Vegetarian Diets Explained – What Are the Advantages and What You Need to Know to Make It Work for You

The trend for following a plant-based diet has boomed recently. Just look at all the options for plant-based burgers on menus these day. What does this trend mean and why is this significant? No matter the type of vegetarian diet you follow, or even if you are a veterinarian or not, we can all enjoy and benefit from incorporating a variety of fruits and vegetables into our diets. Plants are powerful and they provide many known and as yet to be fully discovered and understood benefits for our health. Some of these known benefits include the high fibre content, which is important for digestive health and function. There are many studies on the effects of vegetarian diets and decreased risk for various types of cancer. Part of this is that Fruits and vegetables are natural sources of antioxidants. Antioxidants are important for many reasons in the maintenance of good health and prevention of many chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables are also lower in calories and fat than other foods. Part of this is because of their high water content which means they will also help with keeping you hydrated which is so important for health, well-being and feeling your best.

Besides health, there are many other reasons individuals choose a vegetarian diet. Some of these include food preferences, religious beliefs and environmental concerns. Plant-based diets are being promoted for how they can support and reduce the effects of climate change, as the energy requirements for growing and supporting animals is much higher than it is for plants, and eating more plants can help us with sustainability measures.

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Something that is not very well or often known is that there are different types of vegetarian diets. When most people say they are vegetarian they are following a “lacto-ovo” vegetarian diet so they do not eat any animal meat, but they still eat dairy products and eggs. A semi-vegetarian or “flexitarian” will eat dairy, eggs and sometimes eat meat, poultry and fish. A “pescatarian” is a vegetarian who eats eggs, dairy and fish but no other meats. And a “vegan” is a vegetarian who does not eat any kind of animal foods (i.e. no eggs, dairy and honey). There are lots of options and approaches to following a vegetarian lifestyle to make it work.

Regardless of the reason or motivation, fruits and vegetables are an essential part of every diet and learning to incorporate a balanced variety of them into your meals will do much to support your overall health, vitality and longevity.

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There are some important considerations if you follow a vegetarian diet include. Otherwise, there is a potential for nutrient deficiencies. With the proper planning, however, these concerns can be addressed.

Protein is often a concern for people following a vegetarian diet, especially those who are physically active and looking to improve strength and stamina. What you need to know about is called protein complimentation. While meat offers the advantage of having all the essential amino acids in one food, it is not  impossible to achieve this with plants. With plant-based foods, which don’t often have all the essential amino acids in the same food, you just  have to make sure you eat a variety of different foods which combined together make a complete protein. For instance, grains have an amino acid that beans and legumes are lacking. A misconception is that the two foods have to be eaten at the same time in the same meal. Provided we eat them within the same day your body will break down the proteins into their amino acids and properly use them in your body. Some plan-based foods already come with all the essential amino acids. These special foods include quinoa and edamame or soy products.

On a vegetarian diet there are more than enough ways to meet your body’s requirements for protein. Ensuring that there is variety in protein sources with foods that collectively cover all the essential amino acids is the key.

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Some vitamins and minerals that are more easily available to the body from animal products. They are important for the health and functioning of the body, so it is important to know what they are and make sure you are incorporating them into your diet from plant-based sources as much as possible.

Iron is a particularly important mineral. We need iron for production of haemoglobin and the transportation of oxygen in our blood. Heme iron is the iron available from animal products while non-heme iron is the iron available from plant sources. Heme iron is naturally easier for the body to utilize. A quick tip is to combine the food containing iron with a food containing vitamin C because Vitamin C helps with iron absorption. Another tip is not to eat a food containing iron with a food containing calcium or with coffee or tea. Give a few hours between the two as calcium and coffee/tea interfere with iron absorption. Plant-based sources of iron include; fortified breakfast cereals, soy-based foods, dried prunes and apricots, beans and legumes, pumpkin seeds, eggs and fortified whole-grain breads.

