Blog / Recipes

Tip of the Month: Stay hydrated

A person holding a glass of water In the colder months, we don’t always remember to stay hydrated. Sweat evaporates quickly in the cold, so you may not feel like you’re sweating a lot. What’s more, we don’t sense our thirst very well in the cold. The fact is, dehydration can occur in the winter and it can have a negative effect on your mood and energy.

Here are 6 tips to help you stay hydrated:

  1. Drink water throughout the day – when you wake up, during/after exercise, with meals and snacks, and even when you’re active outdoors.
  2. Fill up a water bottle or mug with water. If you need a little extra flavour, add sliced cucumbers or citrus. Bring the water bottle to your work station or keep it in your purse/backpack so that it’s visible and readily available.
  3. Drink warm fluids. Sometimes it’s easier to consume warm fluids during the winter. Try a latté, hot chocolate, hot tea or bowl of hot soup. They can be so comforting on a cold, chilly day.
  4. Enjoy a variety of fruits and veggies which have a high water content. Some great options are apples, pears, berries, melons, broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini and lettuce.
  5. Set a timer to drink water. Or plan to drink 1/2 cup to 1 cup of fluids for every hour that you’re awake. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty. The amount of water that you need daily can range between 11-15 cups, and varies depending on your activities and sweat levels. This can include drinking water as well as the fluids from food and other beverages.
  6. Check your urine. If you’re well hydrated, your urine should be clear or light yellow.

 

Written by Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC, award-winning dietitian, Nutrition Solutions Inc.

 

Foods to add to your plate for the winter

Sue is talking to TV host Kelsey McKewan with a table full of foodDuring the winter, we often face a dip in temperatures, wind chill and a lack of sunshine. To stay healthy and happy, try adding these nutrients and foods to your plate.

Click here to watch my national TV interview on this topic.

 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D benefits our bone health, immune function and mood.  Research shows that low vitamin D status is associated with depression. Often called the “sunshine vitamin”, vitamin D can be made when our skin is exposed to ultraviolet B rays from sunlight. However, during our Canadian winters with shorter days, there isn’t enough sunlight for this to happen. And even if we are outdoors, we’re usually all bundled up to stay warm. In fact, the risk of vitamin D inadequacy can double during the winter, compared to the summer.

From October to March, it’s advisable to take a vitamin D supplement, especially if you’re over the age of 50. Health Canada suggests 400 IU of vitamin D per day while other organizations such as Osteoporosis Canada recommend a higher supplement dose if you’re at high risk for osteoporosis.

What you can do: In addition to taking a vitamin D supplement in the winter, add these vitamin D-containing foods to your plate: fatty fish (e.g. salmon, artic char, canned sardines), eggs, mushrooms, milk and fortified plant-based beverage.

Whole grains

During the dark, cold wintry days, it’s easy to feel a little blah. You probably already know that eating whole grains can lower your chances of developing heart disease. But did you know that whole grains can boost your mood too?

Carbohydrate foods – like whole grains as well as legumes, fruits and vegetables – triggers our body’s production of serotonin which is a hormone that helps us feel calm, relaxed and happy. The key is to enjoy carbohydrates WITH protein. In protein foods, there’s a specific amino acid called tryptophan which is needed to make serotonin.

What you can do: Pair whole grains with protein to make delicious meals. Try a sandwich made with whole grain bread and grilled chicken or egg. How about a bowl of oatmeal with nuts and seeds? For pasta salad lovers, stir in a can of beans. My favourite pairing is quinoa with salmon – not only does salmon provide vitamin D, but it also is a fantastic source of  heart healthy and mood-boosting omega-3 fats.

(Learn more about tryptophan in my blog: Does eating turkey make you sleepy?)

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is just one of the many nutrients needed for a strong immune system, especially during cold and flu season. Research shows that getting enough vitamin C can reduce the duration of a cold by 8%. A single orange offers your daily quota for vitamin C, and so does 1 cup of fresh/frozen strawberries, 1 cup of broccoli, 1/2 red pepper or 1-2 kiwis. Vitamin C also plays a role in producing collagen to support skin health.

