You may be thinking about following a vegetarian diet to reap certain health benefits. In fact, meat-free diets are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients, which can help prevent digestive conditions, heart disease, high blood pressure and even certain cancers. However, if you don't consume a balanced vegetarian diet, comprised of healthy whole foods, you might experience some nutritional deficiencies.
Most plant-based proteins – with the exception of soy and quinoa – are incomplete, which means they don't provide all the amino acids necessary to build muscle and tissue, like animal foods do. To avoid a protein deficiency, vegetarians need to combine proteins throughout the day. For example, eating beans with brown rice or hummus with whole-wheat pita bread will supply the needed amino acids.
Other Possible Deficiencies
Strict vegetarian diets without dairy and eggs may be lower in nutrients such as calcium, iron, vitamin B-12 and omega-3 fatty acids. However, by carefully planning and knowing which plant foods to choose, vegetarians can avoid these disadvantages. Leafy greens and almonds, for example, are high in calcium, and flaxseed and chia seeds provide omega-3s. Eating plant-based iron with a source of vitamin C will improve absorption, such as a spinach salad with sliced strawberries or orange sections.