Another important nutrient that it’s challenging to get enough of on a vegetarian diet is Vitamin B12, which is naturally found in animal products. A deficiency in Vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and muscle weakness. There are some fortified cereals, soy beverages or some fortified veggie mats or you may require a supplement to ensure adequate Vitamin B12.

Calcium is a mineral found mainly in milk and dairy products. Some vegetarians who consume dairy products may not need to worry about the amount of calcium in their diets. Vegan vegetarians will want to look for plant-based sources of calcium such as edamame, almonds, calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages (i.e. Almond Milk), spinach, collar greens, and more.

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Awareness is key to developing healthy eating habits and eating to empower you. Whether you feel like following a vegetarian diet or maybe having vegetarian meals more often there is tremendous power in plants to nourish and sustain us. Following a vegetarian diet definitely does not have to be blah! Vegetables are versatile and the options and combinations of foods is infinite.

How will you harness the power of plants?

 

Fall Back to Food Basics

Fall is such a vibrant season where we can take the most time to appreciate, connect with and embrace nature. It’s a beautiful season but also a very busy time of year and a season that seems to fly by just like the leaves falling from the trees. September, the start of Fall, is when new schedules commence can be one of the most hectic times of the year and then October comes and goes before we realize it! When life becomes more demanding and overwhelming it can become harder to make good decisions, especially when it comes to our food choices.

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Are you trying to keep up to the craziness of the modern lifestyle? Getting back to basics with your food choices can help diminish some of the stress you might be feeling in your life. Furthermore, simplifying your nutrition can make it easier to achieve and maintain healthy eating habits.

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Here are some tips to help you get back to basics with your nutrition:

Wherever possible choose fresh, whole, un-processed or minimally-processed foods. How close does what you are eating compare to what is found in nature? For instance, compare a whole apple to apple sauce to apple juice. There are more nutritional advantages to be found with foods that are more basic than those that have gone through a series of processing steps, as nutrients are lost with the more processing that occurs.
While grocery shopping, remember to read the nutrition facts panel and ingredient list before buying a product. The fewer the ingredients and more basic the ingredients are the better!

Cooking from scratch is one of the best ways to get back to basics. It’s also a great way to enjoy all the amazing produce of the harvest season. You don’t have to be fancy with what you make. Sometimes the simplest dishes can be the most delicious! And the fewer the ingredients the easier it is to prepare. Find a couple of go to recipes that you are confident in their nutrition quality and you are confident in making in no time at all. Keep them simple and always have the staple ingredients on hand. That way when life gets super-busy or overwhelming you have a fall-back plan to keep you on track with your healthy habits.

Batch cooking is the process of making a recipe in a large quantity so that you have several portions left-over, which can be saved for subsequent meals. Cooking this way accelerates meal planning and preparation making it easier to follow healthy eating habits. Many great Fall recipes like chili, soups and casseroles can easily be doubled for batch cooking. Freeze leftovers whenever possible so you have some meals on hand you can defrost and reheat as quick healthy meals for busy times.

So, how are you fueling your Fall?

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The Almighty Olive – Historical Significance, Nutritional Benefits and Top 10 Tips to Enjoy Olives

I was on a tour of the Acropolis when I heard the story of how Athens got its name. My tour guide Alexia told us this story at a specific point at the foot of an olive tree. According to legend both the Goddess Athena and God Poseidon both desired to be the patron of the city and named the deity of the city. So, they had a contest to see who should have control of Athens and its surrounding area and gave the people of Athens the choice of who they wanted as their patron by choosing based on the gift that Poseidon and Athena had to give them. Legend has it the contest happened on Acropolis Hill. Poseidon threw his trident at the earth and from it sprouted a stream of water. However, as Poseidon was the god of the sea, it was saltwater, which was not judge particularly useful. Athena stuck the ground with her spear and from the spot grew an olive tree.