What you can do: Think beyond oranges for vitamin C. For variety, also try grapefruit, tomatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and potatoes.

Dark Leafy Greens

Canada’s Dietary Guidelines actually recommend eating one dark green vegetable every day. Fibre, folate and magnesium are a few of the notable nutrients found in leafy greens. Magnesium is actually important for stress management. When we’re stressed, levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) rise. Magnesium works to reduce cortisol levels. Some magnesium superstars are spinach, kale, bok choy, romaine lettuce and Brussels sprouts.

What you can do: Add leafy greens to soups, smoothies, stews, salads and casseroles. Magnesium is also found in other foods like nuts, seeds, whole grains and DARK CHOCOLATE! A 40 gram portion (1.5 ounces or 3 squares) of dark chocolate contains about 25% of your daily requirement for magnesium. Enjoy!

 

Written by Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC, award-winning dietitian, Nutrition Solutions Inc.

 

 

If you’re overwhelmed by New Year’s resolutions, try this instead

A pad of paper on a desk. The words "New year resolution" are written on the pad of paper.

Happy New Year! For many, the start of a new year can be motivation to kick start some lifestyle changes.

But resolutions can be overwhelming. I actually don’t make resolutions because honestly, it just puts too much pressure on achieving a specific outcome for the entire year. Imagine the stress and self-guilt if you can’t stick to your resolution. Let’s face it – life happens. Things get in the way – time, interest, family issues or other unexpected distractions. In fact, a recent survey by Forbes Health found that most resolutions last only two to three months. Only one percent of those surveyed stated that their resolutions lasted either 11 or 12 months. (1)

So as a registered dietitian, what do I suggest instead? Make a “SMART” goal for the month. The goal should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

For January, here’s my Nutrition Tip of the Month: Eat one green vegetable every day. Here are few ideas to get you started:

  • Add spinach to a smoothie or omelet
  • Serve a salad with lunch or dinner using kale, romaine or arugula
  • Snack on green peppers with your favourite dip
  • Toss broccoli or green peas into a stir-fry or pasta salad or fried rice
  • Roast Brussels sprouts or asparagus

A bowl of fresh greens

The key is to find things which are doable and sustainable for YOU! Over time, this will become a habit and next month, you can set another “smart” goal.

Let me know in the comments how you like to eat your green veggies!

 

References: (1)  2024 New Year’s Resolutions: Nearly Half Cite Fitness As Their Top Priority.  https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/new-year-resolutions-survey-2024/

Written by: Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC – Award-wining dietitian

How to Ditch the Diet Talk During the Holidays

Table with holiday decorations and wine glasses

The holidays are coming and you may find yourself or others saying things that signal diet culture. Diet culture is a system of beliefs which value body thinness over our physical health, mental health and overall well-being. Decades ago, diet culture was very popular. However today, we know that diet culture can lead to disordered eating and a poor relationship with food.

If you find yourself saying any of these statements, take a moment to reflect and consider what you can say instead.

Instead of saying this: You look great! Have you lost weight?

Say this: It’s so great to see you!

While you may think you’re giving a compliment, you’re actually reinforcing diet culture and the idea that thin bodies are better than others. Not only can diet culture lead to disordered eating, but it can also oppress those who do not match up to this image of thinness. The best plan is to avoid talking about your weight or anybody else’s weight.

Instead of saying this: I’m going to be bad and have a piece of dessert.

Say this: I feel like eating a piece of cake. I’m going to take my time eating it and really enjoy it!

Diet culture can make us feel guilty for eating certain types of foods. The truth is that food has no moral value – food is not good or bad, it’s just food. Please don’t feel guilty, ashamed or badly for eating any type of food. Instead, remember that all foods can fit into a balanced eating pattern. To nurture a positive relationship with food, think about your typical pattern of eating (which could include plenty of wholesome foods) rather than the foods you decide to eat at one meal or in one day.

