Sunday, January 4, 2015

Vegetarian diet : How to get the best nutrition

A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet the needs of people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and pregnant or breast-feeding women. The key is to be aware of your nutritional needs so that you plan a diet that meets them.

Types of vegetarian diets

 When people think about a vegetarian diet, they typically think about a diet that doesn't include meat, poultry or fish. But vegetarian diets vary in what foods they include and exclude:
  • Lacto-vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish, poultry and eggs, as well as foods that contain them. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt and butter, are included.
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian diets exclude meat, fish and poultry, but allow dairy products and eggs.
  • Ovo-vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, seafood and dairy products, but allow eggs.
  • Vegan diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, eggs and dairy products — and foods that contain these products.
Some people follow a semivegetarian diet — also called a flexitarian diet — which is primarily a plant-based diet but includes meat, dairy, eggs, poultry and fish on occasion or in small quantities.

Vegetarian diet pyramid

 A healthy diet takes planning, and a food pyramid can be a helpful tool. The vegetarian pyramid outlines food groups and food choices that, if eaten in the right quantities, form the foundation of a healthy vegetarian diet.

Getting adequate nutrition

 The key to a healthy vegetarian diet — like any diet — is to enjoy a variety of foods. No single food can provide all the nutrients your body needs. The more restrictive your diet is, the more challenging it can be to get all the nutrients you need. A vegan diet, for example, eliminates natural food sources of vitamin B-12, as well as milk products, which are good sources of calcium.
With a little planning, however, you can be sure that your diet includes everything your body needs. Pay special attention to the following nutrients:
  • Calcium helps build and maintain strong teeth and bones. Milk and dairy foods are highest in calcium. However, dark green vegetables, such as turnip and collard greens, kale and broccoli, are good plant sources when eaten in sufficient quantities. Calcium-enriched and fortified products, including juices, cereals, soy milk, soy yogurt and tofu, are other options.
  • Iodine is a component in thyroid hormones, which help regulate metabolism, growth and function of key organs. Vegans may not get enough iodine and be at risk of deficiency and possibly even a goiter. In addition, foods such as soybeans, cruciferous vegetables and sweet potatoes may promote a goiter. However, just 1/4 teaspoon of iodized salt provides a significant amount of iodine.
  • Iron is a crucial component of red blood cells. Dried beans and peas, lentils, enriched cereals, whole-grain products, dark leafy green vegetables and dried fruit are good sources of iron. Because iron isn't as easily absorbed from plant sources, the recommended intake of iron for vegetarians is almost double that recommended for nonvegetarians. To help your body absorb iron, eat foods rich in vitamin C, such as strawberries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, cabbage and broccoli, at the same time as you're eating iron-containing foods.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are important for heart health. Diets that do not include fish and eggs are generally low in active forms of omega-3 fatty acids. Canola oil, soy oil, walnuts, ground flaxseed and soybeans are good sources of essential fatty acids. However, because conversion of plant-based omega-3 to the types used by humans is inefficient, you may want to consider fortified products or supplements, or both.
  • Protein helps maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles and organs. Eggs and dairy products are good sources, and you don't need to eat large amounts to meet your protein needs. You can also get sufficient protein from plant-based foods if you eat a variety of them throughout the day. Plant sources include soy products and meat substitutes, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
  • Vitamin B-12 is necessary to produce red blood cells and prevent anemia. This vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products, so it can be difficult to get enough B-12 on a vegan diet. Vitamin B-12 deficiency may go undetected in people who eat a vegan diet. This is because the vegan diet is rich in a vitamin called folate, which may mask deficiency in vitamin B-12 until severe problems occur. For this reason, it's important for vegans to consider vitamin supplements, vitamin-enriched cereals and fortified soy products.
  • Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health. Vitamin D is added to cow's milk, some brands of soy and rice milk, and some cereals and margarines. Be sure to check food labels. If you don't eat enough fortified foods and have limited sun exposure, you may need a vitamin D supplement (one derived from plants).
  • Zinc is an essential component of many enzymes and plays a role in cell division and in formation of proteins. Like iron, zinc is not as easily absorbed from plant sources as it is from animal products. Cheese is a good option if you eat dairy products. Plant sources of zinc include whole grains, soy products, legumes, nuts and wheat germ.
If you need help creating a vegetarian diet that's right for you, talk with your doctor and a registered dietitian.

Getting started

If you're not following a vegetarian diet but you're thinking of trying it, here are some ideas to help you get started:
  • Ramp up. Each week increase the number of meatless meals you already enjoy, such as spaghetti with tomato sauce or vegetable stir-fry.
  • Learn to substitute. Take favorite recipes and try them without meat. For example, make vegetarian chili by leaving out the ground beef and adding an extra can of black beans. Or make fajitas using extra-firm tofu rather than chicken. You may be surprised to find that many dishes require only simple substitutions.
  • Branch out. Scan the Internet for vegetarian menus. Buy or borrow vegetarian cookbooks. Check out ethnic restaurants to sample new vegetarian cuisines. The more variety you bring to your vegetarian diet, the more likely you'll be to meet all your nutritional needs.

