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Alberta Health Services – Vegetarian Eating

Vegetarian eating can be a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle choice. The information here is to give you information on how to plan a vegetarian diet that meets the daily needs for key nutrients.

What are some health benefits of vegetarian eating?

Vegetarian diets based on the Vegetarian Food Guide are:

  • low in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • high in fibre
  • high in folic acid
  • high in most vitamins and minerals

Vegetarian meals and healthy lifestyle choices can lower the risk of some chronic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, obesity and diabetes.

What are some key nutrients likely to be missed in vegetarian meals and where are the sources of these nutrients?

When meat and other animal products are limited or avoided there is a risk of missing certain nutrients. The nutrients most likely to be missed include; protein, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and zinc. It is important to have daily sources of these nutrients.

Nutrient and Function Vegetarian Food Sources
Protein
  • Needed for growth and repair of all body tissues.
  • Builds antibodies needed to fight infection.
  • eggs
  • soy foods (soybeans, tofu, tempeh)
  • legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pecans, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds)
  • milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
Iron
  • Carries oxygen in the blood to all cells in the body for energy to do physical and mental work.
  • Keeps the immune system strong to fight infection
  • spinach
  • soy foods (soybeans, tofu, tempeh)
  • legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pecans, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds)
  • fortified grain products (bread, cereal, pasta)
  • raisins, prunes, figs, dried apricots
  • blackstrap molasses
Calcium
  • Builds healthy bones and teeth.
  • Forms healthy nerves.
  • vegetarian wieners and patties
  • milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • calcium-fortified orange juice
  • calcium-fortified soy beverage
  • calcium-set tofu
  • soybeans
  • almonds, sesame seeds, tahini
  • dark green, leafy vegetables (bok choy, collard greens, kale, turnip greens)
Vitamin B12
  • Needed to make red blood cells.
  • Forms healthy nerves.
  • Naturally is found only in animal products
  • egg yolk
  • fortified soy foods (fortified soy beverage, fortified veggie patties and wieners)
  • nutritional yeast (fortified with vitamin B12)
  • milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
Vitamin D
  • Helps build strong bones and teeth.
  • fortified milk
  • fortified soy beverage
  • fortified margarine
  • egg yolk
Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Needed for the development of eyes and brains of babies, before birth and after birth.
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke and some cancers.
  • oils made from flaxseed, hemp, canola, soybean and walnuts and products made from these oils (examples, non-hydrogenated margarine, salad dressing)
  • ground flaxseeds
  • hemp seeds
  • soybeans
  • walnuts
  • omega-3 fatty acid enriched eggs
Zinc
  • Needed for proper growth and healing.
  • Keeps the immune system strong to fight infection.
  • eggs
  • legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • nuts and seeds (almonds, cashews, pecans, pine nuts and pumpkin seeds)
  • breads, grains and cereals (enriched bran flakes, wheat germ)
  • soy foods (soybeans, tofu, tempeh)
  • milk products (milk, cheese, yogurt)

What are some tips for vegetarian meal planning?

People following a vegetarian diet are at greater risk of nutritional deficiency due to their limited food choices. Infants, children, adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women and adults over 50 years, who follow a vegetarian diet, are also at greater risk of nutritional deficiency because of their higher nutrient needs.

It is recommended that people in these groups:

  • Carefully plan all meals and snacks
  • Take a multi-vitamin, multi-mineral supplement
  • Contact a registered dietitian for more information about specific conditions or for help planning healthful vegetarian diets
  • Get enough amount of vitamins B12 and D and Omega-3 fatty by:
  • Include at least 3 food sources of vitamin B12 every day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women are advised to eat at least 4 food sources every day. A vitamin B12 supplement is recommended for adults over 50 years of age.
  • Include at least 2 food sources of vitamin D everyday or a supplement.
  • Include at least 2 food sources of omega-3 fatty acids every day.
  • Follow the Vegetarian Food Guide when planning meals and snacks.
  • Eat a variety of foods will provide the nutrients needed for good health.
  • Snacks are an important part of a healthy diet. Choose snack foods from the food groups of the Vegetarian Food Guide.
  • To increase the amount of iron absorbed by the body, combine iron-rich foods with foods containing vitamin C. Some foods that contain vitamin C are; oranges, grapefruit, most berries, melons, kiwi, pineapple, mango, papaya, tomatoes, broccoli, red and green peppers, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and potatoes cooked in their skins.
  • A serving of a calcium-rich food will also count as a serving of another food group. For example, 1 cup (250 ml) of fortified soy beverage counts as a serving of a calcium-rich food and a protein-rich food.
  • If milk products are eaten, choose lower fat milk products more often.
  • Servings of nuts or seeds may count as a serving of the fats group.
  • If you eat sweets or snack foods or drink alcohol, use moderation. These foods are low in nutrients and can take the place of more nutritious foods.

To learn more, contact your doctor or speak to a nurse 24 hours a day, seven days a week by calling: Alberta Health Link toll free at 1-866-408-LINK (5465).  Mandarin Health Link Calgary at 403-943-1554, Cantonese Health Link Calgary at 403-943-1556

Source: Health Link Alberta website, www.healthlinkalberta.ca

If you want to read any of the previous ‘Road to Healthy Living’ series articles, please go to

http://www.albertahealthservices.ca/4248.asp and get health information in your own language









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