Where’s the Beef? 5 Necessary nutrients for a vegetarian diet

Those of you who have been reading since the beginning know that I used to be a fairly strict vegetarian.

I became a vegetarian in college for largely ethical reasons– the treatment of animals, the scarcity of land on which pastured grazing animals could live, our inability to feed the whole world with such high quality meat, as well as the health reasons- more energy, lighter energetics of food, less animal fat and saturated fat. (However, I wouldn’t say I was eating very healthfully at the time.)

When we got married, I loved that it was an inexpensive way to eat close to the earth.


Some of our favorite vegetarian meals: Veggie Frittata, Homemade Falafals, White Bean Ratatouille, and Curried Squash Stew

I avoided meat for most of the last ten years, and still feel my best on a diet with less meat.  But I’ve learned a lot about my body through the nutrition school, and now understand that the success of a vegetarian diet will vary dramatically from individual to individual.  This can be based on a number of things, including:

  • Genetic predisposition and background
  • Blood type
  • Aryuveda type (winter, spring, fall)
  • Ability to tolerate and digest beans, soy and grains
  • Closely monitoring energy levels related to particular foods

Recently, I’ve noticed my body craving more meat (especially in marathon training) and I began incorporating it about once or twice a week.

A vegetarian diet has been included in effective treatment for sorts of conditions, and has been tied to the prevention of heart disease, and cancer. Some of the benefits include reduced constipation, less exposure to toxicity in food such as food borne illnesses and antibiotics, increased antioxidants, and even better athletic performance for some individuals.

However, there is also a growing body of literature revealing the positive affects of saturated fats, even those from (pastured) animal products.  The bottom line, of course, is that there is no one diet that works for everyone.

For those who are vegetarian or want to be, here are five ways to ensure that you are doing vegetarianism well:

  1. Pay attention to calcium: Dairy eaters can use yogurt, non-dairy eaters should incorporate lots of greens, almonds, tofu, figs, white beans, etc
  2. Use a B12 supplement: Found in animal foods, B12 is required for proper red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis
  3. Get Vitamin D: Proper amounts can be attained from limited sun exposure daily
  4. Incorporate Iron: Ensure your diet includes iron rich foods, such as soybeans, lentils, spinach, tofu, swiss chard, black beans, quinoa, etc
  5. Include Zinc: No single plant food is high in zinc, but good amounts can be found by combining whole foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, and leafy greens

Do you see the trend in the powerhouse foods for vegetarians? If you can happily eat beans, lentils, quinoa, brown rice, nuts, seeds and generous amounts of greens daily, you can meet all of your nutrition requirements as a healthy, happy vegetarian.

Likewise, if you cut out meat and eat bagels and cream cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, pasta and ice cream (as I did in college), you would be lacking some crucial nutrients for health.

Have you determined if your body prefers more or less animal protein? Have you ever been a vegetarian the “wrong” way?


I love sharing health information here, but I also recognize that most of you are more interested in running and training.  I’m starting a newsletter where I will share quick and easy health tips and other fun findings 1-2 times per month. 

If you would like to know more than what I share on this blog, you can join the newsletter list by subscribing below.

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68 thoughts on “Where’s the Beef? 5 Necessary nutrients for a vegetarian diet

  1. this is so timely and interesting. I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years. While eating on the plan, I contacted the author and she told me how hard it is to lose weight on a vegetarian diet, which I found very interesting. Great post!
    Natalie recently posted..Reduced Exercise, 2 weeks & HUMMUS!My Profile

  2. When I first reduced the amount of meat I ate I did it all wrong. Like you, it was the college diet of carbs. Now I eat lots of greens, wide range of veg, beans, nuts and seeds. I’ve been having fish at least once a week an feel good with that. No other meat even remotely appeals to me.

    Love the nutrition nuggets! Thanks for sharing!
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..LatelyMy Profile

  3. Great timing on this post for me. I am a few weeks into my vegetarian Lent and have done really well eating the types of foods you highlight here. It seems a bit harder when I don’t have time to cook because the vegetarian frozen entrees are so heavy on pasta and cheese (instead of the ones I usually have that include chicken and veggies) but that just gives me more reason to do that menu planning. 😉
    Coco recently posted..Recipe Roulette: Broccoli Soup And Three Bean SaladMy Profile

  4. Interesting! I struggle with getting enough protein and iron on a veg diet since my digestive system doesn’t really like it when I eat a lot of beans, tempeh, or raw veggies. Yeah… that makes things a little challenging! haha
    Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers recently posted..WIAandAandAWMy Profile

  5. Mike and I have slowly been phasing out meats and eat a seafood+eggs+veggies/fruits type of diet (does that qualify as pescatarians?) i eat chicken every now and again, but for the most part, we both feel so much better since making the switch. We both make sure to include a lot of leafy greens, nuts, and beans to keep our nutrients up 🙂 Definitely signing up!
    beka @ rebecca roams recently posted..Weekly Workouts Roundup + Core WorkMy Profile