12 Frequently Asked Questions About the Vegetarian Diet

1. What does a “vegetarian diet” mean? The term “vegetarian” is really a misnomer, since vegetarians eat more than just vegetables. Vegetarian simply means a plant-based diet. There are several kinds of vegetarian diets, defined by what types of foods are consumed.
  • A strict vegetarian, a vegan, avoids all foods of animal origin, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, and eggs.
  • Lacto-vegetarians include dairy products in their diet. Lacto-ovo- vegetarians also eat dairy products and eggs.
  • Pesco-vegetarians eat fish, dairy products, and eggs along with plant foods. (We believe this is the healthiest diet for most people).
  • Finally, there are semi-vegetarians, who cheat a little and eat a little poultry along with fish, as well as dairy products and eggs. Most veggie lovers are not strict vegans.
2. Is the vegetarian diet automatically the healthiest way to eat?
Yes and no. Yes, a vegetarian diet is excellent for good health when you follow the general rules of a nutritionally-balanced diet and be sure you get the nutrients from vegetables that you miss by giving up animal foods. On the other hand, avoiding meat won’t keep you healthy if instead you consume a lot of high- fat, nutrient-empty, junk foods. Vegetarians must also have an otherwise healthy lifestyle to harvest the full benefits of their plant eating. It does little good to eat a tomato and sprout sandwich on whole wheat bread if you also plant yourself on the couch in front of the TV set and smoke cigarettes several hours a day. The vegetarian who piles on the chips soaked in hydrogenated oil, along with high-fat cheese, and artificially-sweetened or highly-sugared beverages would be better off nutritionally if he had less of a sweet tooth, cut down on fat, and indulged in a little animal flesh.
3. What’s so good about a vegetarian diet? 
Here are six reasons:
  1. Vegetarian cuisine is naturally low in saturated fats, and foods of plant origin contain little or no cholesterol.
  2. Plant foods are also much higher in fiber than animal foods.
  3. Many plant foods contain significant amounts of vital B-vitamins, and folic acid: and fruits and vegetables are powerful sources of phytochemicals – nutrients that help every organ of the body work better.
  4. Vegetarians tend to eat fewer calories, since grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, volume-for-volume, tend to be lower in calories than meat and poultry. Studies have shown that as long as their diet is balanced and nutritious, the people who consume fewer total daily calories live longer and healthier lives.
  5. Veggie lovers believe that foods from plant sources, which are lower on the food chain, are safer than animal foods, since pollutants tend to concentrate in fatty tissues. While raw fruits and vegetables can carry harmful bacteria and pesticide residues just like meat, you can remove many of these pollutants by washing the plant foods. Trimming the fat from meat or chicken is less effective. Meat, poultry, and seafood are also more frequent carriers of foodborne illnesses than plant sources.
  6. Environmental conservationists believe that having more plant-based diets is healthier for the planet. It takes less energy and less farmland to feed a vegetarian than it does to feed livestock.
4. Are vegetarians really healthier in the long-run?
Absolutely, positively, yes! Even though nutritionists seem to disagree on many topics, all agree that plant-eaters and fish-eaters tend to live longer and healthier lives than do animal eaters. In every way, the brocolli-munchers tend to be healthier than the beef-eaters:
  • Vegetarians have a lower incidence of cancer, especially colon, stomach, mouth, esophagus, lung, prostate, bladder, and breast cancers. The protection against intestinal cancers is probably due to the fiber in a plant-based diet. In fact, vegetarians have a lower incidence of nearly all intestinal diseases and discomforts, especially constipation and diverticulosis. The phytonutrients in plant foods, especially antioxidants, flavanoids, and carotenoids, may also contribute to protection against cancer.
  • Plant food is better for your heart, since it is low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and high in fiber. Vegetarians have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, namely heart attacks and stroke. A study of 25,000 Seventh-Day Adventists showed that these vegetarians had one-third the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than a comparable meat-eating population. Another study showed that death from cardiovascular disease was fifty percent less in vegetarians. These statistics may be the result of more than just diet; vegetarians tend to have healthier overall lifestyles.
  • Plant eaters are much less likely to get diabetes than animal eaters.
  • Vegetarians tend to see better.
  • An eye disease called macular degeneration, which is deterioration of the retina leading to blindness, occurs less frequently in vegetarians.
  • Vegetarians tend to be leaner than meat eaters, even those who skin their chicken and trim the fat off their steak; and, in general, leaner persons tend to be healthier. Being lean does not mean being skinny. It means having a low percentage of body fat. Muscular weight-lifters tend to be lean, though no one would call them skinny. You don’t have to “beef up” at the dinner table to make muscle. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines recommend eating more vegetables and grains and less meat, despite pressure from the politically-connected meat industry to promote meat.
