Nutrition Information Services
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Could I get more information on food allergies?

What are allergies?

An allergy is an abnormal reaction to a substance that is normally harmless. It can be a sensitivity of the skin to a chemical, of the respiratory system to particles of dust or pollen, or of the stomach and intestines to a particular food. Only about 2% of adult, and from 2 to 8 percent of children, are truly allergic to certain foods.

Food Allergy or Food Intolerance?

A food allergy is different from a food intolerance but the term is often used in a vague, all-encompassing way. The difference lies in how the body handles the offending food. In a true food allergy, the body's immune system recognizes a reaction-provoking substance, or allergen, in the food--usually a protein-- as foreign and produces antibodies to halt the "invasion". The most severe hypersensitive reaction (called "Anaphylaxis") is potentially life threatening and can be triggered by a minute amount of an allergen.

A food intolerance is a much more common problem and the problem is not with the body's immune system, but rather with the digestion of a food item. For example in a lactose intolerance a person lacks the enzyme (lactase) necessary to digest the sugar found milk (lacatose). Also, with a food intolerance the person can usually tolerate the item to which they are sensitive in small amounts.

Allergy Symptoms

The symptoms of food allergies can begin within moments of ingestion but may be delayed as much as 1 - 2 hours. They can be triggered by very small amounts of the allergenic food. Common symptoms include itching, burning or swelling of the lips, mouth or throat, runny nose and sneezing. More serious reaction include hives swelling, asthma, severe vomiting and/or diarrhea. The most severe reaction is anaphylactic shock. During anaphylaxis the chemicals that are released overwhelm the body potentially causing death if untreated.

Foods Commonly implicated in causing allergic reactions

Lists of highly allergic foods often vary depending on which resource you check. There is agreement though, that the most common offenders include peanuts and peanut products, tree nuts, milk and milk products, eggs and egg containing materials, fish and fish products, shellfish, soy and soy products, wheat and other gluten sources, sesame seeds and sesame seed products and suphite.

For more information on food allergies visit the "Food and Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network at

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Which weight loss diets are good and which should I avoid?

ON A DIET? You're not alone. At any given time every third person you meet is either on a diet, has just fallen off a diet or intends to go on a diet. The bigger question is: Are you a dieter who can recognize the difference between diet "sense" and diet "nonsense"?

Diet Sense means making changes you can live with forever - smart choices that can promote a sense of wellness: physically, emotionally and mentally. Small changes in eating and exercise habits may seem minor when compared to the sensational diet plans you see in the popular press, but they work because they are more likely to be permanent.

Diet Nonsense refers to the latest fad diets. Rarely do they combine a sensible diet plan with regular exercise. Instead, they promise quick returns. Most strict diets simply don't work and here's why:

  • If you're like most people, you get bored with limited food choices in diets, and quit quickly. Diets do NOT alter your long-term eating patterns.
  • When you come off a diet, you may gain more weight faster. Your body adapts to getting fewer calories by using what few it gets very well. Having learned not to waste calories, your body is better at storing those calories it doesn't use as fat.
  • Dieting upsets your internal balance of water and minerals. This can lower your blood pressure a lot, leaving you ill, weak or with an irregular heart beat.
  • We usually experience an initial binge from a rebellion to the dieting process which may contribute to the yo-yo syndrome.
  • Just as your weight see-saws, so can your emotions and self-esteem. You tend to feel that by failing to control your weight, you've failed at other things.

But, when these fad diets are not successful remember that... We haven't failed. Diets have failed us, so pass up any diet product or plan that:

  • Emphasizes a particular food;
  • Promises dramatic, rapid weight loss in a short period of time (a weight loss of 1 pound per week or 500 fewer calories a day is recommended as safe);
  • Is described as "first", "new", "innovative", "easy" or "fast";
  • Omits one food group or major nutrient;
  • Recommends a total daily intake of fewer than 1,200 calories, unless under medical supervision. A diet providing less than 1,200 calories is likely to be lacking in some nutrients;
  • Uses fancy theories to explain how a combination of certain foods can improve your health and lead to weight loss. Food combining theories have been around for a long time and have never been shown to promote weight loss unless the menus they suggest happens to be low in calories;
  • The program requires you to purchase special products, supplements and/or injections, or other devises to lose weight;

