Vegetarian 101

When I became a vegetarian about three years ago I did it for a few reasons. Knowing the way animals are treated and the process of how meat gets to your plate made me uncomfortable. In addition I have genetic high cholesterol and even though I eat healthy and exercise, it is harder to keep it under control because it’s genetic. Combine that with the impact on the environment, my slowing metabolism and menopause and for me it was a no brainer. Being a vegetarian is a very healthy lifestyle if you make good choices. All that being said, you can be an unhealthy vegetarian. The definition for vegetarianism is “a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish or fowl but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, etc.” In addition, if you do not eat any food derived from animals, dairy as eggs or cheeses then you are considered a vegan. My diet is filled with what is mentioned above…fruits, grains, nuts, seeds and lots of vegetables. I also eat fish but chose it very carefully due to mercury levels and the problems with our oceans. However, you can still be a vegetarian if you eat lots of white bread and rice, cookies, cakes and diet soda. While you are not eating any meat you are also not getting the nutrients and minerals that you need to keep your immune system functionally optimally. Naturally it’s always better to get what you need from food first. Sometimes, regardless of our diets, we don’t get the daily amount of nutrients needed so it’s good to supplement. My recommendations below are the guidelines, as well as nutrients you may need to supplement with if you are a vegetarian or are transitioning to become one.

Protein – You can certainly get the 15-20% of calories you need each day from protein by eating vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. An excellent source of protein is quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”). It is a grain that your can find in most health food stores. Not only is quinoa high in protein, but the protein it supplies is complete protein, meaning that it includes all nine essential amino acids.

Fat –  The word fat terrorizes most people.  However, essential fatty acids are very important to prevent inflammation in the body. Flax, soybeans and walnuts are great sources, as well as fish such as wild Alaskan salmon and sardines. You can also take a good quality omega 3 supplement which is a good idea whether you are a vegetarian or not.

Vitamin D – We hear so much about Vitamin D these days. You can get what you need from the sun 15 minutes a day however there are many companies such as Bluebonnet and New Chapter that make very good quality supplements. It is great for the immune system and fighting off cancer.

B12 – B12 is important for metabolism, energy and brain function. Since it is only found in animal foods, you need to supplement or find foods such as cereal that it is added to.

Zinc – Zinc is essential for the immune system. It is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains and wild rice but most vegetarians do not get enough.

Iron – How often have you heard that you need to eat your spinach?…it’s true! Leafy green veggies have iron. You can also get it from fresh fruit, whole grains, nuts, seeds, tofu and beans. It is also essential for the red blood cells, immunity and energy.

I never judge anyone’s choice on whether they eat meat or not. While one person may benefit from being a carnivore, it may not suite someone else. There is vegan, raw, flexetarian, macrobiotic, pescetarian to name a few. I have known people who do not do well on vegetarian or vegan diets and feel that meat and poultry gives them more energy. A close friend of mine said that she was vegan for two years and was sick all the time. She started eating meat and felt much healthier. I also know others who became vegan or vegetarian that would never eat meat again because they feel so much better, have lost weight and lowered their cholesterol. Hence me theory on nutrition is different strokes for different folks.

If you do choose to eat meat be conscious and do your homework. You should know where the meat is coming from. Meat should be from organic grass fed animals that were humanely raised. It may cost more but it’s worth the price to your health. Animals are injected with dangerous antibiotics and hormones that over time can have serious negative affects on your health.

Bon Appetit!