5. Does it cost more or less to eat vegetarian?
Except for a few delicacies, pound-for-pound plant foods tend to be more of a bargain. Of course, iceberg lettuce, sugary ketchup, and french fries – the typical fast food fare – do not qualify as healthy, vegetarian foods, even though they are cheap.
6. I worry about getting enough iron. Aren’t vegetarian diets low in iron?Not necessarily. Some vegans we know seem so thin and pale that we want to treat them to a 16-ounce sirloin. Yet, studies have shown that vegetarians who eat a balanced diet don’t seem to have any more iron-deficiency anemia than meat eaters. Even though the iron in plant foods is not as well absorbed as the iron in animal foods, vegetarians usually eat a higher volume of iron-containing foods. Also, many plant foods naturally contain vitamin C, which aids the absorption of the iron. You don’t have to eat red meat to make red blood cells.
Milligrams of Iron Tofu (1/2 cup)7
Iron-fortified cereals (1 oz)4-8
Cream of wheat (1/2 cup, cooked)5
Blackstrap molasses (one tablespoon)3.5
Pumpkin seeds (two tablespoons)3
Lentils (1/2 cup, cooked) 3
Prune juice (8 oz)3
Chick peas (1/2 cup, canned)2
Swiss chard (1/2 cup)2
Dried fruits: apricots, peaches (3 oz)2
Beans: black, kidney (1/2 cup)2
Tomato paste (2 oz)2Figs (5)2
Jerusalem artichoke (1/2 cup, raw)2
The average adult woman needs around 15 milligrams of iron per day. Men and post-menopausal woman need around 10 milligrams. Children and pregnant and lactating women need more.
NUTRITIP: Iron Binders
Coffee and tea lovers beware. Chemicals known as “polyphenols” in coffee and tea can lessen the absorption of iron in plant foods by up to 70 percent. If you’re eating a vegetarian diet with marginal amounts of iron, avoid drinking coffee or tea within an hour-and-a-half of eating iron-rich foods.
7. Do vegetarian diets contain enough calcium?
Yes. Dairy products are still the easiest available source of calcium, there are plenty of foods that are calcium-rich that don’t come from a cow. Since so many foods are now fortified with calcium, even vegans are likely to get their daily requirement of this important mineral.
8. Can vegetarian diets lead to some nutritional deficiencies?
Only strict vegans are at risk of deficiencies in some nutrients. Lacto-ovo vegetarians and pesco vegetarians (who also eat eggs and dairy products) are unlikely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies, as long as they have a balanced diet, since there are no essential nutrients in meat that are not also found in eggs, dairy, and fish. Yet these are the nutrients at risk: Vitamin B-12 deficiency (which can lead to loss of peripheral nerve function) is of some concern for vegans, since animal foods are still the best source of vitamin B-12. Plant foods do not naturally contain B- 12. Soy foods, such as some forms of tempeh, may contain vitamin B-12, but soy B-12 is not as biologically active as the vitamin B-12 in animal foods. Check the B-12 content of soy products on the package label. Vegans need to consume foods fortified with vitamin B-12, such as tempeh, cereals, or brewer’s yeast, or take B-12 supplements.
Don’t worry about suddenly developing a vitamin B-12 deficiency after becoming a vegan. The liver stores so much B-12 that it would take years to become deficient in this vitamin. However, vegan infants and children do not have such rich stores and are prone to vitamin B-12 deficiency unless they get supplements.
Zinc deficiency is another possibility for vegans, yet a deficiency of this mineral can be made up by eating grains, wheatgerm, seeds, soy foods, dairy products, and multi-mineral supplements.
Red Tomato Makes Red blood Cells
Ounce for ounce, tomato paste contains four times the amount of iron as tomato sauce.
9. Do vegetarians get enough protein?
It’s a nutritional myth that you have to eat muscle to make muscle. Vegetarians who eat fish, dairy products, and/or eggs get plenty of protein, and even a strict vegan can get enough protein by eating enough grains and legumes, which provide a feeling of fullness, along with the necessary quantity and quality of protein. There’s no need to worry about vegetarian children getting enough protein. Each day, for example, preteens can get all the protein they need from an egg, a peanut butter sandwich, a couple glasses of milk, a cup of yogurt, or a black bean burrito.
Completing the Protein Puzzle
It used to be thought that different kinds of plant foods had to be eaten together at the same meal in order to get a “complete protein” (meaning all the essential amino acids; see protein terms). This turned being a vegetarian into a nutritional jigsaw puzzle. Which pieces fit together? Nutritionists have now decided that the body is smart enough to combine proteins on its own. The body takes in all the plant proteins consumed in a day and puts the amino acid puzzle together to build the complete proteins that it needs.
10. Do vegetarians get enough fat?
If you eat eggs, dairy products, and/or fish, you get enough fat. Plant-based food is thought to be deficient in fats, but actually the richest sources of the fats that are good for you – unsaturated fats and essential fatty acids – are plant foods, such as nuts, seeds, and oils. There is no essential fatty acid that can only be found in animal-based foods. Yet, strict vegans must guard against deficiency of some fatty acids, especially DHA. Because vegetables provide no pre-formed DHA, some vegans take supplements of DHA, since some people are not able to convert the essential fatty acid ALA in food to DHA in their bodies. Some vegans may have low blood levels of DHA. Seafood is the only food source of pre-formed DHA, which is another reason we believe a seafood plus vegetarian diet is the most healthy for most people.