Instead of saying this: I worked out today so I can eat this now.

Say this: I feel my best when I’m active and eat for fuel and nourishment.

Food should not be used as a reward, especially not for children. Know that we eat food for so many different reasons – fuel, nutrition, comfort, connection and celebration. Build habits for a healthy lifestyle which include joyful activity, wholesome eating, sufficient sleep and self care.

Are there any other phrases you would add ? Let me know in the comments.

Written by: Sue Mah, MHSc, RD, PHEc, FDC – Award-winning dietitian and Founder, Nutrition Solutions

 

 

Can you name this veggie?

A bowl of kalettes

 

Did you guess kalettes? If so, you’re correct!

Kalettes are a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts. They are about the same size as a Brussels sprout and look like a small bundle of purplish-green curly leaves with short stems. I saw them at my recent trip to Costco and love that they’re a product of Canada!

Both kalettes and Brussels sprouts are Cruciferous veggies which contain many wonderful nutrients including fibre, beta-carotene, folate, lutein, zeaxanthin – important for cancer prevention, heart health and eye health. Specifically, cruciferous veggies contain a group of natural, beneficial compounds called glucosinolates – these are responsible not only for the slightly bitter flavour but also for some of the cancer prevention properties.

The whole kalette is edible. Compared to Brussels sprouts, kalettes have a milder, slightly nutty flavour. You can roast kalettes (my favourite way to eat them!), sauté them or slice them thinly and eat them raw in a salad.

Here’s how to roast kalettes: Preheat oven to 475F. In a medium-sized bowl, toss about about 3 cups of raw kalettes and drizzle with 1-2 Tbsp olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour onto a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil. Bake for about 10 minutes or until the leaves are tender and browned. If you prefer the kalettes crispier, bake them a little longer. It makes a great veggie side dish! Enjoy!

 

 

How can I prevent an E. coli infection at home?

A fully loaded hamburger between two buns.Chances are you’ve heard about the recent E. coli outbreak at daycares across Calgary. E. coli infections can be especially dangerous for kids under the age of 5 as well as those who are pregnant, elderly or who have a weakened immune system.

Here’s what you need to know about E. coli and how you can prevent an infection at home.

What is E. Coli?

E. coli stands for Escherichia coli. It’s a type of bacteria that’s naturally found in the intestines of humans as well as animals including cattle, goats and sheep. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, there is one particular strain called E. coli O157:H7 which can cause serious problems such as stomach cramps, bloody diarrhea, vomiting and kidney damage.

What causes an E. coli infection?

An infection can occur after you eat or drink something that has been contaminated with E. coli, such as:

  • Raw or undercooked beef, especially ground meat: During butchering and processing, E. coli bacteria from cattle’s intestines can get on the outer surfaces of meat. The risk of contamination is greater in ground meat because it combines meat sourced from different animals.
  • Unpasteurized drinks such as raw milk: If E. coli bacteria is present on a cow’s udder or on milking equipment, it may get into raw milk. The heat of pasteurization kills the harmful bacteria.
  • Contaminated produce: When fruits and vegetables are harvested, they may come in contact with contaminated manure or water.
  • Improper food handling: E. coli may be transferred to food products if an infected person’s hands are not washed properly when handling food.
  • Contaminated waters: It’s also possible to become infected with E. coli after drinking contaminated water or swallowing water in swimming pools / lakes that are contaminated with stool.

