We have emphasized everything in moderation and variety; a vegetarian diet may be one route to healthy eating if you feel you are not a meat lover. Whether it is the taste, texture or simply don’t like cooking it; a vegetarian diet can be accomplished two ways: healthy and unhealthy. Lower amounts of meat may be convenient for your busy lifestyle, wallet, or healthy living decisions. By being vegetarian you are able to avoid unsaturated fats and cholesterol from animal fat, but also you may be losing sufficient amount of protein, omega-3’s, and iron. By cutting out animal meat here’s what you may be missing:
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin D (Especially for those who have limited sunlight)
- Protein (Both essential and nonessential)
Lower amounts of these nutrients and vitamins may lead to deficiencies over time, but by going vegetarian the healthy way you can still get everything your body needs through whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, dairy and eggs. Vegetarian diets are flexible and not as strict as vegan (no animal products: meat, dairy and eggs) but there are different levels, which may fit better for your lifestyle and taste buds.
There are different ways of being vegetarian:
- Semi-Vegetarian: Also can be called “flexitarian” because it is those who live by a vegetarian diet majority of the time, but will eat meat on occasion.
- Pescatarian: Those who avoid all forms of animal protein except fish.
- Lacto-Vegetarian: Those who avoid all forms of animal products including eggs, but will consume dairy products.
- Ovo-Vegetarian: Those who avoid all forms of animal and dairy product, but do not eat eggs.
- Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: Most popular, are those who avoid all meats, but still consume dairy and eggs.
The most important part of having a vegetarian diet is to substitute the lack of meat for other high protein and nutrient dense foods. Plant protein can be found in kidney beans, peanut butter, chickpeas, tofu, nuts, edamame, and veggie burgers. By simply adding a handful of nuts or peanut butter on bread you can aid protein. Iron, which is essential for red blood cell production, needs to be consumed with food containing Vitamin C to improve absorption of plant sources of iron. Vegetarian sources of iron include dark green leafy vegetables, soy products and actually dark chocolate! Awesome right?! Don't think you can eat the sugary processed dark chocolate this has to be the “real” stuff.
Next, Vitamin B-12 is essential, but can be found in many fortified cereals, milks and supplements. A person with a vegan diet may be more at risk for Vitamin B-12 deficiency. Vitamin D is important for bone health because it works with calcium in our body. As a Michigander the winter months bring pale and pasty skin and little sunlight. Vitamin D with sunlight can be absorbed and contribute to some of our Vitamin D intake, but when sunlight is limited the risk for deficiency increases especially for those who avoid meat. Again fortified cereals, grains or dairy products can buffer the amounts and help maintain energy, strength and bone health. Finally, zinc, which is important for growth and wound healing is a common deficiency because animal meat has such high amounts of it, which makes a vegetarian have to consume larger amounts from other sources. Sufficient sources include whole grains, nuts, legumes, soy products and cheese.
The hardest part to vegetarian diets is the what you are choosing to replace meats in your diet. Meats are filling and are sustainable for a long amount of time and so overconsumption of carbohydrates is common. Also we see a trend of sugary and processed foods because these foods are tied to quick and process carbohydrate snacks. It is important to have balance between carbohydrates for energy and fats for satiety. Beans, rice, legumes, grains, edamame, and quinoa will fill you up with sustained energy. This is followed by fruits and vegetables in variety to get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. Some of my favorite vegetarian recipes include a spinach kale salad with chickpeas and hard boiled eggs or quinoa with black beans and salsa to add some spice. Playing around with tastes, grains and veggies will help avoid temptation towards to unfilling carbs.
A vegetarian diet has its positives and negatives and once again, I emphasize everything in moderation and with variety. A vegetarian diet can be very healthy when done right. Planning is key and knowing your foods helps broaden the scope for not missing the essentials.
Vidal,J. (2004, August 23). Meat-eaters soak up the world's water. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2004/aug/23/water.famine
Clark, N. (2014). Protein: Building and Repairing Muscles. In Nancy Clarks' Sports Nutrition Guidebook (5th ed., pp. 140-145). Newton, MA: Sports Nutrition Services.http://www.veganhealth.org/b12/vegansources