Which do you think the people chose? It was the olive that won favour, since they judged it much more useful, and chose Athena as their patron and deity. In the first place it was a versatile food more useful and which provided a good source of energy and nutrients. Besides olive oil was a valuable commodity for cooking and for other uses. The olive trees also provided wood with many uses for building or firewood. The olive was fundamental to the Athenian economy and still is to Greek culture.

This story shows just how powerful and important food can be.

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Nutritional Benefits of Olives

What makes olives an empowering eat? Olives are a signature part of a Mediterranean Diet. One of the olive or olive oils claims to fame is the mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs). Fats and oils are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet. MUFAs are a healthy fat and it is encouraged that you try within the balance of fats to replace saturated fats and trans fats with MUFAs wherever possible. MUFAs are a healthy fat and have improved blood cholesterol levels. Olives and olive oil are sources of Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant properties. Olives are low in carbohydrates, making them a good food choice for anyone following a Keto Diet. Though they come with many nutrient benefits olives should be enjoyed in moderation given their high fat content and that they are relatively high in sodium.

Olive oil contains phytochemicals with antioxidant properties which may help protect against breast cancer, clogged arteries and high blood pressure.

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Consumer Tip:

Olives have many nutritional benefits, but they do have a high sodium content. Before using olives try to rinse and drain them to wash away the salty brine, they are preserved in. This will decrease their sodium content.

Did you Know?

The colour of an olive is because of it’s ripeness? Green olives are just less ripe than black olives which are fully ripe?

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Top 10 Ways to Use Olives and Olive Oil

  1. Eat an olive all on its own as a snack.
  2. Sliced olives are a great addition to salads (Greek Salad of course!), sandwiches and wraps.
  3. Include olives as part of an antipasto tray.
  4. Add olives into a pasta dish to give it a Mediterranean flavour.
  5. Use olive oil as your main cooking oil – provided you do not cook at high temperatures.
  6. Choose olive oil as the oil in salad dressings and marinades.
  7. Have you ever tried olive bread? There are many different types of breads where olives are actually baked into the bread itself i.e. Focaccia.
  8. Incorporate olives into pilafs with rice or quinoa as a base and variety of vegetables.
  9. Try olive tapenade. Top fish or meat with an olive tapenade. An olive tapenade also makes a great spread for bread and you can serve this as an appetizer.
  10. Have some hummus! Olive oil is one of the staple ingredients in hummus and you can double it up by adding actual olives into your hummus and as a topping. They are a great ingredient to add a unique and distinctive flavour variation.

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Top 10 Tips for Summer Hydration

Summer is here–and it’s not even half-way over! There are so many fun things to do outside and ways to enjoy the sunshine and beautiful weather. However, it’s important to remember that during exercise the increased temperatures put additional stresses on our bodies from the activity being performed. We might not have control of the weather and the humidity, but we have control over how we take care of our bodies and fuel ourselves for optimum physical performance. Dehydration can suck our energy and can become very dangerous to our health and that’s not something you want to spoil your summer when you can avoid it!

Here are some quick facts and tips on how you can stay hydrated and beat the heat so you can have a safe, happy and healthy rest of your summer!

1. Be familiar with the signs and symptoms of dehydration (i.e. fatigue, dizziness, dark urine, headache, dry skin, confusion). Remember to respect how you are feeling and rest or take a break when you feel you need to!

2. Remember to drink during the day and not just when you are exercising. Even sitting in the sun on a hot day can cause fluid losses meaning you need to drink more water.

3. Did you know? Foods you eat contribute to keeping your body hydrated. Those with a higher water content like fruits and vegetables are the best choices.

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Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay

 

4. Drink before, during and after activities. A good way to gauge how much you should drink after your workout is to weigh yourself before and after. For every pound (0.5 kg) of weight lost you should drink about 500-700mL of fluids to re-hydrate after your workout.

5. Do you just forget to drink water? What reminders can you set for yourself to take a few sips of water–even before you get thirsty? If you are driving, you could set an interval of kilometers to drive and take a few sips every time you hit that interval (i.e. every 50 km). Or you could program a reminder into your phone to remind you throughout the day. Or wear a bracelet or elastic band on your wrist–something that will give you a visual cue to remind you to drink more often.