How to prevent an E. coli infection at home

  1. Cook ground meat to a temperature of 160F (71C): Use a meat thermometer. Don’t judge doneness by colour since meat can turn brown before it is completely cooked.
  1. Drink pasteurized milk, juice and cider: The chances of an E. coli infection are higher in beverages such as raw milk and unpasteurized apple cider.
  1. Wash raw produce: E. coli can cling to produce, especially leafy greens. Wash leafy greens under fresh, cool running water. Keep rinsing until all of the dirt has been washed off. There is no need to wash ready-to-eat, pre-packaged leafy greens that have already been washed / pre-washed / triple-washed.
  1. Avoid cross-contamination: Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods in your grocery cart, at home and when cooking. Don’t use the same knives, utensils, cutting boards and plates to handle cooked foods if they have been in contact with raw meat. Wash equipment and countertops with hot soapy water before and after they come in contact with raw meat. 
  1. Wash your hands often. Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water before / during / after food prep, before eating, after using the bathroom and after changing diapers. Remind kids to wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom too.
  1. Watch for news advisories / recalls related to E. coli outbreaks in food and lakes. You can find a list of food recalls from Health Canada here.

Cashew Chicken

 

cashew chicken served with rice

Cashew Chicken

This easy weeknight meal gets 5/5 stars from my family! Enjoy!
Course Dinner
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breast)
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 cup roasted, unsalted cashew nuts
  • 2 Tbsp chili paste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 orange, cut into small wedges

Instructions
 

  • Dice chicken into 1 inch pieces and place in a bowl. Mix in cornstarch, soy sauce and lime juice.
  • Heat 1 Tbsp canola oil in wok or large frying pan.
  • Add garlic and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. Add chicken and stir-fry until cooked throughout. Transfer cooked chicken to a clean plate.
  • Heat remaining 1 Tbsp oil in wok or large frying pan. Stir-fry carrots and celery until soft.
  • Add cashew nuts and stir-fry for about 1 minute.
  • Add reserved chicken and mix well. Stir in chili paste and mix well. Add black pepper to taste.
  • Serve with steamed rice and garnish with orange wedges.
Keyword Cashew Chicken, Chicken

7 Ways to Eat Better Every Day

a bowl of food with quinoa, shredded carrots, cabbage and spinach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, and I received monetary compensation from them to research and write this information. My articles represent my personal and professional views. I am one of many dietitian writers for Canadian Food Focus, which is a source for Canadian food and farming stories that provide advice to help you make confident food choices.

 

Canada’s Food Guide gives us general information about healthy eating. Now, a new report – Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – by Health Canada shares additional recommendations to help you meet your nutritional needs. Here are 7 things you can do to eat better and why!

1. Eat a dark green veggie every day

Did you know that vegetables and fruit make up less than 25% of the foods we eat? We need to eat a dark green vegetable every day for essential vitamins and minerals, especially folate and iron.

Folate and iron are both important for red blood cells which carry oxygen from our lungs throughout our body.

Special attention: For adolescents and adults who could become pregnant and those who are pregnant / breastfeeding, eat foods rich in folate as well as take a daily multivitamin supplement with 400 mcg folic acid (400 micrograms or 0.4 milligrams). During pregnancy, the multivitamin should also contain iron.

Examples of dark green veggies:

  • Arugula
  • Asparagus
  • Beet greens
  • Bok choy
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Chinese broccoli
  • Collards
  • Dandelion greens
  • Fiddleheads
  • Green beans
  • Green peas
  • Kale
  • Mustard greens
  • Okra
  • Parsley (fresh)
  • Rapini
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Seaweed (some types: kelp, dulse, wakame)
  • Taro leaves
  • Turnip greens
  • Watercress

Recipe ideas: Kale Chickpea Salad with Trout, Blistered Green Beans with Ginger

2. Eat an orange veggie a few times a week

Orange veggies are super sources of beta-carotene which convert to vitamin A in our body. Vitamin A plays a role in keeping our eyes, skin and immune system healthy.

Special attention: Men and individuals who are breastfeeding should enjoy orange veggies more often – on most days of the week.

Examples of orange veggies:

  • Acorn squash
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Hubbard squash
  • Pumpkin
  • Red and orange peppers
  • Sweet potato

Recipe ideas: Mexican Stuffed Peppers with Quinoa, Beans and Corn, Sheet Pan Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes and Asparagus

3. Enjoy a variety of whole grains

On average, less than 30% of the total grains we eat are whole grain or whole wheat. Not only are whole grains naturally low in saturated fat, sodium and sugars but they also provide folate, thiamin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc, magnesium and fibre.

