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Becoming a Vegetarian? 4 Traps to Avoid

Research has shown that plant-based and vegetarian diets are associated with lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. But with the health benefits come some health concerns; take note of these common pitfalls.

Skimping on protein

Protein is vital for a healthy body, and not getting the recommended 50-175 grams a day can result in zapped energy, loss of muscle, weakened immune system, impaired vision, and anemia. A good way to meet your protein needs? Combine complementary plant protein sources to make complete proteins. Stir fry tofu or tempeh with veggies, and serve over quinoa for a protein-packed meal. Beans and lentils are also good sources. Added bonus: plant-based diets that include foods like the ones above have been shown to decrease the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Vitamin void

The body needs vitamin B12 for a lot of vital tasks—making red blood cells, nerve creation, DNA formation—but many plant foods don’t contain B12. Vitamin D is essential for strong bones because it helps the body use calcium. Get your allotment of B12 by using nutritionally enhanced yeast or taking a B12 supplement. To up your D intake, soak up some sun, eat fortified grain products, or take a vitamin D supplement. Severe vitamin B12 deficiency can even lead to depression, paranoia, loss of taste and smell, or incontinence, so see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms: strange sensations, numbness, tingling in the hands, legs, or feet; difficulty walking or balance problems; yellowed skin; inflamed or swollen tongue; memory loss; paranoia or hallucinations.

Taking in too few calories

Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight because they typically consume fewer calories than omnivores, and research has shown a plant-based diet could protect against childhood obesity. But calories are what make your body go, and not enough can lead to less energy, slower metabolism, nutritional deficiency, low blood sugar, depression, and make you more susceptible to illness. To get meaningful calories, choose foods like nuts, seeds and dried fruit, all of which have a high caloric density. Throw almonds and dried cranberries on a salad, or mix pumpkin seeds into a whole-grain side.

Missing out on minerals

Plants aren’t always the best source of minerals you need, like iron, calcium, and zinc. Too little iron can lead to anemia, making you tired and weak. Getting enough calcium is important to ward off osteoporosis, keep blood pressure at bay, and ease premenstrual syndrome. And zinc can affect testosterone levels and healthy sperm. To ramp up your mineral intake, eat iron-enriched cereals, drink a glass of orange juice with meals to help absorb iron from plant foods, and plan a diet rich in dark green veggies, tofu, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Alyssa Jung
Alyssa Jung is a writer and editor with extensive experience creating health and wellness content that resonates with readers. She freelanced for local publications in Upstate New York and spent three years as a newspaper reporter before moving to New York City to pursue a career in magazines. She is currently Senior Associate Editor at Prevention magazine and a contributor to Previously she worked at Reader's Digest as an editor, writer, and health fact checker.