A useful and inspirational guide to eating healthy, natural foods – by Katie Panamarenko
The most widely-asked question of a vegetarian would probably be, “How are you getting all your calcium, iron and protein if you don’t eat meat?!” I often would like to rebut this with, “How are you getting fiber, vitamins and other essentials to combat all the protein and junk you are eating?”
A vegetarian diet full of wholegrains, fruits and vegetables is one of the healthiest there is. However, vegetarians and especially vegans can be at risk of lacking vital nutrients such as calcium, iron and protein, especially if they are the French fry-eating, soda-drinking, cookie-loving kinds of vegetarians.
A great supplement to our needs, and a native to our little town of Cape May, is the lima bean! It is a good source of B vitamins, protein, fiber, iron, potassium, and magnesium; and they have very little fat. Studies suggest that lima beans can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, probably due to their soluble fiber content, and also contain compounds that may impart anticancer benefits.
Most folks know we receive calcium from milk. It’s been drilled into our diets since I can remember – Got Milk? What they don’t advertise is the fats and cholesterol that come along with it. Also, it is rarely discussed that we are the only species to drink another animal’s milk and the only species to persist drinking milk beyond infantile years. The ideal options for finding calcium are spinach, fortified orange juice, sesame seeds, tahini, broccoli, almonds, carrots, collard greens, kale, soy milk, and rice milk.
Studies have found that iron levels in vegetarians and vegans are, on average, higher than those of the general population. Drinking coffee and tea can limit your absorption, however, and should be consumed at least three hours before a meal. For an iron boost, if needed, try eating tofu, lentils (or limas!), spinach, soy, chickpeas and/or hummus. Vitamin C also increases the absorption of iron, so if you take an iron supplement, wash it down with some orange juice.
The little-known truth about protein is that most of us get too much, not too little. Lots of foods contain protein and if you’re eating a well-balanced diet you’re probably consuming more than enough protein. Some high protein foods are soy, lentils (limas again!), chickpeas, nuts and seeds, brown rice and whole grains.
So have no fear vegetarians, vegans and those who hold them dear. It would appear that we are doing just fine – we are getting our vitamins in due time. It’s the carnivores who need to ensure they are getting what they need.