Best Meatless Sub – Tofu
Tofu can be disguised in sauces, pasta, chili, and stirfrys, because it is close in texture to meat and a rich source of nearly all the nutrients that vegetarian diets need, such as calcium, iron, and zinc (though not vitamin B-12.). Since the calcium content of tofu varies considerably, depending on how it was manufactured, check the package label.
11. As a confirmed meat lover, how can I learn to like vegetable dishes?
Don’t vegetarians eat weird food?You’ll be amazed at the variety of foods – some familiar and some new – that can be a part of a vegetarian diet. Ethnic food is a wonderful source of flavorful, appealing vegetarian dishes. Try Middle Eastern, Greek, or Asian restaurants to learn about tasty vegetarian cooking. Spices accent the flavor and the mixture of vegetables and grains adds fullness and crunchiness that can win over even the most confirmed meat eater. Even Italian restaurants have meatless pasta and other dishes on the menu. There are also many excellent vegetarian cookbooks available at the library or bookstore. You may find that you’ve missed a lot as a meatlover.
If you are trying to wean your family off meat as a main course, do so gradually by preparing dishes that emphasize vegetables and grains, but still include small amounts of beef or poultry. The meat becomes an accent, not the centerpiece of the meal. Or, make meatless dishes that look like they might have meat in them but really don’t, such as:
  • stir-fried vegetables with tofu cubes
  • tofu in spaghetti sauce over pasta
  • meatless chili with texturized vegetable protein (a “meaty” processed soy product)
  • lasagna with eggplant and chunks of soy “sausage”
  • garden burgers instead of beef burgers
  • black bean burritos (black beans have an almost meaty texture)
  • vegetable pizza with minced mushrooms, basil, tomato paste, garlic, and cheese
The Spice of Veggie Life
A variety of seasonings can give veggie dishes more taste appeal, including basil, tomato sauce, garlic, cumin, cayenne, coriander, Dijon mustard, onion, parsley, cilantro, leeks, and shallots.
12. Is it safe to feed children a vegetarian diet?
Yes, you can raise a healthy vegetarian. It’s relatively easy if your child’s diet includes eggs, fish, and dairy products. Raising a little vegan requires more planning and nutritional know-how to insure that the child gets enough calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B-12, and some of the other B-vitamins. Yes, children can grow normally on a diet of grains, legumes, and greens, yet it’s a bit risky. A wise parent should seek periodic advice from a nutritionist experienced in vegan diets and practice these precautions:
  • Protein is not a problem, children can get all the proteins they need from plant foods only; especially whole grains, soy products, legumes, and nuts.
  • Calcium may present a challenge, since traditional plant sources of calcium are not big favorites with children. (Good luck getting your child to eat kale and collards.) But many foods today are fortified with calcium, including calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice, so a vegan child can get enough calcium without relying on supplements. Fortified foods, such as cereals and soy beverages, can also be a dietary source of vitamin B-12.
  • Getting enough calories may be another challenge in vegan diets. Veggies have a lot of nutrients per calorie, but not a lot of calories per cup. Tiny tummies fill up faster on lots of fiber, but fewer calories. One way to overcome this problem is to encourage your child to graze on small, frequent feedings that include higher-calorie foods, such as nutbutter sandwiches, California avocados, nuts and seeds (for children over four years of age who can eat them safely), pasta, dried fruits, and smoothies.
  • Vegetarian children should get the nutrients they need from foods rather than pills, since pills don’t provide calories, and the nutrients in foods, through the process of synergy, are better for the body. The growth of some vegan children may appear to be slower because vegetarian children, like vegetarian adults, tend to be leaner. A child’s position on the growth chart is not an accurate measure of the state of health. Actually, where a child fits on the chart is influenced more by genes than by diet.
Maintaining a vegetarian diet can be more challenging during periods in a person’s life when there are extra nutritional needs, such as pregnancy, lactation, childhood, and adolescence. Once the person reaches adulthood, nutritional deficiencies are less of a concern. Even if your children do not remain vegetarians for life, by getting their little bodies accustomed to the taste and feel of a vegetarian diet you have programmed them with a healthy eating pattern that will benefit them throughout life. Vegetarian children, because they get used to the comfortable, after-dinner feeling of a vegetarian meal, tend to shun, or at least don’t overdose on junk meats, such as hot dogs and fast-food burgers. Yet, don’t expect your child to go meatless all his life. Give your children a vegetarian start and, as they grow away from your nest, let them decide what eating pattern they will follow. They may find reasons, such as concern for cruelty to animals, that keep them on the veggie tract. Model your excitement about eating a wide variety of plant-based foods, serve them tastefully, and the rest is up to your child.