  6. Very helpful information for those looking to live a vegetarian lifestyle. I think a lot of people go about it (as well as other forms of eating) all wrong. Making sure you’re still getting the nutrients you need is so important!
    Since cutting out legumes and grains from my Paleo Challenge, I have little to no digestive issues any more so I think my body isn’t really a huge fan. Such a bummer since I love garbonzo beans, hummus and black beans!
    Giselle@myhealthyhappyhome recently posted..WIAW + First Blogiversary Giveaway!My Profile

  7. Great post Laura. I could easily eat vegetarian for life (vegan a little more difficult because of the dairy, eggs). I have met soooo many vegetarians who just got it wrong. One girl I counseled was vegetarian and thought she ate healthy but she literally ate NO vegetables. Just white rice, tofu, noodles. Still cracks me up to think about it.
    Melanie @ Nutritious Eats recently posted..Schwan’s Home Delivery ReviewMy Profile

  8. I really like this post because I have heard so many times that someone tried to be vegetarian then felt like total poo. So it’s often assumed that I should have no energy blahblahblah. Like I’m some anomale. When I first stopped eating meat, I didn’t pay as much attention to protein, but I slowly tried to learn more about nutrition and how to make sure I was getting in enough protein, iron, B vitamins and such. That’s made all the difference. It can take a little thought and planning at first, but after a while, you don’t really have to think about it. Just second nature. But I do think everyone has to listen to their bodies first and foremost.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..More XTrain WorkoutsMy Profile

  9. I cut out meat when I was 18 – it started off because I have issues with red meat and digestive issues it creates – causes a lot of bad bad things. I loved a good burger but it would incapacitate me. That lead to all meat eventually. I was in college so pretty much did not have a great diet. I loaded up on ALL the wrong things. I was actually quite overweight (I was prior as well but this didn’t make me “healthier”)
    I actually began incorporating meat back in when I started my journey to being healthy. Still very rare to have red meat although shockingly do not have such a hard time with it anymore (perhaps it was just overloaded in my diet back then)
    I do go meatless probably half the week just by choice. I love tempeh, tofu and bean based meals and I could eat veggies on veggies. I find the best diet for me is one with variety but if I am craving something meat wise I usually listen to what my body dictates.
    Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted..Winning is FUNMy Profile

  10. Great post, Laura! I totally agree with the 5 nutrients that vegetarians need to consider . . . especially if they’re active, right!?! I was pretty much vegetarian (pescatarian actually–I still ate seafood once in a while) for a while a couple of years ago, but wasn’t feeling the best. When I added animal protein back into my diet, I felt a million times better. I was actually kind of bummed about it. But anyways, I do eat animal protein now, but I also eat quite a few vegetarian meals. I’ve just had to find the balance of foods that fuels me best. 🙂
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted..Steamed Lobster Tails (and preparation how-to)My Profile

  11. I love this post because it taught me a lot I didn’t know. I’ll be honest, I am not a vegetarian, I grew up having meat at just about every meal. Especially Venison (Dad was a deer hunter and it was a cheap way for our family to stock the freezer for a very long time). I don’t think I could ever be vegetarian as I crave meat a lot, but I have gotten much smarter about it over the years. I don’t eat red meat nearly as much as I used to, and the majority of my meat is chicken and fish. Looking at my diet, I do go multiple days a week without meat ( I get my protein from dairy sources and peanut butter mainly.. a lot of it). I have found I feel much better when I watch how much meat I am taking in. Again, I won’t go vegetarian ( I don’t think my body could take it, I think it relies on animal protein too much), but I will take it into diet consideration to try and find a good balance. Love the tips you gave and cant wait to try some new recipes!
    Laura recently posted..Feel the BeatMy Profile

    • I don’t think you should go vegetarian either. You’ve got a great balance. It isn’t meat that is bad, especially when it comes from wild game like venison. The problem comes in more with some of the factory-farmed and processed meats.
      I think some people have this vegetarian guilt that they should be eating less meat, but again, some body types thrive on animal protein and sounds like you are one of them. Thanks for sharing, Laura!
      Laura recently posted..Where’s the Beef? 5 Necessary nutrients for a vegetarian dietMy Profile

  12. great info! I feel best when I eat limited meat, but I always get low on iron. I need to pay better attention so I make sure I am eating foods that will help with that.

  13. Awesome, Laura! I was a vegetarian (and even for a short period, vegan) for a number of years until one day, my body started craving meat. Intensely craving meat. For the most part, I stay pescetarian but do notice occasionally strong cravings for chicken if I’ve been lifting weights a lot or just having an increase in activity for a while.