Enriched, refined grain foods (such as white rice and white bread) also provide iron and folic acid. However, breads can be a top source of sodium, and refined breakfast cereals / granola bars can be a source of added sugars.

Examples of whole grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Brown rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Corn
  • Farro
  • Kamut
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Popcorn
  • Quinoa
  • Rye
  • Sorghum
  • Spelt
  • Teff
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Whole wheat pasta

Recipe ideas: Baked Mushroom and Herb Barley Risotto, Bulgur Chicken Burgers with Yogurt Sauce

4. Enjoy legumes, tofu, nuts or seeds every day for protein

Canada’s food guide recommends eating plant-based foods more often to reduce our overall intake of saturated fat. Currently, less than 20% of the protein foods we eat are plant-based. To pump up the plant protein, eat legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils, peanuts) or tofu at least once a day, as well as nuts or seeds at least once a day.

Recipe ideas: Chickpea Burger, Crispy Tofu Noodle Bowl

5. Eat foods with unsaturated fat

Replace foods high in saturated fat with foods which contain mostly unsaturated fat such as:

  • avocado
  • eggs
  • fish and fatty fish (salmon, trout, herring, sardines, mackerel, arctic char)
  • lean cuts of meat and wild grame
  • lower fat dairy products, fortified soy beverages
  • nuts, nut butters, seeds
  • poultry without skin
  • hummum
  • tofu
  • vegetable oils

Special attention: Help young children enjoy a variety of these foods throughout the day to help them meet their nutritional requirements for fat and calories.

Recipe ideas: Light Lemony Spring Herb Hummus, Crunchy Flax Chicken Nuggets

6. Get calcium every day

Calcium is a nutrient needed at all stages of life for bone health. Look for choices which meet your traditions and personal / cultural preferences.

Special attention: Children, adolescents, adult female and older adults have higher needs for calcium than others, so should include calcium containing foods at all meals and some snacks.

Examples of food sources of calcium:

  • Lower fat, unsweetened milk, yogurt and kefir (0-2% M.F.)
  • Unsweetened, fortified plant-based beverages (oat, soy, cashew, almond)
  • Cheese that is lower in fat and sodium
  • Tofu made with calcium
  • Legumes (e.g. edamame, navy beans, white beans)
  • Fish and shellfish (e.g. canned sardines / canned salmon with bones)
  • Some dark green / leafy green vegetables (e.g. arugula, bok choy, Chinese broccoli, okra, rapini, watercress)
  • Some seaweed (e.g. kelp, dulse, wakame)

Recipe ideas: Mac ‘n Cheese Muffins, Cod au Gratin

7. Get vitamin D every day from food and / or supplements

Vitamin D is made by the skin when exposed to sunlight. However many factors like smog, season, time of day, sunscreen use, and amount of skin exposed can all affect the amount of vitamin D that is produced.

If you don’t eats foods with vitamin D every day, take a 400 IU (10 mcg) vitamin D supplement. Some multivitamins also contain vitamin D.

Special attention: As we age, we make less vitamin D from the sun, and this can affect our bone health. Anyone aged 51 and older should take a 400 IU (10 mcg) vitamin D supplement every day in addition to eating vitamin D rich foods.

Examples of foods with vitamin D:

  • Fatty fish (salmon, artic char, rainbow trout)
  • Eggs (yolk)
  • Unsweetened, lower fat milk
  • Unsweetened, fortified plant-based beverages
  • Soft margarine

Recipe ideas: Baked Salmon with Honey Mustard Marinade, Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

References: Health Canada (2022 May 7). Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines.

