By Vanessa Gillis
Whether you’re partaking in Meatless Monday or adapting to a completely vegetarian diet there are many benefits to upping your intake of fruits and vegetables. According to the American Dietetic Association, vegetarians and vegans have a lower risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. If you’re going down this road, however, it’s important that you adopt a healthy diet and ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients, especially if you’re exercising regularly. Here are four top picks to help you stay healthy and fit on your meatless journey.
What is it? Protein is found everywhere in our bodies and is an essential part of our training routines because it helps muscles grow and recover. While lean meats are one of the more popular sources, there are many other animal-free ways to add protein to your diet.
How do I get it? Protein should account for at least 20 to 25 per cent of your daily calories, but not all proteins are created equal. Complete proteins provide all of your essential amino acids, but are primarily found in animal-based foods like meat, eggs, and cheese. But never fear – incomplete proteins (like nuts, grains, and seeds) can be combined to form complementary proteins and give you all the amino acids you need.
What should I eat? Legumes and grains are one of the best vegan pairings to get that complete protein. Try beans and rice, hummus and pita bread, or lentils and buckwheat – the possibilities are endless!
What is it? A vitamin B12 deficiency is the last thing you want when you’re planning a trip to the gym. It causes fatigue and weakness, neither of which is at all helpful when you need that extra push to get off the couch and onto the treadmill. Since this somewhat hard to come by vitamin is mostly found in animal foods, it can be difficult for vegans and vegetarians to include in their diets. But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
How do I get it? The easiest solution would be to take B12 supplements; however, some companies do put animal-based gelatin into their supplements, so be extra diligent about reading the labels. If you’d rather go for a natural source, reach for vegan foods fortified with vitamin B12, such as tofu, certain cereals, and dairy-free milk.
What should I eat? A soy burger can contain almost a full day’s serving of vitamin B12. Pair that with a tall, refreshing glass of fortified almond milk, and you’re good to go!
What is it? As children we were always told to glug back our daily glass of milk to ensure that our bodies get enough calcium. This mineral makes for strong bones, a properly functioning heart, and optimal muscles, but cow’s milk is obviously a no-go for vegans. Soy or almond milk are great alternatives, as they are almost always calcium-fortified, but there are several other delicious ways to get your fix.
How do I get it? Almonds, beans, and leafy greens all contain calcium, but, unfortunately, their levels are much lower than a portion of yogurt or a glass of milk. The good news is that you can combine a lot of these meat-free alternatives to make some delicious meals and snacks.
What should I eat? Pair a handful of almonds with a kale salad and an orange to match the calcium levels found in a glass of milk.
What is it? Just like when you’re lacking in vitamin B12, an iron deficiency will leave you feeling tired and weak. But with this shortage you’ll also have trouble concentrating and become easily irritated – good luck finding a workout buddy with that attitude!
How do I get it? There are two different types of iron. Heme iron is most easily absorbed by our bodies, but the best sources are meat, poultry, and fish. Alternatively, non-heme iron, typically found in vegan foods, is not absorbed as well, but vitamin C is a great fix for this problem, helping your body trap the non-heme iron that enters your system. Pair iron-filled foods, such as whole grains and leafy green vegetables, with picks that are high in vitamin C, like citrus fruits and tomatoes, to maximize your intake.
What should I eat? Make yourself a spinach and quinoa salad with orange slices and berries, and you’ll get all the goodness of iron, plus a bonus dose of vitamin C. Bon appétit!