Improving your eating habits may not be as difficult as you think

  • Don't cut out, cut back. Train yourself to eat smaller portions, especially of meat, by cutting back a little at a time.
  • Choose the low-fat methods of cooking -- baking, boiling, broiling, steaming or micro waving -- instead of frying.
  • Although at first you might miss some of the fat and sugar in your food, it's surprising how quickly your taste-buds will adjust. Enjoy the crunch of raw vegetables instead of the crackle of potato chips, and the natural sweetness of ripe fruit instead of the sticky sweetness of cake.
  • Zap your taste-buds with non-fattening flavourings such as lemon juice, garlic, mustard, herbs, spices, curry powders, chili sauce and salsa.
  • Don't make any food taboo. You can eat anything you want, but in moderation. Eating a donut once in a while will not make you fat.
  • Switch your mealtime thinking by eating more starchy foods, such as potatoes, pasta, rice, bread and dried beans. Starchy foods are filling because they contain fiber and are also low in fat.

The Bottom Line...

There is no easy way to lose weight. No "magical potion" will solve this problem. The most sensible way to lose weight and keep it off is to make lifelong changes in your eating and exercise habits. Remember we are all unique. Although self-acceptance is easier said than done when society tells us it's normal to be on a diet and desirable to be model sized, we must constantly affirm our own strong characteristics, positive relationships and accomplishments.

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Can you give me some tips on food safety?

When you shop ...

  • Buy perishable foods last - and frozen foods last of all. Take food straight home and never leave it in a hot car.
  • Do not buy food in poor condition. Make sure refrigerated food is cold to the touch. Frozen food should be rock-solid. Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids, which can indicate a potential serious food poisoning.
  • Do not buy anything you will not use before the "best before" date.

When you store food ...

  • Make sure your refrigerator runs at 4oC (40oF) and the freezer unit should be -18oC (0oF). Generally, keep your refrigerator as cold as you can without freezing your milk or lettuce.
  • Freeze fresh meat, poultry or fish immediately if you cannot use it within a few days.
  • Raw juices often contain bacteria, so put packages of raw meat, poultry of fish on plates before refrigerating so their juices will not drip on other food.

When you prepare food ...

  • Always wash your hands in warm soapy water before preparing food.
  • Bacteria can live in kitchen towels. Sponges and cloths. Wash these often.
  • Keep raw meat, and their juices away from other food. Wash your hands, cutting board and knife in hot soapy water after cutting up chicken and raw meat, and before using the utensils for other food.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator, microwave or oven, not on the kitchen counter. At room temperature, bacteria can grow in the outer layers of food before the inside thaws. Marinate meats in the refrigerator too.

When you are cooking ...

Cook thoroughly. It takes thorough cooking to kill harmful bacteria. You are taking chances when you eat meat, poultry or fish that are raw or only partly cooked. Hamburger that is red in the middle, or rare and medium-rare steak are undercooked from a safety standpoint.

  • Cook red meat and poultry to 74oC (165oF). Use a meat thermometer to check that you meat is cooked thoroughly.
  • Red meat is done when it is brown or grey on the inside. Poultry is cooked when its juices run clear. Fish flakes with a fork.

Safe Microwaving

A great time-saver, the microwave has one food safety disadvantage. It sometimes leaves cold spots in food. Bacteria may survive in these spots. So ...

  • Cover food with a lid or plastic wrap that is approved for microwaving. The steam can aid thorough cooking. Leave a small section uncovered so steam can escape, and do not let the wrap tough the food.
  • Stir and rotate food for even cooking.
  • Observe the standing time called for in a recipe or package directions. Food finishes cooking during the standing time.
  • Use a meat thermometer to check that food is done. Insert in several spots.

When you serve food ...

