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Vegetarianism FAQs

vegetarian, vegetarianism

I am a 22 year old female vegetarian and I have low iron. What can I do?

Vegetarians need almost two times more iron than meat-eaters. You need about 32 mg of iron every day. Eat iron-rich foods at every meal. Take a look at this chart for the approximate iron content of some foods. 
 

Food Serving amount Iron content
Meat alternatives    
Oysters, canned 125 mL (1/2 cup) 8.8 mg
Tofu, firm 80 g 8.4 mg
Seeds, pumpkin and squash 30 mL (2 tbsp) 4.3 mg
White beans, canned 125 mL (1/2 cup) 4.2 mg
Lentils, cooked 125 mL (1/2 cup) 3.5 mg
Red kidney beans, boiled 125 mL (1/2 cup) 2.8 mg
Chick peas, canned 125 mL (1/2 cup) 1.7 mg
Tuna, canned in water 125 mL (½ cup) 1.2 mg
Almonds, dry roasted 30 mL (2 tbsp) 0.7 mg
Egg 1 large 0.6 mg
Vegetables and Fruit    
Baked potato with skin 1 2.7 mg
Apricots, dried 125 mL (1/2 cup) 3.0 mg
Prune juice 250 mL (1 cup) 1.6 mg
Tomato juice 250 mL (1 cup) 1.5 mg
Raisins 60 mL (¼ cup) 0.8 mg
Grain Products    
Cereals, dry, packaged 250 mL (1 cup) 3.5 mg
Pasta, cooked, enriched 250 mL (1 cup) 2.1 mg
Cream of wheat, regular, cooked 175 mL (3/4 cup)
Bread, whole wheat or enriched 2 slices 1.8 mg
Miscellaneous foods    
Blackstrap molasses 15 mL (1 tbsp) 3.6 mg
Wheat germ, toasted 15 mL (1 tbsp) 0.7 mg

Here are a few more tips:

  • Fill your plate with beans, peas and lentils. These are legumes and are wonderful plant (non-heme) sources of iron. Nuts, peanut butter, seeds, and potatoes also provide iron.
  • Eat iron-fortified foods such as bread, pasta, cereals, Cream of wheat, and crackers. Read the ingredients list to make sure that the food contains iron because many imported products are not fortified with iron.
  • Have a vitamin C-containing food at every meal. Vitamin C helps your body better absorb non-heme iron. So, have a glass of orange juice alongside your lentil pilaf, or toss some broccoli and red peppers into your pasta stir- fry.
  • Cook food in cast iron to improve the amount of iron absorbed.
  • Avoid drinking tea or coffee for one hour after eating. The tannins in coffee reduce iron absorption by 35% and the tannins in tea cut iron absorption by 60%!
  • Avoid taking calcium supplements with your vegetarian meals.
  • Don't rely only on leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard or beet greens for your iron. There are natural compounds in these foods that make the iron difficult to be absorbed.
  • Get your iron levels checked by your family doctor. Talk to your doctor or dietitian first before taking iron supplements.

For more information:

My 17 year old son wants to try a vegan diet. Is it safe?

A vegan diet does not include any foods of animal origin – i.e. no meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, or other dairy products. Instead, a vegan diet is an eating plan which focuses on grains, cereals, vegetables, fruit, beans, dried peas, lentils, nuts and seeds.

A vegan diet can be safe for your teenaged son. Since vegan foods can be lower in fat and/or calories, it's important that your son chooses foods wisely and eats enough food to support his growth and appetite! For example, French fries and potato chips are technically part of a vegan diet, but they're not foods that he should be eating regularly.

Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide provides information regarding the amount of food to eat from each of the four food groups. Instead of milk, your son can drink fortified soy beverage. Fortified rice or almond beverages, as well as calcium-enriched orange juices provide calcium, but not any protein which you'll find in milk or fortified soy beverages.

As vegan alternatives to meat, your son should be eating a variety of these foods: nuts, soy nuts, seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, tofu, tempeh, legumes (e.g. beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas), and soy meat substitutes like soy burgers or soy hot dogs.

It's possible to fall short of some nutrients while on a vegan diet. Here's a list of nutrients to watch and where you'll find them:

  • vitamin B12: fortified soy, rice and almond drinks. Talk to a Registered Dietitian about the need for vitamin B12 supplements.
  • vitamin D: fortified soy, rice and almond drinks; margarine
  • calcium: fortified soy, rice and almond drinks; calcium-enriched orange juice; dark green leafy vegetables; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils); tofu set with calcium; tempeh;
  • protein: tofu; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils); soy-based meat alternatives; nuts and seeds; peanut butter and other nut butters
  • iron: legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils); tofu; soy-based meat alternatives; dried fruit; whole grains; iron-fortified cereals and bread; Cream of wheat; blackstrap molasses; leafy green vegetables; baked potato; prune juice; tomato juice
  • zinc: wheat germ; nuts; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils)

I'm a vegetarian and my doctor said that I need more: iron, B12, vitamin D. What should I be eating?

Here's a list of foods which provide these specific nutrients. Calcium, protein and zinc are other common nutrients that vegetarians should watch. If you are a vegan and eat no animal products, disregard those foods which you would not eat.

  • iron: canned oysters; eggs; fish; tofu; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils); soy-based meat alternatives; dried fruit; whole grains; iron-fortified cereals and bread; Cream of wheat; blackstrap molasses; leafy green vegetables; baked potato; prune juice; tomato juice
  • vitamin B12: fortified soy, rice and almond drinks. Talk to a Registered Dietitian about the need for vitamin B12 supplements.
  • vitamin D: fortified soy, rice and almond drinks; margarine
  • calcium: fortified soy, rice and almond drinks; calcium-enriched orange juice; dark green leafy vegetables; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils); tofu set with calcium; tempeh;
  • protein: tofu; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils); soy-based meat alternatives; nuts and seeds; peanut butter and other nut butters
  • zinc: wheat germ; nuts; legumes (e.g. beans, dried peas, chickpeas and lentils)

For more information:

Vegetarian Variety Store, by Toronto Public Health

I'm trying to eat more beans and legumes but I find they cause gas. What do you recommend?

Beans and legumes contain certain carbohydrates that get broken down by bacteria in our intestines. This can leave you feeling gassy and bloated. There are some easy ways to reduce the gas, and still enjoy these delicious and nutritious alternatives to meat.

  • Soak dry beans overnight, then pour away the soaking water. Some of the gas-producing carbohydrates will get absorbed in the water. Use fresh water to cook the beans. Bonus – soaking the beans first makes them cook faster. You don't need to soak dried lentils, or yellow or green split peas.
  • Drain canned beans, and rinse them under cold, running water. This also helps to wash away some of the gas-producing carbohydrates.
  • Start eating lentils, split peas, or lima beans which tend to be less gas-producing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids with your bean meals to help the fibre in beans do its job.
  • Keep in mind that over time, your body will get accustomed to eating beans, and produce less gas.
  • Try pills or drops that contain an enzyme named alpha galactosidase. (Beano is one brand name.) These help to break down the carbohydrates that cause gas.

Last Update – January 9, 2018

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