Friday, November 15, 2013

Life After Meat: 10 tips for being a healthy vegetarian or vegan

Both vegan and vegetarian diets have become increasingly common in the United States.

While it's difficult to find recent numbers that say how many Americans are vegetarians--I couldn't find any statistics more recent than 2005--there is anecdotal evidence. Almost every restaurant short of a steakhouse has at least one vegetarian entree. Even burger chains are offering veggie and vegan patties nowadays.

People have their different reasons for foregoing meat: health, cultural, ethical.

By the way, this blog isn't intended as a wave of the finger at omnivores. We don't intend to tell people that they shouldn't eat meat. We just want everybody (meat eaters and vegetarians alike) to be healthy.

To that end, we have partnered with the Lake County General Health District for a series of talks on healthy living. (You might remember a couple of months ago when LCGHD suggested a couple of food substitutions that could make your favorite recipe much healthier.)

The LCGHD visited the library again Wednesday, and this time they offered tips to make sure vegetarians and vegans still got all the nutrients they need.

After all, meat does contain nutrients a body needs; and, if you're not getting it from meat, then you need to get it somewhere else.
Cori Kitaura from the Lake County General Health District offers some tips on how vegetarians and vegans can still get all the nutrients they need on a meat-free diet. 
Here are 10 tips that all vegetarians should keep in mind. They come courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture.

1. Think about protein
It's not difficult to get the protein your body needs from plant foods. Peas, nuts and soy products all have it. But you still have to make a conscious effort to do it. (If you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can also get protein from dairy and eggs.)

2. Don't forget about calcium
You need calcium for healthy teeth and bones. It's easy for lacto vegetarians to get calcium from dairy products. Vegans will have to try a little harder. Some dark green leafy vegetables like bok choy, collard, turnip and mustard greens have calcium. So do calcium-fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice and soymilk.

3. Make simple changes
A lot of popular dishes have vegetarian variations: pasta primavera (or with marinara or pesto sauce,) veggie pizza, veggie lasagna, vegetable stir fry, bean burritos and more.

4. You don't have to give up on cookouts
Veggie and soy burgers still taste good from the grill. You can also barbecue soy hot dogs and marinated tofu or grill fruit and veggie kabobs. (Grilled pineapple is the truth.)

5. Include beans and peas
Beans and peas are nutritious and a good idea for everybody, but they are especially helpful for vegetarians. Try a vegetarian chili. You might be surprised by how much flavor a bowl can pack without the meat.

6. Try the veggie version
I'm not going to lie to you. Black bean burgers don't taste exactly like hamburgers. If you close your eyes, you can probably tell the difference between a soy dog and an Italian sausage. But you just might like a veggie burger or soy dog on its own merits. Give them a try. It will probably have less saturated fat and cholesterol than its meat-quivalent.

7. Don't be afraid to ask for some small changes at restaurants
Most restaurants are ready to accommodate vegetarians nowadays and an increasing number have an option for vegans. If you don't see anything on the menu that works, then don't be afraid to ask if they can substitute in something meatless. When in doubt, call ahead.

8. Go nuts
Nuts are also a great way to get protein and a nice accoutrement to most salads. (Go unsalted when you can. It's a lot healthier.)

9. Get your Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products. Vegetarians should look for fortified cereals and soy products to make the difference. Check the nutrition facts on fortified foods to make sure you are getting what you need.

10. Find a vegetarian pattern for you
Check out appendices eight and nine of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans at to help you find a sustainable vegetarian diet that works for you personally.

So eat good food. Be happy, be healthy and never be afraid to call your local library if you have any questions.

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