  • Never leave it out for more than two hours.
  • Use clean dishes and utensils to serve food, not those used when preparing the raw food.
  • Never leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. Bacteria that can cause food poisoning grow quickly at warm temperatures.
  • Pack lunches in insulated carriers with a cold pack.
  • Party time? Keep cold party food on ice or serve it on platters from the refrigerator.

When handling leftovers ...

  • Use small containers for quick cooling.
  • Do not pack the refrigerator - cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
  • With stuffed poultry or meats, remove stuffing and refrigerate in separate containers.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil.
  • Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 74oC (165oF).
  • Microwave leftovers with a lid or plastic wrap for thorough heating.

When in doubt ..


  • Never taste food that looks or smells strange to see if you can still use it.
  • If it is mouldy, the mould you see is only the tip of the iceberg. Its poisons are found under the surface of the food.

When you suspect food poisoning ...

  • If you experience nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever or cramps, you could have food poisoning. It is not always easy to tell - symptoms of food poisoning can appear anywhere from 30 minutes to two weeks later.
  • Most often, people get sick within four to 48 hours after eating bad food.
  • If symptoms are severe or the victim is very young, old, pregnant or already ill, call you doctor or go to the hospital right away.

Foods that are usually safe from pathogens

  • Nuts and peanut butter
  • Bread, buns, crackers, cookies and cake
  • Jam, honey, syrup and candy
  • Butter, margarine and cooking oil
  • Dry cereals
  • Powdered milk
  • Cooked and dried fruit
  • Raw veggies
  • Condiments (pickles, relishes in vinegar, mustard and ketchup)
  • Fruit juices, carbonated beverages
  • Snacks such as potato chips
  • All foods in cans and flexible pouches, until opened
  • Spices

Foods which may become unsafe if not handled properly and need to be thoroughly cooked

  • All meat
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish

Foods that need to be properly refrigerated

  • Salads made with cooked meat, poultry, eggs, and fish
  • Cooked vegetables, peas and beans
  • Cooked cereals
  • Custards, puddings and whipped cream
  • Milk and milk products
  • Salad dressings
  • Processed meats (ham, bologna, salami, wieners, etc.)
  • Gravies and sauces
  • Meat sandwich spreads
  • All canned food and dinner combinations after opening or thawing
  • Egg products
  • All cheese, especially brie, Camembert, goat milk, ricotta, cottage, cream mozzarella, bakers, quark, etc.

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What's the scoop on functional foods?

The tenet "Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food," quoted by Hippocrates nearly 2,500 years ago, is receiving renewed interest. In particular, there has been an explosion of consumer interest in the health enhancing role of specific foods, so-called functional foods. Clearly, all foods are functional, as they provide taste, aroma and nutritive value. Within the last decade, however, the term functional as it applies to food has adopted a different connotation - that of providing an additional physiological benefit beyond that of meeting basic nutritional needs.

Some examples of 'pecial Function' foods...


Not only is soy a high quality protein, it is now thought to play preventive and therapeutic roles in cardiovascular disease, cancer, osteoporosis and the alleviation of menopausal symptoms.


Oat products are a widely studied source of a cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber.


Tomatoes have received significant attention because of interest in an ingredient called lycopene and its role in cancer risk reduction.


The purported health benefits of garlic are numerous, including cancer prevention, blood pressure and cholesterol lowering properties.

Broccoli and other Cruciferous Vegetables

Evidence shows that frequent consumption of cruciferous vegetables can decrease the risk of cancer.

Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits are also protective against a variety of human cancers.

Mounting evidence supports the observation that functional foods may enhance health. It should be stressed, however that they are not a magic bullet for poor health habits. There is no "good" or "bad" foods, but there are good or bad diets. Emphasis must be placed on over-all dietary pattern ?one that follows Canada's Food Guide, and is plant-based, high in fiber, low in animal fat and contains 5 - 12 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

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What's the scoop on high protein diets?

Canadians have had a love/hate relationship with protein for several years now, and the protein pendulum has been swinging like crazy lately. Indeed, we cannot live without protein. But the trouble may be too much of a good thing. Some researchers have linked a high intake of animal protein to heart disease and other chronic disorders. On the other hand, high-protein weight-loss diets are the craze once again, as they were in the late sixties and early seventies and more recently with the "Zone Diet". If all the contradictory advice about protein makes your head spin, here's the lowdown.

