Whatever image comes to mind when you think of a “typical” vegetarian, don’t let the stereotypes fool you. If you have ever wanted to dabble in the vegetarian lifestyle, summer is the perfect time to take the plunge…or the challenge, whichever way you see it.
If you are struggling to lose weight, have medical issues that stem from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, or you just need a nudge to get on the pathway to health, adding more fruits/vegetables to your diet may be just what the doctor, or dietitian, ordered.According to the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, the average amount of fruit and vegetable consumption for Americans is 1.1 and 1.6 servings respectively. The recommended number of servings of fruit for adults is 4 and for vegetables is 5 servings, with each serving being ½ cup. So that means, most Americans are only getting ½ cup of fruits or veggies throughout an entire day, I hope you are not one of these average Americans. You are missing out.
Vegetarian diets are associated with a lower risk of many chronic diseases that would put a damper on a relatively easy going lifestyle. Ailments such as heart disease, Type II diabetes, and obesity can all take away your A game and put you on the fast track to maintaining a daily pill box. Typically, vegetarians have improved glucose control, lower oxidative stress, and lower blood pressure. If we break that down, vegetarians are less likely to get Type II diabetes, less likely to suffer from chronic inflammation, and are less likely to be on blood pressure medication. This is assuming that our “typical” vegetarian does not sit around in his spare time munching on milk chocolate and potato chips, both of which can be considered vegetarian foods.
A good vegetarian lifestyle is not just about eating your fair share of plants. You need to round out that healthy diet with whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, and beans. Maintaining a balanced vegetarian diet, which can include fortified foods, will ensure that all nutrient needs are being met.
Two nutrients that are of most concern in a vegetarian diet are the following:
Vitamin B-12: Only found in animal products, this handy little vitamin is responsible for nerve function and red blood cell formation. Not getting enough? Expect to be lethargic, have tingling of hands, and possibly experience depression. Children can suffer long term neurological damage if a deficiency is not corrected. Vegetarian sources of B-12 include dairy products, eggs, fortified cereals, and nutritional yeast. Word to the wise: Get enough B-12.
Iron: Surprising, but vegetarians have a comparable rate of iron deficiency anemia as non-vegetarians, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The difference is absorption. Vegetarians usually absorb less iron, thus putting them at a higher risk for deficiency. Plant based sources of iron include beans, lentils, raisins, and fortified cereals. Pairing a plant based source of iron with a source of vitamin C (orange, strawberries, tomatoes) will help the body hold on to the iron and the energy will soar through you.
Before you take on the meatless lifestyle, you have to decide which type of vegetarian you want to be. This decision may not only lie on nutrition reasons, but ethical as well.
Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: No meat or fish, but eggs and dairy are allowed. If you need a place to start and you want to go meat free, this is your category.
Lacto Vegetarian: If you can live your life without eggs, but the thought of living without cheese leaves you dreaming about queso, then you can feel free to land here. No meat, fish or eggs, but dairy is a-ok
Ovo Vegetarian: If the fromage isn’t your thing, but you aren’t quite creative enough to pair up your proteins with ease, you may need to keep the eggs in your diet. You can settle your vegetarian needs here. No dairy, meat, or fish, but eggs are allowed.
Vegan: If you are the full-throttle type, then veganism is what you are after. Do your nutrition homework, or you could end up with some less than pleasant nutrient deficiencies. Vegans restrict all foods of animal origin, to include honey and gelatin.
When you can’t live without some animal flesh, but you’d still like to be a part of the meat free conversation, these words will bump up your nutrition knowledge. Please take note that prestigious vegetarian organizations do not recognize the following as vegetarian diets – you’ve been warned.
Pescetarian: A plant based diet that includes fish, but no meat.
Flexitarian (Semi-vegetarian): The rules here are a little lax and undefined. This includes a primarily plant based diet with occasional meat or fish.
You are imagining your summer grilling season void of juicy hamburgers and the meat scraps we like to call hot dogs, and the anxiety is kicking in. Fear not, grill master, if the thought of nixing meat completely sends you running toward the butcher shop, try going meat free a few times a week. There is no shame in starting slow.
A famous quote reads, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. Let this be your guiding principle when choosing what to eat. Savor summer’s most flavorful gift at the peak of perfection and let your creativity, imagination, and taste buds guide your diet this summer.