    I’m glad you wrote about supplementing B12 – I think a lot of people are unaware of the fact that vitamin is missing from a vegetarian diet!
    Rachel B @ Busy Mama Fitness recently posted..Let’s Talk About Weight Loss PlateausMy Profile

  14. Good post! I know many vegetarians who, while having animal kindness on their minds, end up eating just a high starchy diet as a vegetarian. I never like to really say anything about it, other than to just always stress to “always eat your veggies” but in reality, they really aren’t being any healthier than a meat eater then. I am not a vegetarian myself (although love love animals) … but I am not a huge meat eater. As you mentioned that some have trouble with beans, I am that one! I just stick to eggs and lean turkey mostly if I do eat meat. Red meat is almost never in our house.
    Christina recently posted..Tempo runs and headbands for Pediatric Cancer ResearchMy Profile

  15. I don’t know that I’d ever go vegetarian, and we eat meat or fish most nights of the week, but I do always try to get the highest quality poultry and meat that I can, and it’s always the smallest portion on my plate. Great info here, though, for anyone who is vegetarian!
    Michelle recently posted..You Never Know Until You TryMy Profile

  16. I feel healthier with less meat, but sometimes I really crave it. And I couldn’t have gone without meat during pregnancy! It definitely takes time and learning to do it well! Very helpful post!
    Jess recently posted..Chocolate Chip CookiesMy Profile

  17. I have definitely been a vegetarian the “wrong” way in the past. But now I concentrate on being a healthy eater and getting my protein in the right ways. My body seems to prefer less animal protein so I only eat fish, but I still eat things like Greek yogurt and eggs.
    Jen @ Jens Best Life recently posted..Hey Body… Get It Together!My Profile

  18. These are such great tips. I first became vegetarian in high school but did not think about nutrition at all. Basically cut out meat but just ate bread and pasta. Even when I was older, I knew that I wasn’t doing the best job getting all the nutrients that I needed. Now, I eat fish and have added meat back into my diet mainly because my body was craving it during my second pregnancy. So I listened. I don’t eat it all the time but every once in a while. PS love that you are starting a newsletter!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted..Cooking Vegan 101: The Secrets It Took Me 12 Months To LearnMy Profile

  19. yes yes! Zinc, b vitamins, and iron. SO important to add in for vegans and vegetarians. But the good thing is that there are great supplements out there now too.

  20. These are great tips for doing vegan the healthy way. I’m actually not vegetarian, but somehow during pregnancy one of my food aversions is meat. I realized that I needed to get my protein nutrients a different way and legumes and quinoa are among my favorites.
    Jane recently posted..Tasty and Healthy Veggie Soup RecipeMy Profile

  21. SUCH a great post! I became a vegetarian twice in the past 10 years…am not now b/c like you, I felt like my body was craving meat (happened when I was pregnant with AJ). The first time I didn’t pay attention to any of the things you mentioned – I ate a ton of salads but a lot of the other foods were nutrient-poor and I became anemic and felt like crap. The 2nd time I did a better job but found that I couldn’t keep my weight on – it was not good. I will gladly take a huge salad packed with beans and veggies over meat any day of the week but find that I feel better when I incorporate some sort of meat (I only eat chicken, turkey, and beef) a few times/week.
    Michele @ Nycrunningmama recently posted..Behind the ScenesMy Profile

  22. Great information! I have considered going vegetarian at times (it’s hard because my husband eats Paleo). If I ever do its great to know what I need to be making sure I get enough of as far as nutrients go.

  23. I was a vegetarian for 15 years. I noticed a lot of my other veggie friends didn’t really eat a lot of balance and they tended to lean more towards starchy items like bread and pasta. I think there are so many other ways to get GOOD nutrients and still have really tasty food. Thanks for your tips!
    Travel Spot recently posted..What I Love: NotMy Profile

  24. When I was a vegetarian at first (when I was a teenager) I was an awful vegetarian- I lived off pasta with tomato sauce, toast, and cornflakes (with salad and fruit in there too). Never got much protein or anything, and probably not a good balance of nutrients. I think the key to a good balanced diet is eating un processed foods, and a range of them- you can be a very unhealthy meat eater or a healthy one- same with vegetarians, vegans etc.
    Maria @ runningcupcake recently posted..Guest post- Where to stay for the London MarathonMy Profile

  25. All that food looks yummy! I’ve never been a vegetarian, I wanted to be but my mom wouldn’t let me haha. I do only eat chicken and turkey, though, and I don’t eat seafood.

    I don’t eat red meat, etc. for a lot of reasons and if Mike wouldn’t “wither away” (in his opinion) I would probably try to attempt to be a vegetarian.
    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman recently posted..Thursday FactsMy Profile

  26. love this post!
    I’ve been a vegetarian for about 4 months now (though I didn’t eat meat often before either). I eat seafood once in a while (salmon, shrimp, tilapia) but I eat a lot of greens, beans, quinoa, and lentils–I try to focus on fruits and veggies and eat a good variety. Being vegetarian has definitely encouraged me to try more veggies and so far I’m loving it!
    Danica @ It’s Progression recently posted..workouts 3/10 – 3/16: training week 1My Profile

  27. This is very helpful. I’d like to share something I learned recently that would be of interest to your other readers in colder climes – that in the winter, above a certain latitude the sun’s rays are too oblique for your body to produce vitamin D. I thought I was making plenty since I run outside every day, but now I know that as a resident of New England I need to take a supplement. Here is a useful article: http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/time-for-more-vitamin-d.htm

    • Thanks for sharing that, Kita! I learned the hard way when living in the northeast too, and now in Texas my levels have sky rocketed naturally. You’re right, climate has so much to do with it!
      Laura recently posted..Accentuate the PositiveMy Profile

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