High Protein Diets

A diet high in protein - especially animal protein - is associated with an increased risk not only of heart disease and some cancers, but also of osteoporosis and kidney damage. However, it is hard to prove this link, as we seldom eat pure protein. People who consume large amounts of animal protein do have higher rates of heart disease and cancer, but their diets also tend to be higher in fat and lower in antioxidants and fiber.

Plant protein verses animal protein

People who get their protein from plants generally have a lower risk of heart disease and are healthier. Vegetarian sources of protein are preferable because they are usually lower in fat and higher in fiber and other potentially beneficial substances. Nevertheless, a few studies have suggested that a very high intake of even plant protein is undesirable.

Link between protein and osteoporosis

As your protein intake rises, so does the amount of calcium excreted in urine. Although this notion is still controversial, studies are showing that if you eat lots of protein, this calcium loss may affect the density of your bones and thus may hasten the development of osteoporosis. In addition, it is likely that a high protein intake endangers your bones only if you consume inadequate amount of calcium. So continue to consume 2 - 3 servings of dairy products each day.

Do people who exercise need more protein?

Yes and no. You need adequate protein intake to build and repair muscles, but most active Canadians, including vegetarians, get more than enough protein. Although high-protein powders, drinks, tablets, capsules and bars are all the range these days, these supplements will not stimulate muscle growth - only exercise does. Some endurance athletes or serious weight lifters need more protein that the Recommended Nutrient Intake (RNI), but because of their greater food intake they get the extra protein with little trouble.

Protein requirements

Proteins are constantly being broken down in our bodies. Most of the amino acids (building blocks of proteins) are reused, but we must regularly replace those that are lost. The daily recommended intake for protein is based on age and weight and usually works out to be about 8% of daily calories. Looking at it another way, adults require approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram body weight. For example, a 150-pound person would require (150/2.2) x 0.8 = 55 grams of protein per day.

Leading sources of protein

  • Meat, chicken, and fish: 6 to 8 grams per ounce.
  • Dairy products: a cup of milk, 8 grams; yogurt, 10 to 13 grams.
  • Eggs: 6 grams each.
  • Grains: 1 slice of bread or ?cup of pasta, 3 grams.
  • Beans: 7 grams per half cup (cooked).
  • Nuts: 6 grams per ounce.

For most people, three ounce of lean meat, ?cup of beans, and 1 cup each of pasta, yogurt, and milk supply enough protein for a day.

In conclusion...

Contrary to the claims of such books as "Protein Power", "The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet" and "The Zone Diet", a high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate diet is far from ideal. In the short term, you could lose weight on these high-protein diets, but they could be dangerous particularly if followed beyond a few weeks. They are low-calorie diets in disguise and like all crash diets, they don't work over the long haul.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates remains the best. Fruits, grains, and vegetables, along with low-fat dairy products and smaller amounts of meats, provide the vitamins, minerals and fiber you need. Numerous controlled studies have shown that such a diet helps protect against heart disease, diabetes, and various cancers, as well as aid in weight control. It is not a crash diet, but a way of eating for the rest of your life.

Prepared By: Anne Zok, Nutritionist - Residence Food Services
Source: "Wellness Letter", University of California, June 1996

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Do you have any tips on low fat cooking?

The first diet / disease relationship to markedly influence nutrition guidelines was the association between dietary fat and heart disease. Over a thirty year period this relationship has stimulated a phenomenal amount of research. While this era is not yet behind us, there is a strong case recommending a reduction in total dietary fat (especially saturated fat) as a key factor in reducing the risk of heart disease.

How to FIGHT FAT the easy way!

Vegetables & Fruit

Increase your intake of vegetables and fruit. They are naturally low in fat Choose:

  • lower fat vegetables (fresh, frozen, canned)
  • fresh fruit (except avocados & coconuts)
  • dried fruits (such as raisins and prunes)
  • canned and frozen fruits

Meat and Alternatives

Leaner choices are always best.

