Despite the plethora of vegetarian and vegan friendly foods out there 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! In honor of World Health Day (4/7), 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:
- the ultra-snackable edamame bean, a la this edamame rice burger
- tough, leafy greens- like kale, mustard greens, and broccoli- a la these kale chip nachos
- certain legumes- like black-eyed peas and white beans- a la this creamy white bean chili
- sesame seeds, a la this sesame kabocha squash soup
- sea kelp, a la this kelp slaw
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:
- dark, leafy greens, like spinach, collard greens, and kale; try this cauliflower creamed spinach
- dates, apricots, prunes, and figs, like in this eggplant with fig and leek
- certain legumes, like kidney or black beans, a la sweet potato and black bean hash
- beets, a la beet pesto pasta
- oatmeal, a la this cozy oatmeal
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!
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:
- many beans- including kidney and black beans- like in this black bean burger
- nuts- like almonds and walnuts- like these rosemary roasted almonds
- tofu and soy products- like miso and tempeh- as in these tofu breakfast tacos
- seitan, like in these vegan buffalo wings
- seeds like quinoa and buckwheat, as in these soba noodles with peanut dressing or something sweet like this roasted strawberry quinoa parfait
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
You may be thinking: can’t I just take a few supplements or some protein powders? Before you dish out your hard-earned cash on alternatives, any nutritionist or health professionals 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.
If you’re not meat-free (yet), consider taking small steps and abstaining 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 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 EthicalEatingDay.org.
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.