Last week my blog focused on why I became a vegetarian and this week I want to focus on how to be a healthy vegetarian.
For me giving up meat was actually quite easy. After reading Diet for A New America by John Robbins and learning about the treatment of animals intended for human consumption, I stopped eating meat fairly quickly. Now, just because I stopped eating meat it didn’t mean that I was going to be any healthier. There are many studies and it is broadly accepted in the medical and alternative health communities that, key point – done properly, a vegetarian diet is very healthy and in fact, beneficial for the environment, animal welfare, disease prevention and longevity.
So if simply cutting out meat doesn’t make you healthier, what does?
When I asked myself this question and I think about what I would tell a novice vegetarian I realized I would tell this person the same thing I would tell anyone wanting to eat a healthy diet: eat whole foods as close to their original form as Mother Nature created them; eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and grains; eliminate processed, poor quality foods, sugar and wheat; eat organic when possible and think of NUTRIENTS (how what you are eating will fuel and nourish your body)!
The one piece of advice I absolutely feel every person and especially vegetarians need to heed is to be cautious about soy. Scientists and medical experts do not agree on the benefits or hazards of soy. In fact, I don’t think there is one food that has so much controversy surrounding it. Here are some of the issues:
- soy is high in isoflavones which are chemically similar to estrogens and can act like estrogen in the body so women with estrogen-receptive (ER) breast cancer may be advised to avoid it;
- soy is a part of a group of food known as goitrogens which can promote the development of goiters and slow thyroid function;
- estimates as high as 90% or more of soy crops in North America are genetically modified (GM) and since there are no long term human studies on the effects of GM foods we are essentially the ‘lab rats’;
- people often test sensitive or intolerant to soy and it is one of the leading foods that cause digestive issues.
Having listed the negative effects of soy there are also many, many reputable studies and high profile doctors and scientists who promote a diet which includes soy. Organic soy in a fermented form (tempeh, miso, natto, tamari and soy sauce) or in a whole form edamame beans or tofu can be a healthy addition to any diet. The soybean has a very high protein content, its amino acid make-up is comparable to meat and it is a low fat, good source of fiber, minerals and complex carbohydrates. There are an equal amount of studies which support the health benefits of soy for its anti-cancer effects.
Did I mention soy is controversial?
I suggest if you have any health issues and are concerned about soy then speak to your primary health care provider.
My reason for forewarning you about soy is because many vegetarians rely heavily on soy and even many meat-eaters rely on this bean. Soy is everywhere: protein bars, smoothies, soy oil is used in many processed foods and often vegetarians are having processed soy a couple of times a day. Many of these foods are made from soy protein isolates which means the soy bean has been chemically treated to isolate their protein. This makes foods with soy protein isolate (SPI) a processed, denatured food that should be avoided.
You must be thinking, what can a vegetarian eat? Here are my top choices:
- Vegetables – this is a no brainer I know, but if you don’t like vegetables whether you’re a carnivore, a vegan or a vegetarian you’re going to have to find a way. Visit our website (www.holihealth.ca) and look at our recipes for inspiration. We only share recipes we use on a regular basis. They’re tried, tested and tasty. One solution to getting more vegetables in your diet is to add them to smoothies, soups, sauces – anywhere you can hide them and not taste them. Kale and cucumber are almost benign in a smoothie, onions can be blended and added to soups and sauces, chop vegetables into the tiniest pieces you can and even the pickiest eater can usually tolerate the little tiny bites of veg. There are so many ways to cook vegetables that can completely change the taste of them. Experiment with roasting, grilling, stir frying or steaming.
- Add fruit, but don’t overdo it. Fruit is a perfect food, but it can be high in sugar so veggies first and then fruit.
- Beans are a super food. They’re high in fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and they’re low in fat. They’re versatile and can be added to soups, rice dishes, salads and sauces or just eaten as beans. Some of our favourite recipes are: Creamy Tomato Soup (uses white beans to make soup creamy); Crock Pot Beans (wonderful over a baked potato or with a side of salad); your favourite hummus recipe or store bought version (great snack and use veggie sticks for dipping); Chili can be made with just beans and veggies and no one will miss the meat; add black beans and veggie to cooked brown rice or quinoa; make a quick black bean dip by blending equal parts black beans and salsa use it as a sauce, or a dip or use as a spread for a wrap or a quesadilla. These are just some suggestions to make it clear how versatile beans are.
- Quinoa is another super food. It’s a seed that is high fibre, and a good source magnesium, calcium, potassium, and iron and it’s low fat. It is very versatile and can be used in any dish where rice is called for. It also makes a great salad when mixed with veggies and your favourite (healthy) dressing and beans. Try Joanne’s Quinoa Salad for one version of a tasty quinoa salad.
- Include gluten free pasta in your menu plans, such as, our favourite GoGo Quinoa Organic Pasta. Cook this tasty pasta and cover it with a rich tomato and vegetable sauce or a light pesto and serve with a salad or use it for your favourite pasta salad.
- Organic Free Range Eggs can be another staple in a vegetarian diet. They can be made into western sandwiches/wraps, quiches, egg salad, omelet or a variety of other dishes. If your budget allows or better still if you can get to a local organic farm and purchase organic free range eggs you’ll have a much more nutritious meal. I suggest these eggs not only because the chickens are treated humanely, but organic eggs also have a higher nutrient content and if the chickens have been fed a flaxseed diet you will also be getting a nice helping of Omega 3’s. (note – even at $8 a dozen at 2 eggs per meal + veggies = $2.50 per person – very reasonable price do a delicious nutritious meal).
- Smoothies are a perfect way to start the day. As mentioned above you can add veggies to your smoothie, you can include a protein powder, omega oil, fruit, ground flax seed (fibre and omega 3), almond or coconut milk, pea or broccoli shoots, and yogurt just to name a few. Create your own or try some of our holihealth Smoothies
- Eat a breakfast of champions. Here are some of my favourites: always include a daily smoothie and then maybe a Pumpkin Chia Seed Muffins; gluten free toast or scone with almond butter and cinnamon; eggs, veggies and gluten free toast; fruit salad or full fat organic Greek Yogurt with Mum’s Original hemp, chia or granola and cinnamon.
I hope the above information is helpful. If you’re looking for more assistance to start a vegetarian diet or you are a vegetarian who is struggling with eating a healthy diet please email me a firstname.lastname@example.org and I can help you with your questions and concerns. I’d also like to hear from you about your favourite vegetarian foods and recipes.
Here are a few links/articles I found helpful in seeking answers about soy:
At holihealth we specialize in holistic wellness. We offer interactive and informative presentations and workshops, as well as, group or individual nutrition and lifestyle consulting. Please visit www.holihealth.ca to learn more or contact us at email@example.com