From Meatless Monday campaigns to veggie burgers at fast
food joints, the popularity of vegetarianism is increasing in this country.
Today there are more than 19 different varieties of vegetarianism in existence,
and more than 7 million people follow some form of vegetarian eating in this
country alone. Whether your motivations are inspired by ethical, religious, or health
concerns, you can “do a body good” by restricting your intake of meat and meat
products. Read on for some compelling reasons why this is so.
Why delete the meat? Chew on these reasons
According to a recent position paper of the Academy of
Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), not only is a vegetarian diet nutritionally
adequate, but it is also associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases and
cancers, and with an increase in longevity. Specifically, says the AND, a well-balanced
vegetarian diet is healthier than the standard American diet (SAD). Features of
a vegetarian diet that heighten health benefits include lower intakes of
saturated fat and cholesterol, coupled with higher intakes of fruits,
vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals.
Building a better
How can you be assured that your style of vegetarian eating is
healthy? Actually, it’s quite simple. I offer the same advice to you that I
give to my vegetarian and carnivorous clients: It’s all about balance.
In general, build your plate around low-fat, high-fiber,
nutrient-rich choices such as beans, lentils, quinoa, barley, and non-GMO
(genetically modified organism) soybeans. At least half the plate should be filled
with an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Pick a “rainbow” of fruit and
vegetable colors. We call this “cooking by color.” Specifically, the deep red,
orange, green, and purple fruits and vegetables are rich in anthocyanins and
carotenoids, which boost immunity and prevent a range of illnesses. One popular
adaptation is the USDA’s Chose
My Plate campaign, parts of which have been modified with vegetarians in
How to get enough protein
One question I often encounter in my practice is, How can I get enough protein when following
a vegetarian diet? Protein is an important nutrient that is used by the
body for growth and maintenance.
Luckily for those of us who don’t eat animal products, nearly
all vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds contain someprotein. Sources of protein for vegetarians and vegans
include beans, nuts, nut butters, peas, and soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie
burgers, and soymilk).
How much is enough?
The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is about 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. This
a typical 180-pound vegetarian
man needs about 72 grams (g) of protein a day, whereas
a 140-pound, vegetarian woman
must consume about 56 g a day.
Use this sample list of foods that contain plant-based
proteins to help you assemble a multiplicity of protein-packed vegetarian meals.
1 cup lentils (cooked)
1 cup split peas (cooked)
1 cup kidney beans (cooked)
1 cup chickpeas (cooked)
1 cup Triticale (cooked)
4 oz. tofu (cooked)
1 cup barley (cooked)
1 cup oats (cooked)
1 cup quinoa (cooked)
1 cup brown rice (cooked)
1/4 cup nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios)
1/4 cup chia seeds
For lacto-ovo vegetarians: the milks and the eggs
Soy- and dairy-milk products, as well as eggs, are good
protein sources too. A cup of low-fat soy or dairy milk provides 7 to 8 g of
protein and a large egg provides 7 g of protein.
1 cup of low-fat soy milk
1 cup of low-fat dairy milk
1 large egg
Must we combine the “incomplete” amino acids found in plant proteins?
At one time it was thought that the vegetable proteins found
in seeds, beans, and grains, in order to be efficiently used by the body, had
to be artfully combined and eaten together during the same meal so their
protein patterns would more closely match those of animal proteins. We now know
that we don’t need to make vegetable proteins mimic the composition of animal
proteins and that individual plant foods contain all the amino acids required
by humans. We’ve further learned, as well, that the liver keeps a reserve of
these amino acids and combines them as our bodies need them, thus saving us
from the nuisance of combining different vegetable protein sources in the same