  • Chicken or turkey with skin removed
  • Leaner cuts of meat with fat removed
  • Lean or extra lean hamburger

Grain Products

Choose lower fat whole grains products more often.

  • English muffins, bagels, pita bread, plain pasta, noodles or rice, oatmeal, cereals plain crackers, melba toast or breadsticks

Milk Products

Always choose lower fat milk products.

  • 2%, 1% or skim milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Lower fat cheese - 15% M.F. or less
  • Non-fat milk powder
  • 1% Cottage cheese
  • 2% M.F. or less Yogurt
  • Low-fat sour cream

For Starters - Soups, Salads and Dips

  • For cream soups, use plain low fat yogurt, 2% milk, evaporated milk or buttermilk instead of cream. Try fat-free soup thickeners like pureed cooked vegetables (squash, potato, carrots), noodles, legumes, rice or barley.
  • Make soups or stews a day ahead and refrigerate them. Skim off any fat that hardens on top.
  • Use these salad dressing, avocado, bacon bits, olives, higher fat cheese, nuts and croutons sparingly.
  • Blend your own salad dressings for less fat and more flavor
  • Prepare dips with low fat mayonnaise-type dressing and replace half of it with plain yogurt or buttermilk
  • Flavoured vinegars (e.g. blueberry or raspberry) can stand alone as a simple dressing

Moving on to Main Dishes

  • Choose lean cuts of meat:
    • Beef: Sirloin, eye of round, round steaks and rosts, rib eye, rump, stripsirloin, T-bone and wing steaks, stewing beef, and flank steaks
    • Veal: All cuts are relatively lean.
    • Pork: Leg butt portion roast, picnic shoulder roast, loin tenderloin end roast, centre cut loin roast.
    • Poultry: White poultry meat has half the fat of dark poultry meat.
  • When you can, remove all visible fat from meat and skin from poultry prior to cooking
  • Use low fat cooking methods like broiling, baking and grilling. To prevent drying and to add flavour, baste with wine, lemon juice or broth. Poaching and braising are good cooking methods too.
  • Invest in a non-stick frying pan. Saute with less fat.
  • For stir fries, omit the oil and steam fry in a little tomato juice, bouillon or stock.
  • Prepare more mixed dishes such as stews and casseroles that combine meat with pasta, rice or vegetables.
  • Prepare more meatless dishes like vegetarian lasagna, baked beans, pasta with a chunky tomato vegetable sauce, or rice and kidney bean casserole.
  • For bread stuffing, moisten bread crumbs with chicken broth and chopped onions, celery or apple instead of oil or butter.
  • Pizza dough is low in fat but toppings like anchovies, bacon, pepperoni, salami and cheese are not. Use more toppings such as mushrooms, peppers, chicken, onion and sprinkle with partly-skim mozzarella.

Winding up with Desserts

  • There are many desserts that taste delicious and are low in fat. Fresh fruit is great for any occasion. Instead of apple pie, make an apple rhubarb crisp.
  • For a refreshing end to a meal, try fruit sherbert, sorbet or frozen yogurt.
  • Angel food cake contains only a trace of fat. Serve with fresh fruit or a sauce made with plain yogurt and frozen berries.
  • Make some meringue for a fat-free cookie

Enjoy the new tastes and textures of your own lower-fat creations!

(Source Nutrition Matters: Middlesex-London Health Unit)

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Any tips on stress and nutrition?

Our health and nutritional status have a primary effect on how we handle stress and consequently what impact stress has on our health.

Although too much stress can be detrimental to your physical and mental well-being, your body is physiologically prepared to deal with stressful situations using a survival mechanism known as the "fight or flight response". This involves how your body reacts to stress. When you experience stress, your heart pumps faster, your blood vessels to the skin become more narrow, you breath faster, your pupils in your eyes widen and you become more alert. A constant fight or flight response may lead to a decrease in productivity and poorer health. Too much stress leads to burn out.

Nutrition and Stress-- Are they related?