6. If you find it difficult to stay hydrated because you don’t like the “plain taste” of water you can make it more interesting by adding a touch of lemon juice or some fresh fruit and berries to your water bottle using a fruit infuser. This will give your drink a natural flavour boost.

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Image by silviarita from Pixabay

7. Dehydration starts when we lose as little as 2% of our body weight in water and can make you feel tired and irritable. It can start before you know it so don’t wait until you feel thirsty to have a drink!

8. Consider a sports drink if you are exercising at a high intensity and for >60 min; if you are exercising in extreme heat and humid conditions; and if you have over one exercise session in a day. They design sports drinks to replenish fluid losses and balance electrolyte losses and give your body extra energy which can be helpful when you are working hard and sweating a lot. For low intensity activities, your body probably won’t need this extra support so water will be just fine for keeping you hydrated

9. Get a water bottle that you like and makes you feel good. When your water bottle is inspiring and motivating, it will create a positive association for you to remember to drink more often.

10. How accessible are your fluid sources? Keeping a water bottle with you at all times is a good practice to adopt. Sometimes it is easier to have a sip when your water bottle has a straw vs. having a top you have to unscrew, which takes more effort to get out. Find out what is the easiest option for you to make having a drink the absolute most accessible.

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Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Spring-Cleaning for Your Nutrition with 5 “Detox” Strategies

Spring is a great time to refresh and renew. Are you feeling the need for some “Spring Cleaning” inside as well as outside? Why not clean-up your nutrition so as to start fresh for the summer?

While detox diets and juice cleanses are still questionable for their benefits, and not meant for everyone, there are other, less intimidating and drastic ways to improve your nutrition and health habits.

If you’re feeling the urge to take action and are looking for some ideas check out these 5 easy tips that don’t require massive changes or restrictions to your diet.

Try one action a day for a week for a quick “5 Day Challenge”.

 

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1.Hit up your hydration. Water is a pure and natural detoxifier. Important to overall health and well-being, water helps flush your body and your cells of toxins. Water makes up over 60% of our body’s ass. You can survive for weeks without food but only a few days without water. At minimum, women 19 years and older need around 2.2 L of water and men 19 years and older need around 3.0 L of water per day (Dietitians of Canada). However, in hot and humid environments or when exercising vigorously fluid needs can drastically increase so as to replace what is lost by sweating. Are you hitting your target? Set a goal and go for it! Try to drink consistently throughout the day to spread out your water intake. A reminder set every hour to take a sip or two can help.

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2. Give technology a break at the dinner table. How often do you scroll on your phone or watch TV while eating? Tune out distractions and tune into your food by turning off your phone and leaving it in another room and switching off any other screens before you sit down. You will be more present and enjoy your meal even more.

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3.Ditch the negative food talk. We all have a choice in what we eat. No food is inherently “good” or “bad” but some foods are definitely more nutrient dense than others. Instead of blaming yourself and saying “I shouldn’t eat that” and feeding yourself negativity, be grateful for the food and whatever nutrients and energy it provides your body and make a commitment to make healthier choices for your next meal or two.

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4.Cut down on caffeine. When craving an energy boost it is tempting to reach for coffee or energy drinks which contain caffeine. However, caffeine is a stimulant and thus a synthetic energy boost. It is recommended that we limit caffeine consumption to 400mg/day. That’s about three 8-oz cups of coffee (Dietitians of Canada). If you are in the habit of downing a lot of caffeinated products try to decrease your usual consumption by 1 drink a day.

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5.Clean out your pantry and fridge. When was the last time you did a good cleaning of your cupboards? Do you know everything you have on hand? Has anything expired? Doing a thorough cleaning of where you keep your food is not only important for food safety but also immensely satisfying emotionally. With a better organized food space you will be able to find what you need more quickly and it will be easier, more inviting and motivating to cook and eat healthy.