Eating Right The Vegetarian Way

By: DEBORAH AUGUSTIN

Edited by: KELSEY CRUZ

People adopt vegetarian lifestyles for various reasons. Whether it’s the health benefits it provides or the ethical concerns it respects, vegetarian diets are all over restaurant menus and celebrity kitchens. In fact, I recently tried a vegetarian diet myself, and although I started eating meat again, I now try to eat less meat and am looking forward to trying different vegetarian fare this summer. Before my vegetarian stint, I thought one of the main challenges of this lifestyle is maintaining a nutritionally-balanced diet after years of relying on meat for protein and iron.

According to an article by the Harvard School of Public Health, protein is an important part of any balanced diet and should take up a quarter of your plate at each meal. Many vegetarians enjoy protein in plant-based foods like beans, lentils, and soy products.

“But there are so many more plant-based foods that offer a pretty hefty amount of protein,” says Leanne Vogel, holistic nutritionist and Healthful Pursuit blogger. “Items like wild rice, hemp seed and hemp products, chia seed, nuts, bee pollen, spirulina, and quinoa are just some of the proteins vegetarians can rely on to replace the animal-based proteins of their previous diet. It’s also worth mentioning that some vegetarians choose to eat eggs and dairy as well, which are both chockfull of protein.”

Soy-based products, such as tofu, have also become increasingly popular as a meat substitute for vegetarians. However, there is some controversy as to whether these foods do more harm than good.

“The soy debate is a lengthy topic!” Vogel said. “Basically, soy contains a mix of phytoestrogens – plant estrogens – which may stimulate or inhibit the cells of our estrogen receptors. Just because soy contains these phytoestrogens does not mean that consuming whole soy is going to stimulate or inhibit the cells. Consumption of one to two servings of healthy, soy-based whole foods a day is going to do more good than bad and will give you about 35-40mg of isoflavones a day, which is enough to give you the benefits of soy without overdoing it. The less processed, the better!”

Lisa Turner, a long-time vegetarian who shares recipes on her blog, also agrees that soy products don’t have to be a staple in your diet.

“The mistake I made when I first became a vegetarian was to rely on pasta, unfermented soy products such as tofu, and rice,” Turner said. “ I did eat vegetables, but it is essential that you eat a variety of legumes and grains and pairing them together certainly ensures a balanced nutritional diet.”

Although protein is easily incorporated into a vegetarian diet, you also have to be cognizant of your iron intake to avoid anemia. According to the Center for Disease Control, the recommended daily allowance for iron in women between the ages of 19-50 is 18 milligrams per day.

One way you can increase your iron intake before you even prepare your food is through your cookware.

“One of my favorite ways [to increase iron consumption] is by cooking with cast iron pans,” Vogel said. “When foods that are high in vitamin C – like tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts, greens, and broccoli – are cooked in a cast iron pan, the iron is leached out of the cookware into your food!”

To keep your vegetarian menu fresh, Vogel also suggests pairing foods rich in iron with foods rich in vitamin-C. For your next meal, add delicious dish combos like broccoli and red peppers or oatmeal and strawberries to your plate.

During my vegetarian diet, not only was my plate brimming with protein and iron, I never felt limited with my choices. I tried foods from around the world and challenged myself to explore new dishes.

“I am encouraged to explore [as a vegetarian], and it is just wonderful to enjoy a variety of foods from around the world,” said Turner. “My specialty is Indian cooking, but I am a versatile cook and also enjoy Middle Eastern, African, Asian, Mediterranean and Mexican cuisines.”

Not quite ready for a vegetarian lifestyle? Try it for a week or join the ‘Meatless Monday’ movement and go meatless once a week. If you order a vegetarian dish at your favorite restaurant or add more plant-based dishes to your plate, you will quickly see why green is in.

 

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Categories: Your Lifestyle, Your Nutrition

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  1. Eating Right The Vegetarian Way | Get Fit Get Life | Why Go Vegetarian - June 20, 2012

    […] is the original post: Eating Right The Vegetarian Way | Get Fit Get Life ← A Chat With the Filmmaker Behind “Veggie Propaganda” | GoodVeg […]

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