Why Go Vegetarian or Vegan?

People are drawn to vegetarianism by all sorts of motives. Some of us want to live longer, healthier lives or do our part to reduce pollution. Others have made the switch because we want to preserve Earth’’s natural resources or because we’’ve always loved animals and are ethically opposed to eating them.
Thanks to an abundance of scientific research that demonstrates the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, even the federal government recommends that we consume most of our calories from grain products, vegetables and fruits. And no wonder: An estimated 70 percent of all diseases, including one-third of all cancers, are related to diet. A vegetarian diet reduces the risk for chronic degenerative diseases such as obesity, coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and certain types of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, stomach, lung and esophageal cancer.
Why go veg? Chew on these reasons:
You’ll ward off disease. Vegetarian diets are more healthful than the average American diet, particularly in preventing, treating or reversing heart disease and reducing the risk of cancer. A low-fat vegetarian diet is the single most effective way to stop the progression of coronary artery disease or prevent it entirely. Cardiovascular disease kills 1 million Americans annually and is the leading cause of death in the United States. But the mortality rate for cardiovascular disease is lower in vegetarians than in nonvegetarians, says Joel Fuhrman, MD, author of Eat to Live: The Revolutionary Formula for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss. A vegetarian diet is inherently healthful because vegetarians consume less animal fat and cholesterol (vegans consume no animal fat or cholesterol) and instead consume more fiber and more antioxidant-rich produce——another great reason to listen to Mom and eat your veggies!
You’ll keep your weight down. The standard American diet—high in saturated fats and processed foods and low in plant-based foods and complex carbohydrates——is making us fat and killing us slowly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a division of the CDC, the National Center for Health Statistics, 64 percent of adults and 15 percent of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight and are at risk of weight-related ailments including heart disease, stroke and diabetes. A study conducted from 1986 to 1992 by Dean Ornish, MD, president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, found that overweight people who followed a low-fat, vegetarian diet lost an average of 24 pounds in the first year and kept off that weight 5 years later. They lost the weight without counting calories or carbs and without measuring portions or feeling hungry.
You’ll live longer. If you switch from the standard American diet to a vegetarian diet, you can add about 13 healthy years to your life, says Michael F. Roizen, MD, author of The RealAge Diet: Make Yourself Younger with What You Eat. ”People who consume saturated, four-legged fat have a shorter life span and more disability at the end of their lives. Animal products clog your arteries, zap your energy and slow down your immune system. Meat eaters also experience accelerated cognitive and sexual dysfunction at a younger age.”
Want more proof of longevity? Residents of Okinawa, Japan, have the longest life expectancy of any Japanese and likely the longest life expectancy of anyone in the world, according to a 30-year study of more than 600 Okinawan centenarians. Their secret: a low-calorie diet of unrefined complex carbohydrates, fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, and soy.
You’ll build strong bones. When there isn’’t enough calcium in the bloodstream, our bodies will leach it from existing bone. The metabolic result is that our skeletons will become porous and lose strength over time. Most health care practitioners recommend that we increase our intake of calcium the way nature intended——through foods. Foods also supply other nutrients such as phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin D that are necessary for the body to absorb and use calcium.
People who are mildly lactose-intolerant can often enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactose-free milk. But if you avoid dairy altogether, you can still get a healthful dose of calcium from dry beans, tofu, soymilk and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens.
You’ll reduce your risk of food-borne illnesses. The CDC reports that food-borne illnesses of all kinds account for 76 million illnesses a year, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths in the United States. According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), foods rich in protein such as meat, poultry, fish and seafood are frequently involved in food-borne illness outbreaks.
You’ll ease the symptoms of menopause. Many foods contain nutrients beneficial to perimenopausal and menopausal women. Certain foods are rich in phytoestrogens, the plant-based chemical compounds that mimic the behavior of estrogen. Since phytoestrogens can increase and decrease estrogen and progesterone levels, maintaining a balance of them in your diet helps ensure a more comfortable passage through menopause. Soy is by far the most abundant natural source of phytoestrogens, but these compounds also can be found in hundreds of other foods such as apples, beets, cherries, dates, garlic, olives, plums, raspberries, squash and yams. Because menopause is also associated with weight gain and a slowed metabolism, a low-fat, high-fiber vegetarian diet can help ward off extra pounds.
You’ll have more energy. Good nutrition generates more usable energy——energy to keep pace with the kids, tackle that home improvement project or have better sex more often, Michael F. Roizen, MD, says in The RealAge Diet. Too much fat in your bloodstream means that arteries won’’t open properly and that your muscles won’’t get enough oxygen. The result? You feel zapped. Balanced vegetarian diets are naturally free of cholesterol-laden, artery-clogging animal products that physically slow us down and keep us hitting the snooze button morning after morning. And because whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables are so high in complex carbohydrates, they supply the body with plenty of energizing fuel.
You’ll be more ‘regular.’ Eating a lot of vegetables necessarily means consuming more fiber, which pushes waste out of the body. Meat contains no fiber. People who eat lower on the food chain tend to have fewer instances of constipation, hemorrhoids and diverticulitis.
You’ll help reduce pollution. Some people become vegetarians after realizing the devastation that the meat industry is having on the environment. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), chemical and animal waste runoff from factory farms is responsible for more than 173,000 miles of polluted rivers and streams. Runoff from farmlands is one of the greatest threats to water quality today. Agricultural activities that cause pollution include confined animal facilities, plowing, pesticide spraying, irrigation, fertilizing and harvesting.
You’ll avoid toxic chemicals. The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of the pesticide residue in the typical American diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products. Fish, in particular, contain carcinogens (PCBs, DDT) and heavy metals (mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium) that can’’t be removed through cooking or freezing. Meat and dairy products can also be laced with steroids and hormones, so be sure to read the labels on the dairy products you purchase.
You’ll help reduce famine. About 70 percent of all grain produced in the United States is fed to animals raised for slaughter. The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the American population. “If all the grain currently fed to livestock were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” says David Pimentel, professor of ecology at Cornell University. If the grain were exported, it would boost the US trade balance by $80 billion a year.
You’ll spare animals. Many vegetarians give up meat because of their concern for animals. Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year. And, unlike the farms of yesteryear where animals roamed freely, today most animals are factory farmed: —crammed into cages where they can barely move and fed a diet tainted with pesticides and antibiotics. These animals spend their entire lives in crates or stalls so small that they can’’t even turn around. Farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law——in fact, the majority of state anticruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection.
You’ll save money. Meat accounts for 10 percent of Americans’’ food spending. Eating vegetables, grains and fruits in place of the 200 pounds of beef, chicken and fish each nonvegetarian eats annually would cut individual food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.
Your dinner plate will be full of color. Disease-fighting phytochemicals give fruits and vegetables their rich, varied hues. They come in two main classes: carotenoids and anthocyanins. All rich yellow and orange fruits and vegetables——carrots, oranges, sweet potatoes, mangoes, pumpkins, corn—owe their color to carotenoids. Leafy green vegetables also are rich in carotenoids but get their green color from chlorophyll. Red, blue and purple fruits and vegetables——plums, cherries, red bell peppers——contain anthocyanins. Cooking by color is a good way to ensure you’re eating a variety of naturally occurring substances that boost immunity and prevent a range of illnesses.
It’’s a breeze. It’’s almost effortless these days to find great-tasting and good-for-you vegetarian foods, whether you’re strolling the aisles of your local supermarket or walking down the street at lunchtime. If you need inspiration in the kitchen, look no further than the internet, your favorite bookseller or your local vegetarian society’’s newsletter for culinary tips and great recipes. And if you’’re eating out, almost any ethnic restaurant will offer vegetarian selections. In a hurry? Most fast food and fast casual restaurants now include healthful and inventive salads, sandwiches and entrees on their menus. So rather than asking yourself why go vegetarian, the real question is: Why haven’’t you gone vegetarian?

The Vegetarian Athlete Diet

It’s time to put an end to the idea that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet and running well are mutually exclusive.

I became a much stronger runner almost immediately after switching to a vegetarian diet.  But you don’t have to take my word for it: There are plenty of world-class athletes (and not just endurance runners) that don’t eat meat.

Running icon Bart Yasso is a vegetarian.  Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time, is vegan.  (He now holds the American record of 165 miles run in 24 hours!)  Brendan Brazier is a vegan pro Ironman triathlete.  Robert Cheeke even makes the vegan diet work for bodybuilding.

The Plant-Based Athlete Diet

A vegetarian diet for endurance athletes is really not all that different from a normal (healthy) diet, with the exception, of course, of the meat.  If you’re switching from eating McDonald’s every day, then sure, it’s going to take some getting used to.  But if you eat lots of nutritious, whole foods as it is, there really aren’t all that many adjustments you need to make to go vegetarian.

