Going Meat-Free? Balance Your Nutrition with These Five Foods

National Headquarters  |  April 6, 2018

Written by Dilber Shatursun

Despite the growing variety of vegetarian and vegan-friendly foods on the market, it can still be challenging to get a proper fill of protein, calcium, iron, zinc, and B-12 if you decide to go meat-free.  But, fear not! For everyone sinking their teeth into the Very Veggie Movement, we break down why you need these nutrients, where you can find them, and how to enjoy them in the most mouthwatering ways possible.

Skip the Milk

Dairy has long been touted as our mightiest source of calcium.  While the mineral is critical for top-tier bone health, we can look beyond the dairy aisle for heartier options.  These include:

Paired with a few minutes in the sun for vitamin D, you’ll be one step closer to a stronger you.

Pump That Iron

To make hemoglobin- the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body- we need a sufficient source of iron.  Herbivores can find it in foods that can include:

Incorporate these into your diet and feel your inner Popeye getting stronger.

Zinc About It...

Often found in cold remedies and lozenges, some great, non-medicinal sources of zinc include

  • seeds from pumpkin and squash
  • dark chocolate
  • mushrooms, including white, portobello, shiitake, oyster and more, like in these fried shiitake Po’ Boys
  • cashews, pine nuts, and pecans

The mineral has numerous immune health benefits, and for growth and development of babies through adolescents.  Beware in consuming too many raw nuts for zinc, though. They contain compounds known as phytates which inhibit the body’s ability to absorb zinc.  A quick fix: soak them for several hours to overnight to get rid of the phytates, then dry, roast, flavor… and enjoy!of

Why Be a 10? B-12!

The most robust natural sources of vitamin B-12 are indeed meats, but there are still options like:

  • nutritional yeast, like in this vegan mac and cheese
  • specially fortified products, like breakfast cereals, almond milk, or coconut milk
  • eggs and dairy, like yogurt, milk, cottage cheese (if you are vegetarian)

It’s important because it helps in energy and DNA production, nervous system health, and much more.  Because of its limited non-meat sources, you may consider a vegetarian-approved B-12 supplement (in either pill or shot form).

Be a Lean, Mean, Protein Machine

According to the Nutrition Source at the Harvard School of Public Health, many non-meat sources of protein lack a certain type of amino acid, meaning you’ll have to diversify your protein choices to get the greatest benefit.  Proteins are important for healthy growth, muscle building and retention, and a strong heart and respiratory system. Find it across:

Fruits and vegetables, in sufficient quantity, are also a great source of protein.  Be sure to keep your diet balanced and you’ll find yourself happier, healthier, and more energized.

You Are What You Eat

Now, there’s a decent chance you may have never cooked with or shopped for ingredients like these, and having to learn all new recipes and overhaul your entire fridge and pantry may seem overwhelming.  You may even be thinking you can get away with some veggie meat swaps and continue your diet as usual, because there are vitamins you can just start taking instead, right?

Not exactly.  Before you dish out your hard-earned cash on over-the-counter supplements, any nutritionist or health professional will tell you to get what nutrients you can from your diet first.  After all, if you can make your meat-free diet healthier, you can proudly say you are what you eat.  Plus, incorporating a wider variety of vegetables into any diet is always a good choice.

If you’re not meat-free (yet) and haven’t taken the Very Veggie pledge, consider taking small steps and abstain from meat at least one day per week and see how it goes.  There’s so much good you can do for your body, our animals, and our planet just by reducing your meat intake.  Find more guidance on how to transition to a more ethical diet and learn more about the environmental impact you can make at the Very Veggie Movement homepage.

Note: Depending on your age and sex, your vitamin and mineral intake needs will vary.  See these recommendations on what’s right for your body when it comes to calcium, iron, zinc, B-12, and protein, or consult a doctor.

Whether you’re on your way to vegetarianism or haven’t decided yet, pledge to go meat-free for 30 days and see our world slowly transform!

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