Do vegetarians get enough protein?
The notion that eliminating all meat, eggs, and dairy products from the diet (100% vegetarian, or vegan) might result in a protein deficiency remains one of the most common and unfounded beliefs about vegetarianism. Adequate protein intake is easily achieved by consuming a variety of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. According the American Dietetic Association, complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same time. (Back in the 1970s, it was thought that such "food mixing" was necessary.) For those vegetarians who choose to consume high levels of protein, soy products such as meat analogs provide a low-fat alternative to animal flesh. Even professional athletes do not need meat, eggs, or dairy products.
How do dairy-free vegetarians get adequate calcium?
Many legumes, vegetables, and soy products contain significant amounts of calcium (see the Position of the American Dietetic Association on Vegetarian Diets). However, calcium intake among vegans is generally lower than that of lacto-vegetarians. According to the American Dietetic Association and other nutritional authorities, vegans may have lower calcium needs than nonvegetarians since diets lower in total protein have a calcium-sparing effect. In fact, according to the most comprehensive study ever undertaken concerning the relationship between diet and disease (the Cornell-Oxford-China Diet and Health Project), those Chinese who consume little or no dairy products appear to be at a much lower risk for osteoporosis than we do in the West, where hip fractures are approximately five times more common even though dairy products are consumed in abundance.
Without meat, eggs, and dairy, are there any tasty meals left?
Unlike most of the world, the Western diet is laden with animal products. In America, animal products typically are consumed at every meal. Vegetarians and vegans usually broaden their tastes to encompass other cuisines which are not so heavily biased toward meat and dairy products. Indian, Mediterranean, Chinese, and Thai cuisines offer an enormous variety of vegetarian entrees. Vegan Italian, Mexican, and Japanese entrees are becoming more widely available in U.S. restaurants as well. For those who still love American cuisine, easy substitutes for almost all animal products already exist in abundance, from meat-free burgers, hot dogs, and deli slices to rich, dairy-free desserts. With just a little exploration, delicious vegetarian meals are easy to come by, whether or not you like to cook for yourself.
Should vegetarians take vitamin supplements?
A well balanced, 100% vegetarian diet can provide adequate levels of all nutrients, with the possible exception of vitamin B12. This vitamin is not produced by plants or animals, but rather by microorganisms present in soil, meat, and dairy products. Traces of B12 may be found on root vegetables, and Asian foods such as miso and tempeh may contain significant amounts, but these are not reliable sources. Vegans should be sure to include a good source of vitamin B12. Fortified staples include many breakfast cereals, meat substitute products, some brands of soy milk, and other vegetarian foods. Check the label for cyanocobalamin or methylcobalamin, the best absorbed forms of B12. Vitamin B12 is also found in almost all standard multivitamin tablets.
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