You can take it as far as you want, and some vegetarian and vegan athletes tend toward raw and gluten-free diets, citing even greater energy gains.  There are differing degrees of health in even vegetarian diets, and mine still includes a lot of delicious cooked foods that “normal” people eat.

The Philosophy: Healthy but Accessible

There are some fantastic books out there that espouse what I consider to be an “ideal” diet, from the standpoint of athletic performance.  Vegan, high-raw, alkaline.  (See Brendan Brazier’s Thrive, for example.)

Eating that way is great.  But it’s tough.  Lots of strange ingredients, low-temperature cooking, and very little starchy goodness for the pasta lovers among us.  For meat-eaters looking to make a change (without causing their families to rebel), the chasm between this type of diet and their current one is huge.

I’d like to offer an alternative, a diet that is vegetarian (and can easily be made vegan), that’s substantial enough to support endurance training, and that’s delicious and accessible to new vegetarians.

I’ll be the first to admit you can do better nutritionally, but I believe that it’s more important to have a diet you’ll stick to first.  Once you’re used to eating vegetarian or vegan (and training on that diet), that’s when it’s time to consider taking it to the next level.

But Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Ah yes, every vegetarian athlete’s favorite question.

The answer is that protein is in all kinds of foods besides meat, but generally in lower quantities. It takes some effort to make sure you get some protein in every meal, but it’s not that hard.  While it is possible to eat a high-protein vegetarian diet, if your goal is to get the amount of protein recommended by many traditional diets for athletes, though, you’ll have a tough time doing it. 

Having heard that many endurance athletes thrive on diets with lower amounts of protein than is traditionally recommended, I took a chance on it, and I’ve never felt better than I do now.  I’ll never go back to those crazy 1-gram-of-protein-per-pound-of-body-weight rules again.

If your vegetarian diet is pizza and potato chips, then you won’t get enough protein.  But if you eat a wide variety of foods and make smart choices to include some protein at every meal and ensure that you’re getting a balanced amino acid profile, chances are you’ll feel better than ever.  (See the vegetarian protein page for some numbers and amino acid information.)

Staple Foods

This list represents some common foods that will help you meet the needs of the vegetarian diet for endurance athletes.  Certainly there are many more foods one could include; the idea here is to list those that can be found in common grocery stores and whose tastes aren’t too foreign.
  • All kinds of vegetables, cooked and raw
  • Vegetable sprouts
  • All kinds of fruits, usually raw
  • Beans and other legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread, pitas, and bagels
  • Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
  • Hummus
  • Nuts, nut milks, nut butters: almonds, cashews, walnuts, almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter
  • Oils: grapeseed, olive, canola, coconut, flaxseed (unheated), hemp (unheated)
  • Agave nectar (as workout fuel, not an all-purpose sweetener)
  • Protein powder (I like this hemp, rice, pea, and chia blend)
  • Soy products (limited): tofu, tempeh
  • Tea and coffee (limited)
  • Cheese (limited, non-vegan)
  • Eggs (limited, non-vegan)

Caloric Breakdown

I don’t count calories, or even carbohydrate-protein-fat ratios, when I eat.  I don’t believe that there’s a need to do this.  But in general, such ratios can be met with a variety of food sources.  In other words, take your favorite endurance diet numbers and make them work without meat.  Endurance diets tend to be high in carbohydrate anyway, making a vegetarian or vegan approach especially well-suited.

Though I don’t count calories closely, I try to eyeball my caloric breakdown and stay fairly close to the proportions laid out by Lance Armstrong’s former coach, Chris Carmichael, in his book Food for Fitness.  Carmichael’s recommendations, though varying based on training period, are roughly:
  • 65% carbohydrate
  • 13% protein
  • 22% fat
If you aim to hit these numbers with a vegetarian diet, you should be just fine.  And you’ll find that it’s not all that hard to do.

How Much Should You Eat?

About as much as it takes to feel comfortably full, but not stuffed.  As endurance athletes, we have the luxury of eating more calories than more sedentary people.  We need more calories, in fact.

If your goal is weight loss, or if you train more or less than I do, your needs will be different than mine.  Figure out what size meals work for you.

Eating Around Workouts

How you eat before, during, and after your workouts is especially important on any diet.  For lots of guidelines and recipes for unprocessed, vegetarian workout foods, see the natural running fuel page. 

So there you have it: A workable vegetarian diet for endurance athletes.  Not that much to it, is there?  Vegetarians and vegans, I’m interested to know how this compares to your diet.  Any major differences?

5 Risky Diet Mistakes Vegetarians Make ... And How You Can Avoid Them

Most people's thoughts surrounding "risky behavior" are focused on actions related to drugs, driving and sex. But the foods you eat every day can be risky, too -- especially if you choose to take on a new dietary regimen without doing enough research first. How risky could food be, you ask? Well, if you consider that nutrient deficiencies can cause a whole host of negative side effects that can range from weight gain to decline in brain function and beyond, the answer is "very risky." If you're like many Americans, your new "trend" may be to go meat-free.

The health benefits associated with a healthy and well-balanced vegetarian (or vegan) lifestyle are undeniable. Countless studies have shown that a well-planned, nutritious, plant-based diet is associated with a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and stroke, as well as with longer life expectancy.

 The key phrase that isn't emphasized enough is "a well-planned, nutritious, plant-based diet." People automatically associate a vegetarian or vegan diet with health, but in reality, eliminating meat from the diet is not a ticket to good health. In fact, it's just as easy to be an unhealthy vegetarian as it is to be an unhealthy omnivore. The real benefits are seen when meat and/or dairy are replaced with more fruits, vegetables, beans, whole soy, and nutritiously-dense foods.

