You may think you have gained hypnotic powers because you have tricked your mind into not craving non-vegetarian food, but let’s do the simple math. Don’t just keep subtracting, thereby taking your nourishment account into negative. Instead, add healthy substitutes to keep the sum whole. We spoke to three nutritionists on how to get the most out of your non-vegetarian-turned-vegetarian diet:
1. Protein: Muscle fuel
Protein deficiency is a major problem among newly-turned vegetarians. Your protein requirement is calculated on the lean body mass and activity level, which should be equally distributed through the five to six meals spaced out during the day. This will prevent catabolism (muscle breakdown).
“Low fat milk, tofu, whey isolate powder, paneer, sprouts and legumes are fortified with protein,” says Mumbai-based nutritionist and dietitian Karishma Chawla from Eat Rite 24x7. Mumbai-based clinical nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan of Kanchan's House of Health & Nutrition, agrees and adds that you need to be innovative with your diet to garner maximum protein benefit, “Since soyabeans have 45% protein, you can mix it to your regular atta (in the ratio 1:5) and consume it every day in the form of rotis. Pulses like moong, rajma, chole and channa are high on protein, with moong being the leader at 17-25% and is also easily digestible, as opposed to rajma and chole that many find difficult to digest. Algae is also protein-rich, and nuts like walnuts, almonds and pista are rich in mono-saturated fats.”
2. Iron: Uber for oxygen
Plan a dietary chart that has a good dose of soyabeans, lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, kidney beans, prunes, cashews and pumpkin seeds. “Unfortunately, the iron from plants and grains doesn’t absorb into your body as easily as animal-based iron. Vegetarians need to eat a lot MORE iron-rich food than meat eaters in order to imbibe the required iron levels,” advises Sonali Dey, a nutritionist from Kolkata.
“Luckily, there are catalysts devised for most nutrients to help our body better absorb the goodness. Iron when had with vitamin C helps this mineral get absorbed better by our body. So squeeze a little lemon on the greens for better iron absorption.” – Sonali Dey
3. Calcium: Building block for bones
Milk, yogurt, cheese, leafy greens like kale and broccolli, legumes and fruits are vegetarian sustenance of calcium and this mineral is a facilitator of carbohydrate metabolism.
“When you have carbohydrate-rich food, there are risks of fat accumulation. Luckily, for carbohydrate metabolism, you require zinc and calcium. This is why oats (rich in carbohydrates) is best eaten with milk (source of calcium) so that the carbs don’t convert into fat.” – Kanchan Patwardhan
4. Omega-3: Pump up your heart
Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, shrimp, and cod liver oil are the primary suppliers of this nutrient, but wean yourself off these fishy food items by their just-as-good green options.
“Include flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil and avocados in your diet as these unsaturated fats are beneficial for optimal heart function.” – Karishma Chawla
5. Vitamin D: Fortify your bones
If you aren’t waking up early for a morning walk and you stay cooped up indoors through the day; and you have bid adieu to the biggest dietary source of vitamin D (fatty fish), you have very few options to turn to if you don’t want to take supplements.
“For your next meal, ensure to pile on plenty of Dole’s Portobello mushrooms (they mimic humans and produce vitamin D when exposed to sunlight) to your plate, and wash it down with orange juice fortified with this vitamin.” – Sonali Dey
6. B12: Power up your circulation
When it comes to this tricky vitamin, it is not naturally obtainable in vegetarian food, with the few exceptions of fortified soya milk and moringa leaves.
“But luckily, if your food intake is abundant in fibre (salads, celery, cucumber, lettuce, onions, spinach, fenugreek leaves, apples, oranges and watermelon), your gut will get cleaned and the good bacteria will organically produce vitamin B12 in your body,” says Patwardhan. She further adds, “Combine your diet with both soluble and insoluble fibre, and it is important to eat fruits, vegetables and herbs that are in season for most nutritional value. When cooking vegetables, it is best to steam them to keep the nutrients intact.”