 

5 Food & Nutrition Trends for 2023

Aerial image of friends eating with various dishes on the dinner table

What are the trends that will be shaping the way we shop, cook and eat?  We’ve scanned the research and share these top 5 trends.

1. Foods with benefits

According to the Mintel 2023 Global Food and Drink Trends report, 57% of Canadian consumers value food and drinks which offer health benefits such as heart health, gut health, stress management or immune support. Another growing health issue is sleep. Data from McKinsey research, cited in the 2023 Trend Report by Nourish Food Marketing, shows that better sleep is in fact, a higher health priority than better nutrition, fitness, mindfulness or appearance.

Do you have a product with unique benefits? This year’s National Nutrition Month theme for March focuses on unlocking the potential of food and ingredients. Work with me to leverage my expertise in sharing the nutritional and health benefits of your product in the media, social media, and at events.

 2. Technology

Move over Alexa. Adam is in the house. Showcased at this year’s CES tech event (formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show), Adam is an interactive, two-armed robot, bartender or barista, making coffee, boba tea or other drinks. Canadian Grocer magazine predicts we’re entering an automation nation driven by innovative technology and labour shortages. Smart home faucets and appliances as well as self-service or smart cart checkout systems are already in use. Automation is also used for stocking merchandise and fulfilling orders at distribution centres.

What’s next? The tech savvy Gen Alpha population (born in 2010 and onwards, the same year that the Apple ipad was invented), AI (artificial intelligence) and trending #FoodTok recipes on TikTok will all be major factors shaping the future of food and beverage, according to Datassential.

3. Budget-wise eating

The cost of groceries will continue to rise. Canada’s Food Price Report predicts that food prices will increase by an average of 5 to 7 percent this year. Vegetables will take the biggest hit, with prices expected to go up 6 to 8 percent. For a family of four, this could mean an extra cost of over $1,000 over the year. For a two-adult household, it’s an extra $500. Eating out at restaurants will also cost an extra 4 to 6 percent. On top of this, natural gas and electricity bills will hike up between 50 to 100 percent for most Canadians!

To cope with inflated prices, consumers will turn to money-saving strategies such as reducing food waste, cooking from scratch and making copycat recipes at home instead of going to restaurants. The food budget will include more economical ingredients such as frozen veggies, cheaper cuts of meat and plant-based proteins. Ready-to-eat foods requiring little or no cooking and energy-efficient air fryer recipes will continue to be popular.

 4. Trending Foods

Seaweed – The term ‘seaweed’ actually refers to many different species of marine plants and algae that grow in oceans, rivers and lakes. Green algae, kelp, nori, seaweed snacks and wakame salad are just a few examples. Containing a range of nutrients such as beta-carotene, calcium, folate and vitamin K, seaweed is especially popular among Millennials and Gen Xers.

Mushrooms – With their meaty texture and umami-flavour, mushrooms are a perfect meat extender to stretch the food budget. Mushroom coffee and even mushroom-based cocktails are examples of the food’s versatility. Some mushrooms may have adaptogenic properties.

Tinned fish / canned fish – Thanks to a few viral TikTok reels about tinned fish date nights, eating canned mussels on corn chips is a trendy thing! Chalk up convenience, cost and nutrition too. We’re not sure exactly how long this trend will last.

5. Trending Flavours

Ube – Food experts predict that Filipino will be the cuisine of the year, with special attention to ube, a beautiful purple coloured yam. Ube has a sweet, nutty, earthy flavour and is used in chips, fries and baked goods.

Yuzu – This small citrus fruit looks like a mandarin orange and has a tart taste similar to a grapefruit. It’s used in Japanese ponzu sauce, drinks and baked goods.

‘Swicy’ – Think sweet plus spicy. Swicy is a flavour combo appearing in products such as chili dark chocolate, hot honey chicken, barbecue sauces and nut mixtures. Can’t wait to try it!