  You Get Your Diet Information From Unreliable Sources

If you decided to go vegetarian after reading a magazine story with your favorite celebrity endorsing a vegetarian lifestyle, you definitely want to keep reading. Although they probably appeared very skinny and healthy, that does not mean they are getting the proper nutrients that the body requires for optimal functioning. Vitamin deficiencies can easily occur in a poorly-planned vegetarian diet, particularly vitamin B12. A recent study showed that B12 deficiency is fairly prevalent among the vegetarian population. A long-term deficiency can ultimately cause irreversible nerve damage. Avoiding deficiencies may be easy as doing your homework. Search for a reliable source when you're looking for diet advice, or consult your physician or registered dietitian.

  You Are a Snack-aholic

I frequently come across vegetarian-junkies -- those who eliminate meat from their diet and fill up on chips, pretzels, and cookies due to the fact that they don't know what else to eat. The problem is, processed snacks don't add any bang to your nutritional buck. It's just another form of worthless fuel that may pack on the pounds (since it won't fill you up) and put you at risk for chronic health conditions. If you enjoy snacking often, try to tone down the chips and dip and select more nutrient-rich foods like carrots and peanut butter, air-popped popcorn, whole-grain crackers with hummus, or almonds with raisins.

Your Diet Looks the Same Every Day

Imagine waking up every morning and putting on the same outfit. While your outfit of choice may be great for a night out on the town, it probably is not as appropriate in a job interview. Bottom line: One outfit can't meet all of your personal and professional needs. You probably know where I'm going here -- your diet, in this scenario, is the outfit. The harm in eating the same old, same old means you'll be missing out on a variety of essential vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, which puts you at risk for nutrient deficiencies or going back to your meat-eating days. Getting variety in your diet is key when it comes to staying on a healthy track. Focus on getting adequate protein (nuts, seeds, legumes, tofu), calcium (dark and leafy greens, kale, broccoli), iron (dried legumes and lentils, soybeans), vitamin B12 (fortified cereals, soy milk, fatty fish), vitamin D (midday sunlight and supplements) and plenty of deeply hued fruits and vegetables.

You Live in a Protein Bubble

There are two misconceptions when it comes to protein. The first, that you can only get "real" protein from steak and chicken, and the second, that you need lots and lots of it to stay healthy. If you're living in a protein bubble, I'm about to pop it. Although your diet no longer consists of protein from sources that moo and cluck, the protein from foods that make no sound at all can be just as good. Good sources of plant based protein include lentils, whole soy, peanut butter, quinoa, black or red kidney beans, chickpeas and peas. Further, you need much less of it than you think. Most healthy individuals need about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. You can calculate this with a few easy steps:
  • Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get weight in kilograms
  • Multiply that number by 0.8 to 1 for your range
  • Ex: If you weigh 125 pounds, your protein needs would be approximately 45-57 grams per day.
You Think You're Immune from Food-Borne Illness

While many individuals adopt a vegetarian diet for the health benefits, others choose to take the veg-route after one too many nights sleeping next to the toilet bowl. Unfortunately, living a plant-based life doesn't eliminate your exposure to nasty bacteria from food. In fact, a report from the CDC indicates that almost as many food-borne illnesses are derived from plants as from meat. Although food-borne illness outbreaks occur almost weekly, only the most widespread make the news. An example would be the outbreak of Listeria monocytogenes in cantaloupe that resulted in 33 deaths and almost 150 illnesses back in 2011. Bottom line, food safety practices should be a key component for anyone (especially children and individuals with compromised immune systems) who wants to focus on truly "clean" eating.

Plants are fabulous, and they don't always get the attention they deserve. By avoiding these pitfalls and making plants center stage in your diet, you may just be adding years to your life and more importantly, life to your years!

How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian

A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat, including beef, chicken, pork, or fish and may or may not choose to eat other animal products such as eggs, milk, gelatin, or honey.

There are different types of vegetarians:

Flexitarian: Flexitarians are also known as semi–vegetarians. They avoid animal products most of the time, but will occasionally eat fish or meat.

Pesci–vegetarian: Pesci–vegetarians eat fish, dairy, and eggs but don’t eat meat or poultry.

Lacto–ovo vegetarian: Lacto–ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat, but do eat eggs and dairy products (ovo means eggs and lacto means dairy). This is the most common type of vegetarian diet.

Lacto vegetarian: Lacto vegetarians don’t eat meat or eggs, but do eat dairy products.

Ovo vegetarian: Ovo vegetarians don’t eat meat or dairy, but do eat eggs.

Vegan: Vegans avoid eating any animal products. They don’t eat any meat products, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, or gelatin. Many vegans (and some other types of vegetarians) choose not to wear clothes containing animal products, such as leather, wool, or silk, or wear makeup that may have been tested on animals.

Why do people decide to be vegetarian?

People decide to become a vegetarian for many reasons. Some common motivators include the environment, animal rights, and health. You may have different reasons. Deciding to become vegetarian is an individual decision.

Are vegetarian diets healthy?

Vegetarian diets can be very healthy and may even lower the risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. However, eating a balanced diet when you are vegetarian usually requires a little extra attention. Because vegetarians take out certain foods from their diets, they often need to work to add in foods that will provide the nutrients found in meat products. By eating a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, soy products, and whole grains, vegetarians can get nutrients from non–meat sources. Vegetarians, especially vegans, need to pay attention getting enough iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega–3 fatty acids.

Carbohydrates provide energy and vitamins for your brain and muscles. Grain products, especially whole grains, are very important because they provide the carbohydrate, fiber, and many vitamins that your body needs. Vegetarians should be sure to eat a variety of whole grains such as whole wheat bread, pasta and tortillas, brown rice, bulgur, and quinoa.

Fat is needed by your body to stay healthy. Fat provides essential fatty acids and helps your body absorb certain vitamins. Excellent sources of healthy fats include nuts or nut butters, oils, and avocados.

