right while keeping it meat-free.
Do you ever feel extreme fatigue or like your memory is getting worse? There is a good chance that you are deficient in Vitamin B12 and your body isn’t producing enough red blood cells. Not many people realize how important Vitamin B12 is until they learn they have become deficient in it. The main source of B12 comes from animal products such as meat, poultry, and shellfish. A great source of B12 for lacto-ovo vegetarians is in eggs and dairy products. Luckily, these are both very versatile ingredients and can be incorporated into any meal of the day. A great breakfast or snack would be a cup of whole or full-fat yogurt with all-bran cereal—another B12 rich food—and an assortment of fruit. Even adding a few slices of Swiss cheese to your lunch sandwich can boost your daily B12 intake.
Another common deficiency for vegetarians is iron, mainly because its prime source is beef. The iron found in meat (heme iron) is easily absorbed, whereas plant sourced iron (non-heme iron) is not as easily absorbed. For this reason, vegetarians are prone to developing iron-deficiency and anemia. I really want to emphasize the importance of iron and B12 intake due to the main consequence of deficiency: anemia. The side effects of anemia make you feel lousy; constantly fatigued, dizzy, short of breath, and slight memory loss. Even little things like climbing a flight of stairs can have you catching your breath. And you know that head rush you get when you stand up too quickly? That happens way more frequently for someone suffering from iron deficiency, along with other side effects. That is why I stress this: eat your dark leafy greens, nuts, lentils, and beans! These are the primary sources of iron and are so delicious when cooked properly. Vitamin C rich foods can also help promote the absorption of iron, so including a fruit or vegetable as a side to your lentils or beans would benefit your body greatly. One of my favourite meals to make on a cold day is a bowl of lentil and veggie soup, a nutritious and highly flavourful dish. It hits all three bases of B12, iron, and protein. Here’s a quick and easy recipe for a lentil and veggie soup that will definitely fill you up and provide you with all the nutrients you need:
1. Heat up a pot with 15 mL of olive oil. Once heated, add diced carrot, potato, celery, and onion, and sweat.
2. Add tomato paste and cook out.
3. Add lentils, grains, and broth. Season. Once it comes up to a boil, reduce it to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 30-45 minutes, or until lentils and grains are cooked through and soft.
4. Slightly wilt Swiss chard in a pan very quickly. It will also wilt once added in hot soup so make sure it doesn’t get too soggy!
5. Once lentils and grains are tender, add Swiss chard.
6. Soup is ready to be served! Optional: serve with crackers as a salty treat.
Hopefully this recipe provides some guidance for those of you who are struggling to come up with hearty and tasty vegetarian meals. If greens are a huge “ew” from you, some of the most delicious nuts contain a decent amount of iron. A handful of cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, or pine nuts a day can make a difference in how your body feels. Iron proficiency will boost your energy levels big time.
There are so many health benefits to choosing a veg diet, but it’s so important to be aware of the health concerns before choosing this lifestyle. I love opening my mind and my kitchen to trying new, innovative, and, most importantly, delicious vegetarian recipes and I highly encourage trying to eat a few vegetarian meals a week for those who aren’t willing to completely get rid of meat from their diet but want to reduce their carbon footprint.
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