Your diet can be your source of stress. Poor eating habits such as skipping meals, consuming too much caffeine, sugar, salt, fat, or alcohol, vitamin overdoses, overeating, undereating, or dieting put the body under stress. Nutrition is also a critical component in the body's immune system.

Your diet can affect your body's ability to handle stress. During stressful situations, your body requires energy to perform the "fight or flight" response. The foods you eat provide energy in the forms of carbohydrate, protein and fat. Your body draws upon its stores of carbohydrates (stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles), protein (stored mainly in muscles) and fat (body fat stores) to provide energy for the stress response. Calcium is also required during stress.

A healthy body is best prepared for stress. If your body does not have enough stored vitamins and minerals, you may not be equipped to defend yourself in stressful situations.

Key Nutrients of Concern

Vitamin C
Both emotional and physical stress may affect a person's vitamin C status. It can increase requirements for vitamin C needed to maintain normal blood levels. When stress depletes vitamin C levels in the body, it reduced the body's resistance to infection and disease and increases the likelihood of further stress.

Good Sources of Vitamin C

  • Oranges
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Mango
  • Grapefruit
  • Peppers Cauliflower
  • Broccoli

B Vitamins
The majority of the B vitamins function in the development and maintenance of the nervous system. The harmful effects of vitamin B deficiencies on the nervous system might increase the risk of developing stress related symptoms such as irritability, lethargy and depression.

Good Sources of B Vitamins

  • Meats (Poultry, Pork, Beef)
  • Enriched Breads & Cereals
  • Seafood (Tuna, Herring, Mackerel, Oysters, Clams)
  • Leafy Green Vegetables
  • Legumes (Dried Peas, Beans and Lentils)
  • Dairy Products
  • Whole Grains

Stress and magnesium are interrelated. Both physical and psychological stress may stimulate the stress hormones. These, in turn, increase magnesium loss from the cells, stimulate urinary excretion and increase dietary requirement for magnesium.

Good Sources of Magnesium

  • Tofu
  • Wheat Germ
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Almonds
  • Sunflower Seeds

Calcium is also required during stress. Your body remove calcium from the bones when it is needed

Good Sources of Calcium

  • Milk (White, Chocolate, Buttermilk)
  • Baked Beans
  • Salmon with bones
  • Brazil Nuts
  • Sardines
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Almonds
  • Kale

Tips on how to Cope with Stress

Stress affects everyone and a stress-free life is practically impossible. We all need some level of stress in our lives. What is important is how we deal with stress.

  1. Good nutrition is one way to keep you functioning at your best. Enjoy a variety of foods from Canada's Food Guide every day.
  2. Take caution when using supplements. Excessive amounts of individual vitamins or minerals may cause an imbalance in nutrition and make it more difficult to cope with stress.
  3. Minimize caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a stimulant. It makes your heart beat faster, makes you restless, may upset your stomach and makes you urinate more frequently. Excess caffeine may add to existing nervousness and irritability.
  4. Avoid fad diets. Hunger itself can interfere with coping skills. Try to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through healthy eating and regular physical activity.
  5. Eat if you can. Eat smaller, more frequent meals and drink plenty of fluids. Your body retains sodium during stress; extra water will help keep a better fluid balance in the body.
  6. Listen to your body. Try not to over eat.
  7. Learn to balance work with play, relax, get enough rest, work off tension, talk about your problems, accept what you cannot change, and get away from your stress once in a while.

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I'm considering becoming a vegetarian. Any tips for me?

Interest in a vegetarian lifestyle is growing strong among both the vegetarian and the non-vegetarian population. Since vegetarian meals consist primarily of the foods most often recommended by Health Canada for good health, this trend is a positive one. The key to a nutritionally sound vegetarian diet is VARIETY. As with any style of eating, vegetarians enjoy health benefits only when their diet is balanced, varied and meets energy and nutrient needs. Vegetarian diets should be based on the same principles of healthy eating as meat-based diets, with lower-fat, higher-fiber foods emphasized.

