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May 17, 2013 -  Aicacia Young    

These days, it’s becoming more and more common to avoid meat, but if you’ve chosen a vegetarian or pescatarian diet, it is very important to know which nutrients are missing from your diet in order to avoid nutritional deficiencies. I grew up in Texas, where a vegetarian is about as common as a unicorn, but throughout my life travels, I’ve befriended many a veggie-loving carniphobe. I knew that some professional climbers, like Alex Honnold and Jonathan Siegrist had made the decision to avoid meat, but I didn’t understand just how many people avoided meat until I got to Boulder – the nucleus of organic produce, gluten-free menus, composting, and fresh farmer’s markets. Each person had a different reason for the lifestyle change; some hated the meat packing industry, and others just felt physically better without it. Many times, people will avoid meat for a short period of time, but then find that it makes them feel sick when they try to go back. People often feel better when avoiding meat and dairy because they are known as “high residue” foods. This means that they take a very long time for the body to digest and often require extra enzymes and stomach acid to break them down. On the other hand, low residue foods (like fruits and vegetables) are easily recognized, broken down, and utilized by the body. For these reasons, I can understand why meat doesn’t sit well with some people. Meat and dairy certainly have the potential to wreak havoc on the digestive system, but they are also packed full of nutrients. Meat contains vitamins B2, B6, and B12, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Deficiencies of these nutrients can lead to anemia, dermatitis, fatigue, reduced immune function, poor wound healing, and reduced ability to taste – the latter three signs all relating to a deficiency in zinc.

If you choose to avoid meat altogether, you can get B2 from yeast, dried spices like ancho chilies and paprika, almonds, edamame, cheese, wheat bran, fish, sesame seeds, and sun-dried tomatoes. You can get B6 from whole wheat, brown rice, chili powder, paprika, pistachios, raw garlic, fish, sunflower and sesame seeds, molasses, and hazelnuts. For B12, you can eat other animal foods such as clams, oysters, caviar, octopus, fish, crab, lobster, cheese, and eggs. Vegans should consult a dietitian or physician and consider B12 supplementation. Alternative sources of iron include clams, oysters, pumpkin seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, whole grains, fortified cereals, dark leafy greens, tofu, and dark chocolate. Note that the plant sources of iron are more difficult for the body to absorb, so it is advisable to consume these foods with a source of vitamin C, as vitamin C increases the absorption of iron in the small intestine. Phosphorus can be found in nuts and seeds, and zinc is prevalent in oysters, toasted wheat germ, roasted pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, peanuts, and crab. As you can see, adding a few new foods to your daily routine can easily help you meet your nutritional needs as a vegetarian.

In terms of recovery from exercise, you will still want to aim for 20 grams of protein after a workout. You can meet this need with a protein bar of choice, a protein shake of choice, 3 ounces of fish, 3 hard-boiled eggs, 2-3 slices of low fat cheese, 9 ounces of tofu, 1.5 cups of milk or yogurt, or 2 ounces of assorted nuts and seeds. If you want a protein shake, but would like to avoid dairy and whey protein powder, you might consider hemp protein powder or Vega, an all-vegetable protein powder. It may take a little more planning, but following a vegetarian diet is very doable. For specific questions about your diet, contact your local dietitian. It is our job to help you achieve optimum nutrition according to your own beliefs, traditions, and view on food.

*Below are some quick and easy tables that you can print and reference at your convenience.



Riboflavin (B2)


Dried Ancho Chilies





Wheat Bran


Sesame Seeds

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Vitamin B6

Whole Wheat

Brown Rice

Chili Powder



Raw Garlic


Sunflower Seeds

Sesame Seeds



Vitamin B12













Pumpkin Seeds




Whole Grains

Fortified Cereals

Dark Leafy Greens


Dark Chocolate






Toasted Wheat Germ

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Dark Chocolate





7 grams

of protein


1 ounce of meat       

1 ounce of fish

1/3 ounce of tofu

1 egg

1 slice of cheese

2/3 cup of milk/yogurt

2 ounces of nuts/seeds

2 Tbsp nut butters



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