The choice to go vegetarian may be based on personal belief or desire for better health. Either way, you heart will benefit. While a low-carb, high-protein diet is the diet de jour for weight loss, numerous studies have pointed to vegetarian as the healthiest way of eating.

According to the American Heart Association, a vegetarian diet can lower risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.

The trick to eating vegetarian is to make sure your diet is balanced and offers complete nutrition. Vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains—the staples of the vegetarian diet—are chock-full of vitamins and nutrients. However, some nutrients are only found in animal products, such as vitamin B-12, which is necessary for red blood cell formation, and others (protein, calcium, iron and zinc) are more prevalent in animal products.

Depending upon your level of vegetarianism (vegan, or no animal products; lacto, consume dairy; or lacto-ovo, consume dairy and eggs) you may need to take extra care to design your diet to ensure you’re getting complete nutrition.

Keep these nutrients in mind:

Protein: needed for maintaining healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Abundant in eggs and dairy, but also in soy products, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Calcium: essential for strong teeth and bones. Abundant in dairy products, but also in dark green vegetables. Also in enriched or fortified tofu, soymilk and fruit juice.

Vitamin B-12: necessary for production of red blood cells. Can be found in milk, eggs and cheese, and also enriched cereal’s fortified soy products or in supplement form.

Iron: important for the health of red blood cells. Found in dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereal, whole-grain products, dark green leafy vegetables and dried fruit. It’s important to include vitamin C in your diet to absorb these non-animal sources of iron.

Zinc: essential for enzymes, in cell division and in the formulation of protein. Found in whole grains, soy, nuts and wheat germ.

Source: Mayo Clinic