Protein is needed for your muscles to grow. Vegetarians have to be careful not to just cut meat out of their diet, but to replace the meat with high–protein vegetarian foods. Nuts, nut butters (including peanut butter, almond butter, and sun butter), soy foods (such as tofu, soy milk, and edamame), legumes (such as beans, peas, hummus, and lentils), dairy foods (such as milk, yogurt, and cheese), and eggs all provide protein.

Zinc is important for growth and your immune system. Zinc is found in whole grains (refined grains such as bread or pasta made from white flour or white rice are not sources of zinc), fortified breakfast cereals, dairy products, soy foods, nuts, and legumes.

Iron is important for your blood and is found in beans, seeds, soybeans, tofu, fortified breakfast cereals, dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, and dried fruit such as apricots, figs, or prunes. Plant–based iron is different from the iron found in meat and it’s not absorbed as well by your body. Adding vitamin C helps your body to absorb iron, so it’s important to eat foods rich in vitamin C (such as citrus fruits) and certain vegetables (such as tomatoes) as well.

Calcium is required to build strong bones. Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. You can also find plant sources of calcium such as broccoli, butternut squash, collard greens, black beans, white beans, soybeans, and tofu. Plant sources of calcium have less calcium per serving than dairy products and fortified foods. Some foods aren’t naturally high in calcium but have calcium added to them; these foods are called calcium–fortified. Some products such as soy milk, enriched rice milk, orange juices, cereals, and cereal bars are calcium fortified. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label to find out which brands are highest in calcium.

Vitamin D is needed to absorb the calcium you eat and is necessary for strong bones. You can get vitamin D from the foods you eat, such as fortified dairy or soy milk products, fortified orange juice, egg yolks, or your body can make it from the sun. If you live in a place that gets very little sunshine, especially during the winter months, it’s harder to get enough vitamin D. To figure out if you live in one of these places, look at a map of the United States and imagine a line running between San Francisco and Philadelphia. If you live north of this line, it’s necessary for you (during the winter) to get your daily intake of vitamin D through food or supplements.

Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, so vegans must eat food fortified with B12. Examples include cow’s milk, eggs, nutritional yeast flakes, fortified soy milk, and fortified cereals. Your health care provider or nutritionist may also recommend supplemental vitamin B12 to make sure your body gets enough.

Omega–3 Fatty Acids are essential fatty acids. Vegans or vegetarians who don’t eat eggs must include other sources. You can find omega–3 fatty acids in walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, soybeans, or tofu.

Iodine is a mineral that helps your body’s metabolism. Plant–based diets can be low in iodine, so vegans should try to use iodized salt in recipes that call for salt. Seaweed (the type that wraps up sushi) is also a good source of iodine.

How can I convince my parents that being a vegetarian is healthy and right for me?

Your parents may be worried that you are choosing to follow a vegetarian diet without knowing how to do it in a healthy way. If you can explain your plans to stay healthy and your reasons for wanting to become a vegetarian, your parents may be more likely to understand. You still might need to give them time to accept your new diet. Read vegetarian cookbooks or nutritional information with your parents and offer to help with the shopping and cooking. Essential foods for a vegetarian kitchen.

What are some healthy meals that I can prepare?

Refer to our sample menu suggestions to get ideas about incorporating enough protein and other nutrients into your vegetarian diet. You can also look at vegetarian cookbooks or websites for more ideas.

Vegetarian Diets for Children

In recent years vegetarianism has grown in popularity. School-age children be­come more conscious that animals must be killed in order to obtain meat, and that knowledge may prompt them to choose a vegetarian diet. Vegetarian di­ets tend to be high in fiber and polyunsaturated fat, and low in cholesterol and calories.

If your child is following a vegetarian diet, you need to guard against nutri­tional deficiencies. There are various degrees of vegetarianism, and the strict­ness of the diet will determine whether your youngster is vulnerable to nutritional shortcomings.

Following are the common categories of vegetarians. Although none eat meat, poultry, or fish, there are other areas in which they vary:
  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarians consume eggs, dairy products, and plant foods.
  • Lacto-vegetarians eat dairy products and plant foods but not eggs.
  • Vegans eat only plant foods, no eggs or dairy products.
Children can be well nourished on all three types of vegetarian diet, but nu­tritional balance is very difficult to achieve if dairy products and eggs are com­pletely eliminated. Vegetarians sometimes consume insufficient amounts of calcium and vitamin D if they remove milk products from their diet.
Also, because of the lack of meat products, vegetarians sometimes have an inadequate iron intake. They may also consume insufficient amounts of vita­min B-12, zinc, and other minerals. If their caloric intake is also extremely low, this could cause a delay in normal growth and weight gain.

Vegetarians may also lack adequate protein sources. As a result, you need to ensure that your child receives a good balance of essential amino acids. As a general guideline, his protein intake should come from more than one source, combining cereal products (wheat, rice) with legumes (dry beans, soybeans, peas), for example; when eaten together, they provide a higher quality mixture of amino acids than if either is consumed alone.

Other planning may be necessary. To ensure adequate levels of vitamin B-12, you might serve your child commercially prepared foods fortified with this vitamin. While calcium is present in some vegetables, your child may still need a calcium supplement if he does not consume milk and other dairy prod­ucts. Alternative sources of vitamin D might also be advisable if there is no milk in the diet. Your pediatrician may recommend iron supplements, too, al­though your child can improve his absorption of the iron in vegetables by drinking citrus juice at mealtime.

A Zen macrobiotic diet usually presents many more problems than a vege­tarian diet. With a macrobiotic program, important foods (animal products, vegetables, and fruit) are severely restricted in stages. This diet is generally not recommended for children. Youngsters who adhere to it may experience seri­ous nutritional deficiencies that can impair growth and lead to anemia and other severe complications.