A vegetarian diet can be heart-healthy and nutritious. It can also be a great way to lower your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends a diet that is low in saturated fats and trans fats — the types of fat that can raise blood cholesterol. Since cholesterol and saturated fats come primarily from animal foods, one way to adjust your diet for high cholesterol is to start a vegetarian diet.
Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe and Nutritious?
A well-rounded vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritionally sound with some careful planning. Here are some tips to make sure you are getting enough essential nutrients:
• Protein. Although foods from animals are important sources of protein, you can get all the protein you need from a vegetarian diet. Soy has been shown to be as rich a source of protein as animal food. Good sources of plant protein include whole grains, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
• Iron. Red meat is an important source of iron. A vegetarian diet may put you at higher risk for iron deficiency. Make sure to get enough dried beans, spinach, brewer’s yeast, and dried fruits in your diet. These are all good sources of iron.
• Vitamin B12. This vitamin only comes naturally from animal foods. Vitamin B12 is important in reducing the risk of heart disease, and vegetarians with low B12 may be at risk. You can make sure to get enough B12 by using fortified products like B12-fortified soy milk or cereal. You can also take a B12 supplement.
• Zinc. This mineral is important for growth and development. Grains, nuts, and legumes are good sources, but you might also consider a zinc supplement.
• Vitamin D. If you don’t include dairy in your vegetarian diet and you don’t spend much time outdoors, you also may want to supplement vitamin D.
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