I am a 61 year old meat eater, and I have recently decided to go vegetarian. I've noticed for the first time in my life that i am feeling tired.
Could you please suggest any dietary needs that I need to consider. I have always eaten a very healthy diet and am in robust health.
What vitamins, minerals, etc. do I need, and in what foods will I find them? - A. P.
Dear A. P.,
Going vegetarian isn't one size fits all. Your nutritional needs may be different than those of a younger person on a vegetarian diet. And, it might take longer for you to make the transition.
Another point is that even though you've been eating meat and dairy, you could have a B12 deficiency, or other nutritional deficiencies, like folic acid or iron, because of a reduced ability to absorb nutrients, or a lack of them in your diet, or possible food sensitivities or allergies. So it's not as simple as saying, you need this and this, and eat this and this to get them.
Make the vegetarian transition gradually and easily - think years, not months. That will give your body a chance to adapt to a different diet, and to build up a wide variety of vegetarian foods you enjoy preparing and eating.
Cut back on the larger animals first, and progress through fowl and fish. At the same time, introduce new foods in your diet, e.g. whole grains and fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and legumes, reducing saturated fats, and going to vegetarian fat sources - olive oil, flax oil, etc.
Don't be overly reliant on soy foods. Soy isn't always easy to digest, and is a major allergen. Nuts, legumes, and high protein grains are also good choices for vegetarian protein.
Indian lentils, like mung dhal, or masoor dhal, are easy to cook, and digest. So arethe small green and brown lentils. Chick peas, black eyed peas, pinto beans and black beans are among the easiest beans to cook with. Check out Savvy Vegetarian's beans without gas report for how to cook beans.
Favor whole nuts and seeds over nut butters, except sesame seeds and flax seeds - they're better ground, otherwise they don't digest because they're so hard. Raw foodists recommend soaking nuts and seeds overnight, and I find they're easier to eat that way if you have time. Same with dried fruit, but start with boiling water, and it only takes a few minutes.
I also suggest that you consult a nutritionist or dietitian who is vegetarian or knowledgable about vegetarian diet. One way to find one is to go online and search on vegetarian nutritionist + your area of the country.
I recommend 'The New Becoming Vegetarian', by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis, a very useful vegetarian nutrition reference, easy to read and understand. That book will tell you a lot more than I could about what nutrients you must have, and where to find them, and how to get the most nutrition from your food.
A good food based multivitamin and mineral supplement wouldn't hurt. Rainbow Light is an excellent brand, also Floradix. But you should get blood work done to find out if there's a nutritional reason for your tiredness.
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian