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.
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.
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.
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.
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?