TUCSON, Ariz - Many people do not eat meat. Take a look on most menus and in grocery stores, too. 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, you need to plan your meals, you need to learn as much as you can about the nutritive aspects of foods," says vegan chef, Laurie Gershgorn.
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," says 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 milligrams a day, 1200 if you're a woman over the age of 50. But 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," says Calvo.
Getting enough iron can be a challenge when you don't eat meat. Health experts say you should pair good plant iron sources, such as lentils, white beans and other legumes, and swiss chard with Vitamin C-containing foods like oranges and red bell peppers.
"Combining plant foods rich in iron with Vitamin C helps boost iron absorption," says Calvo.
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.
Experts also say 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!