[By Gina Davies]

I turned vegetarian when I hit 40. Others bought Birkins and diamonds, I decided to give up meat. It was tough going at first but I noticed that my health, skin and energy levels really took a turn for the better as the meat-free weeks turned into months. Then on the fourth month, I started to feel a little fatigued, and my hair started to drop. I wonder what was wrong with me and visited a doctor who gently suggested that I may be missing out on some vital nutrients as a result of my Spartan diet.

If you are a newbie vegetarian, here are some nutrients you need to watch out for. They are vital sources for your general well-being, and because they are commoner in meat sources, it is important to overlook them as we avoid meat. However, being a vegetarian does not mean we have to overlook certain nutrients or rely on OTC vitamin supplements, it is about including a wide variety of vegetarian sources to fulfill our daily vitamin requirements.

Sometimes the choices women make to improve their health—like being mindful of calories or passing on meat—mean that they miss out on certain vitamins and minerals. Here are the top 5 most overlooked nutrients vegetarians should include in their diet.

1. To boost your intake of zinc, Cashews!

Zinc supports a healthy immune system and helps heal and protect the skin. Most women in the United States get enough of the mineral, but since zinc is primarily found in beef, oysters, crab, and chicken, vegetarians may fall short. Meat-free sources of zinc include beans, cheese, cashews, and sunflower seeds.

2. To boost your intake of calcium and vitamin D, try Soy Milk!

These nutrients are no-brainers. Calcium is essential for healthy bones, muscles, and nerve function, and vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. You can fend off osteoporosis, which affects more women than men, by drinking milk or fortified soy milk or orange juice.

3. To boost your intake of iron, try tomatoes!

Thanks to menstrual cycles, it’s easy for women to fall short on iron during their childbearing years. Our bodies need the mineral to make hemoglobin, a substance in red blood cells that enables them to carry oxygen throughout the body. When you don’t get enough iron, you may feel sleepy and short of breath. Meat, poultry, and fish are the best sources of iron, but the mineral is also found in leafy greens, tofu, beans, and many fortified cereals. Increase iron absorption from these foods by pairing them with vitamin C-rich foods, like strawberries, citrus fruits, and tomatoes.

4. To boost your intake of folic acid, try Guacamole!

Folic acid is vital for expectant mothers, as a deficiency can cause premature birth or low birth weight. It also helps our bodies make DNA, RNA, and red blood cells. Look for it in peanuts, beans, asparagus, spinach, avocado, and broccoli.

5. To boost your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, try spinach and eggs!

If you aren’t filling up on fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, you may be low on EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids that are more readily absorbed by the body than their plant-based counterpart, ALA. Luckily, some eggs, orange juices, and cereals are fortified with EPA and DHA, which have been linked to lowering your risk for heart disease.


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