Eat healthy as a vegetarian
The vegetarian diet in Italy is spreading widely both due to the ease with which vegetables are found in the markets and because they have always been present in the Mediterranean diet.
Furthermore, in recent years, with the progressive increase of the world population and the continuous exploitation of the earth's resources, feeding models are being enhanced that have a low environmental impact and can be used for a long time. From these assumptions, diets are born that partially or completely avoid foods of animal origin: the vegetarian diet that does not involve the consumption of meat and fish, molluscs and crustaceans, but allows, in different ways, the consumption of eggs. and dairy products; the vegan diet which, on the other hand, eliminates all products of animal origin.
Following the indications contained in the Guidelines for healthy eating, the vegetarian diet can be formulated to meet the needs of a healthy adult:
- eat several servings of fresh fruit and vegetables daily (read the buffalo)
- increase the consumption of legumes, both fresh and dried
- regularly consume bread, pasta, rice and other cereals, preferably whole grains (read the buffalo)
- eat moderate amounts of fats and oils used for seasoning and cooking. Above all, limit fats of animal origin (butter, lard, lard, cream, etc.) to season foods and prefer vegetable fats: extra virgin olive oil and seed oils, preferably raw
- consume eggs and milk that contain proteins of good biological quality. If you drink a lot of milk, preferably choose the skim or semi-skim one which, however, maintains its calcium and vitamin content
- eat cheeses in moderate quantities because in addition to proteins, they contain high amounts of fat. For this reason it is advisable to choose the leaner ones, or eat smaller portions
- limit foods rich in fat, salt and sugar to special occasions such as creams, chocolates, chips, cookies, sweets, ice cream, cakes and puddings
The elements that cannot be missing in a vegetarian diet
The first thing to watch out for is to follow a diet that is as varied as possible.
Some nutrients are present in small amounts in vegetables, or are less easily absorbed by the body than those from meat or fish.
However, most vegetarians generally do not suffer from nutrient deficiencies if they include certain foods in their diet:
- legumes combined with cereals, to ensure the availability, in addition to significant quantities of starch and fiber, of essential nutrients characteristic of meat, fish and eggs, such as iron, proteins of good biological quality, micronutrients
- foods obtained from wholemeal flours (and not with the simple addition of bran or other fibers) which, in addition to starch and fiber, contain good amounts of calcium, iron and B vitamins
If not formulated correctly, the vegetarian diet can be deficient in essential nutrients. Those who follow it need to make sure they get sufficient amounts of iron and vitamin B12 with their food.
Plant sources of iron
Vegetarians may have a lower amount of iron in the body's deposits than people who also eat meat. It is therefore important to know the foods, suitable for vegetarians, which contain a good amount of iron:
- legumes (especially lentils)
- dried fruit
- pumpkin seeds
- vegetables (especially dark green ones)
- whole grain bread
Plant sources of vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is needed for growth, cell repair, and overall health. It is found, in nature, only in products of animal origin such as, for example, meat, fish, shellfish, eggs and dairy products. If you eat these foods regularly, you are probably getting enough of them. However, if you only eat small amounts of foods of animal origin, or if you avoid them altogether, it is important to include certain sources of vitamin B12 in your diet:
If the amount of vitamin B12 introduced in the diet is insufficient for the body's needs, it is advisable to also use foods in which it is added (fortified foods) such as:
- fortified breakfast cereals
- fortified soy products
Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found mainly in oily fish, fresh tuna and salmon. Plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- flax seed
- rapeseed oil
- soybean oil and soy-based foods (such as tofu)
Being vegetarian in particular conditions
Those who wish to follow a vegetarian diet during childhood, pregnancy, old age or in conjunction with illnesses, should rely on a doctor or nutritionist, because in such conditions their needs for nutrients could be varied.
For example, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, women following a vegetarian diet must ensure that the amounts of vitamins and minerals in their diet are sufficient to ensure that their baby can grow healthily.
While growing up, the parent must ensure that the child eats a very varied diet to meet the nutritional needs she needs.
The vegetarian diet, if it is prepared by choosing the foods appropriately and taking into account the guidelines and indications of the doctor or nutritionist, is able to provide the body with the nutrients it needs and to ensure the maintenance of a good state of health.
NHS Choices. The vegetarian diet (English)
Ministry of Health. Feeding the planet, feeding it healthily. Nutritional balance of a healthy diet. Notebooks of the Ministry of Health. 2015, n. 25
Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Guidelines for healthy eating (Scientific dossier - 2017 Edition)
Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of the Agricultural Economy (CREA). Guidelines for healthy eating 2018