There are several modalities of vegetarianism, from strict vegetarians to lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Usually, lacto-ovo-vegetarians will eat dairy foods and eggs, but not meat, fish, or poultry. Certainly, a diet rich in plant foods has the potential to offer health benefits and positive outcomes in prevention and treatment of conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer. Nutrient intake and nutrient bioavailability are essential to prevent deficiencies. Calories, macro and micronutrients distributions are important to provide adequate nutrition within an energy allowance that maintains a healthy weight. Macronutrients provide calories and are the protein, fat, and carbohydrates, while minerals and vitamins are micronutrients and do not provide energy. Water is essential to life but does not provide energy.
Here are some recommendations in how to plan a nutritionally-adequate lacto-ovo-vegetarian meal plan.
Protein: It is a vital structural and working substance in all cells and commonly associated with meat consumption. Nevertheless, lacto-ovo-vegetarians can meet recommendations easily from low-fat dairy, beans, peas, nuts, and eggs. Protein in plants may not be completely digested. Eggs provide one of the highest quality protein available in any food while containing 13 additional vitamins and minerals in different amounts with only 70 calories per one large egg.
Carbohydrates: Whole wheat grains pasta, cereals, quinoa, amaranth, oatmeal, brown rice, fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, potatoes, and winter squash will provide the body ample carbohydrates for immediate energy.
Fats: Good source of healthy fats are nuts, seed, avocados, olive oil, and olives.
Vitamins and Minerals: Common concerns among vegetarians may include lack of vitamin B12, vitamin D, iron, riboflavin, zinc and calcium.
Vitamin B12: Is only found in animal products and is important in human nutrition because it is involved in new cell synthesis; helps to maintain nerve cells, and is required to convert folate into its active form. Significant sources for lacto-ovo-vegetarians are milk, cheese and eggs. Soy products, including soy milk, when fortified with this vitamin are a good source of B12.
Vitamin D: Is found in animal products and is synthesized from exposure to the sun. Milk is usually fortified with vitamin D. Eggs do not need fortification since they are one of few foods that naturally provide vitamin D.
Iron: Is vital to many of the cells’ activities, and absorption depends on its source. Heme iron is well absorbed and is found in animal products. Non-heme iron, which is not well absorbed, comes from plant foods. Eating iron rich vegetables with vitamin C rich foods, such citrus fruits and juices; broccoli, peppers and tomatoes will enhance iron absorption. Legumes, eggs, whole-grain fortified and enriched breads and cereals as well as dark green and leafy vegetables, tofu, edamame, and nuts are good sources of iron.
Calcium: The relationship between calcium and osteoporosis is well documented. Osteoporosis develops early in life and becomes apparent during the later years. Good sources of calcium are milk and milk-based products, kale, collard green, mustard greens, almonds, tofu, legumes, texture vegetable protein, and calcium fortified orange juice. Although spinach is rich in calcium, it is poorly absorbed due to presence of oxalates.
Zinc: It is a very versatile mineral, participates in immune reactions, taste perception, and wound healing, among others. Good zinc sources include legumes, hard cheeses, whole grain products, nuts, tofu and miso. The absorption of zinc from plant foods such whole grains is hindered by phytic acids.
Riboflavin: Most notorious role in the body is the release of energy from nutrients in all body cells. Foods that contribute the most riboflavin include milk and milk products. Other sources are whole-grain or enriched bread and cereals, dark green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, turnip green, asparagus, spinach and eggs. Nutritional yeast also provides good amounts of this vitamin.
For wellness and health, being a vegetarian or omnivorous involves a healthful meal plan. It is also recommended integrating the holistic concept of balance among the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of the individual.