Not all Vegetarians are the same. There are several different types of vegetarian diets, including:

  1. Vegan: Excludes all foods of animal origin
  2. Lactovegetarian: Includes dairy products in addition to foods of plant origin
  3. Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: Includes eggs and dairy products in addition to plant based foods
  4. Semi-Vegetarian: Includes small amounts of poultry or fish in their diet.

You should know...
Being a vegetarian is more than just skipping the meat; it's a way of life. When beginning a vegetarian diet it is important to be aware of potential deficiencies that could arise if your diet is not complete. Vegans are at the highest risk of deficiency in the following nutrients.

Vegetarian diets generally supply more than enough protein. Many grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds are good sources of protein. However, except for soybeans, plant foods contain protein that is incomplete -- that is, it has low and sometimes insufficient amounts of one or more of the nine essential amino acids. (Amino acids are protein's building blocks; the essential ones are those the body cannot synthesize.) But if vegetarians eat a wide variety of foods each day, they are likely to absorb a full complement of amino acids.

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians often have difficulty meeting iron needs. Although plant foods contain small amounts of iron, this iron is not absorbed as well as the iron found in meat. Vitamin C-rich foods (citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi), enhance iron absorption. Tea and coffee can decrease it's absorption.

Good plant based sources of iron include:

  • dried peas, beans and lentils
  • nuts and seeds
  • blackstrap molasses
  • raisins, currant, and other dried fruits
  • cream of wheat, enriched dry cereal, oatmeal, granola, bulgur and wheat germ

Vitamin B12
Although only a very small amount of this vitamin is required, it is necessary for the formation of DNA and the production of healthy red blood cells.

Reliable non-meat sources include:

  • Fortified nutritional yeast (Red Star)
  • Fortified soymilk
  • Soy-based meat analogues such as veggie dogs, veggie burgers, veggie cold cuts, etc.
  • Vitamin B12 supplements
    (Check labels carefully as some items may be fortified and others may not.)

Milk and milk products are the best food sources of calcium. Although many plant foods provide calcium, phytic acid in grains and oxalic acid in some vegetables inhibit its absorption. However, calcium deficiency in vegetarians is rare, and low intakes of calcium have not been shown to cause major health problems among vegetarians.

Vitamin D
Although vitamin D requirements can be met entirely from sunlight, the diet must provide enough vitamin D to meet the requirements of individuals who receive little or no direct sunlight. For vegetarians who avoid dairy products, a vitamin D supplement may be necessary.

But wait! There's more ...
There are numerous nutritional advantages of a vegetarian diet. Here are but a few. A vegetarian diet is typically:

Lower in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
Meats are a common source of saturated fat and cholesterol. The reduced amounts combined with increased amounts of fiber in a vegetarian diet, often leads to lower blood cholesterol levels. This has positive health implication in terms of decreasing the risks associated with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease.

Higher in Antioxidants and Phytochemicals
These are found in fruits and vegetables, specifically those that are dark or bright in colour. Anitoxidants include vitamin C, E, and beta-carotene. Phytochemicals are plant compounds. Both play a role in healthy aging and may also assist in disease prevention, including protection against certain types of cancers.

Fewer Environmental Contaminants
Plant-based foods have less exposure to heavy metals and other environmental contaminants than do foods of animal origin. As we go up the food chain, these contaminating substances increase in concentration.

Higher in Fiber:
Fiber is found abundantly in whole grain products, fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, and seeds. Fiber aids in regulating blood sugar by slowing sugar absorption after a meal. It can also help to keep cholesterol at healthy levels and move waste along the digestive tract. According to numerous studies, fiber may prevent certain types of cancers, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

Remember, being a vegetarian is more than just skipping the meat; it's a way of life. Make healthful choices by planning meals to include a wide array of nutritionally sound proteins, carbohydrates and fats.

For more information on vegetarianism, visit Vegetarian Times at

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Try to keep your caffeine intake under 400-450 mg per day - about 3 medium-size cups (250 mL) of coffee. Choose decaffeinated tea or coffee, or herbal teas instead of higher caffeine beverages like coffee, expresso and some cola drinks.

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