Consumer Reports: How to have a healthy vegetarian diet

Are you thinking about giving up meat? There are several health benefits, some people feel strongly about not eating animals and it can have a positive impact on the environment. But as Consumer Reports warns, when some people cut out meat and dairy, they need to take extra care to get the nutrients they need.

There is a variety of people who don't eat meat. Have a look on most menus, in grocery stores, there are lots of options for people who want a plant-based diet. But there's a right way and wrong way.

"You need to do your homework," said vegan chef Laurie Gershgorn. "You need to plan your meals, you need to learn as much as you can about the nutritive aspects of foods."

Consumer Reports suggests for a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to pay special attention to getting enough of these four important nutrients: protein, calcium, iron and vitamin B12.

"There are plenty of plant foods that have protein," said Consumer Reports Health & Food Editor Patricia Calvo. "For example: tofu, chickpeas, and other legumes, and high protein grains such as quinoa. Eat some protein at every meal."

And don't forget bone building calcium. Doctors recommend 1,000 mg a day, 1200 if you're a woman over 50. How do you get it when don't eat dairy?

"Plant sources of calcium include almonds, bok choy, collard greens, kale, fortified plant milk or orange juice and calcium-set tofu," Calvo said.

Getting enough iron can be a challenge when you don't eat meat. Pair good plant iron sources, such as lentils, white beans and other legumes, and Swiss chard with vitamin C containing foods such as oranges and red bell peppers.

"Combining plant foods rich in iron with Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption," Calvo said.

Another nutrient you may miss out on: Vitamin B12, crucial for brain and nervous system functioning. Fortified plant milks, meat alternatives, breakfast cereals can help you get B12.

If you're planning on making the switch to veggie or vegan in the new year, it's not a bad idea to check in with your health care provider to ensure you're getting enough of the nutrients you need!

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