 

3 Important Nutrients for Vegetarians

Various fruits and vegetables on a cutting board and table

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article originally appeared on Canadian Food Focus, and I received monetary compensation from them to research and write this information. My articles represent my personal and professional views. I am one of many dietitian writers for Canadian Food Focus, which is a source for Canadian food and farming stories that provide advice to help you make confident food choices.

 

If you’re a vegetarian, you’re probably eating a variety of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. Following a plant-based eating style has many benefits, such as a lower risk for developing heat disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. But did you know that you could be missing out on some important nutrients? Here are 3 key nutrients to think about.

Iron

Iron is a part of hemoglobin that’s in red blood cells and helps carry oxygen throughout our body. There are two different forms of iron:

  • heme iron – found in animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs
  • non-heme iron – found in plant-based foods such as vegetables, grains, legumes and tofu.

Heme iron has better bioavailability, in other words, it is more easily absorbed by our body compared to non-heme iron. For this reason, it’s recommended that vegetarians get almost two times more iron as non-vegetarians, especially adults and adolescent females.

To improve the absorption of non-heme iron, try these tips:

  • Enjoy your meal with a food or drink that contains vitamin C (e.g. citrus fruit, citrus fruit juice, kiwis, mangoes, cantaloupe, sweet peppers, bok choy, broccoli, kale, potatoes).
  • Add a food that contains heme iron if you include these foods in your diet (e.g. fish, shellfish, eggs).
  • Cook with cast iron pots.
  • Avoid drinking large amounts of coffee or tea, or having high amounts of calcium at the same time as your vegetarian meal because these block iron absorption. Wait about one to two hours after a meal before enjoying coffee, tea or taking calcium supplements.
  • Try the Lucky Iron Fish, a reusable cooking tool that adds extra iron to your foods and beverages.

Best vegetarian foods for iron:

  • Iron-fortified grain products (e.g. breads, cereals, pasta)
  • Whole grains and whole grain foods
  • Legumes (e.g. split peas, lentils, beans)
  • Soy / soy products (e.g. firm or extra firm tofu, tempeh, soy veggie burger, fortified soy beverage)
  • Nuts / nut butter
  • Seeds / seed butter (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, hemp seeds)
  • Dark green vegetables (e.g. Swiss chard, asparagus, edamame, snow peas, kale)
  • Dried fruit (e.g. raisins, dried apricots)
  • Prune juice
  • Blackstrap molasses

Zinc

Zinc is important for a strong immune system and helps with wound healing. Vegetarians, especially vegans, can be at a higher risk for zinc deficiency because fruits and vegetables contain very little zinc. If you’re a pescatarian, try fish and seafood for zinc. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can get zinc from eggs and dairy products.

Plant-based foods contain phytates (a natural substance found in grains, nuts, seeds and legumes) which actually reduces zinc absorption. To improve the absorption of zinc, try soaking grains, nuts, seeds and legumes before cooking.

Best vegetarian foods for zinc:

  • Legumes (e.g. beans, split peas, lentils)
  • Nuts and nut butters (e.g. almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecan, pine nuts)
  • Seeds (e.g. pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Whole grains
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is important for healthy nerve cells and for making red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal-based foods. Many plant-based foods are fortified with vitamin B12 such as fortified plant-based beverages and products labelled as “simulated meat products” or “simulated poultry products.” If you’re vegan, it may be helpful to take a vitamin B12 supplement. Talk to a Registered Dietitian for more advice.

Best vegetarian foods for vitamin B12

  • Plant-based foods fortified with vitamin B12 (e.g. fortified soy yogurt, veggie burgers, simulated meat products, simulated poultry products)
  • Plant-based beverages fortified with vitamin B12 (e.g. fortified soy / oat / rice / almond beverage)
  • Fortified nutritional yeast

There are many delicious foods to enjoy on a vegetarian diet. If you’re not sure whether you’re getting enough nutrients or have questions about supplements, consult with a Registered Dietitian.

References:  Health Canada (2022 May 7). Applying Canada’s Dietary Guidelines – Considerations for Vegetarian Diets.

 

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