I grew up in a meat eating home. In fact my parents still do not fully understand what being a Vegetarian, let alone Vegan, entails. They have made comments such as "how about some turkey? that's white meat" and "why can't you have soup that has chicken stock?"
I first became a non red meat eater in college, because I found that I always felt tired after eating it and that it took my body a long time to digest. Shortly after I eliminated poultry. I had never really enjoyed pork, so that was already out of my diet. I focused on eating a primarily Vegetarian diet with some rare moments of indulging in fish. At this point I was still consuming cheese (I LOVE cheese) and eggs on rare occasions. I was never a milk drinker, even as a child, and as I have aged I have become more and more lactose intolerant. During my early years as a Vegetarian, I can't say that I always made the healthiest choices or had a balanced diet. Now, being a Vegetarian and even a Vegan is very accessible with so many choices and substitutions available.
Anemia (iron deficiency) is genetically in my history. As a child and adolescence, even when eating meat, I was continually diagnosed with anemia. Both my mother and Nana have been diagnosed with anemia throughout their lives. I recently had a full blood panel done and was amazed when my doctor said that I was not anemic. "What? Are you sure?" I asked her. Having been anemic all my life and like most people associating iron with meat I assumed I would always be anemic. I do not take any multi-vitamins right now or iron supplements, so the iron I am receiving is coming through my plant based diet. Lots of spinach, kale, and lots of varieties of beans that I consume on an almost daily basis.
One of my clients who herself has switched to a primarily Vegan diet for herself and a mostly Vegetarian diet for her young children recently had one of her children's iron levels checked at her pediatricians. Her iron levels came in at 13.4 with a range of 7-10 being normal. He stated to her that "he wished all of his patients ate like her, that he would see them less and they would live longer". It was great to hear of a pediatrician supporting a plant based diet for children as long as it was "balanced".
It was such a welcome surprise to know that I could not only get enough iron, but reverse my anemia, from a balanced plant based diet. Proof that iron does not equal meat.
I personally am also a little concerned (especially as a middle aged woman) about my hormone levels, due to the amount of soy products I consume and the effect that soy can have on estrogen levels. I advise vegetarian females to have your hormone levels checked and regulate the amount of your soy product intake.