Was it too much turkey over the holiday or not enough, since the previously-frozen- sausage-spaghetti-sauce on the holiday’s eve did not agree with me? Or is it more sweet-filled occasions with birthdays and holidays abounding? Whatever the reason, ‘tis the season to hunker down, minimize meat and bump up the veggies.
Turkey and pumpkin cheesecake aside, I recently attended one of the Lunch & Lead series provided by the University of Idaho in which some of my questions about vegetarianism were answered. I’ve summarized some of what I learned below, in case you have some questions about this diet choice, too.
Are there different types of vegetarian diets?
There may be more types of vegetarian diets than you think! The most commonly used terms are:
A semi-vegetarian or flexatarian eats a vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat.
A pescatarian avoids all meats and animal flesh with the exception of fish.
A lacto-ovo-vegetarian does not eat beef, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish or animal flesh of any kind, but do eat eggs and dairy products.
A lacto-vegetarian does not eat eggs, but does eat dairy products.
An ovo-vegetarian does not eat meat or dairy products but does eat eggs.
A vegan does not eat meat, dairy or eggs or processed foods containing these or other animal-derived ingredients.
Someone on a raw vegan diet eats unprocessed vegan foods that have not been heated above 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Are vegetarian diets good for you?
According to US News and World Reports, research has shown a number of health benefits in following a vegan or vegetarian diet. These include:
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Lower blood pressure
- A healthier body mass index
- Decreased risk for heart disease
- Decreased risk for cancer
- Better control and prevention of diabetes
Despite the aforementioned benefits, however, there may be potential risks in plant-based diets if a balanced and varied diet is not achieved. Especially relevant for growing children, foods high in nutrients, rich in calcium and iron, are a must.
Though a vitamin or mineral supplement might be warranted, most healthy vegetarians do not need to take them. Consulting a registered dietician is one way to gauge if you are consuming all necessary vitamins and minerals through the foods you eat
No Meat Pitfalls
For those of you considering a vegetarian diet or at least cutting back on meat intake, you may wish to know which nutrients are at risk of being deficient in your diet. The following are common culprits, with dietary sources to find more of them.
Protein. Many believe that a diet void of meat is protein deficient detriment. However, there are many plant-based foods rich in protein. These include:
- Beans and peas
- Soy products, e.g., tofu, tempeh
- Nuts and nut butters
- Diary products
Calcium. Particularly relevant for vegans and lacto-vegetarians, consuming adequate calcium may be a concern. After all, calcium is needed for building bones and teeth. Sources of calcium include:
- Fortified soy or rice milk
- Fortified orange juice
- Milk and yogurt
- Green leafy veggies, e.g., broccoli, kale, bok choy
- Calcium-set tofu
- Almonds and almond butter
Vitamin B12. Found naturally in animal products, you may need to find fortified foods to fill the void. Some of these include:
- Fortified soymilk
- Meat analogs
- Vitamin B12 fortified nutritional yeast
- Fortified ready-to-eat cereals
- Dairy products
Other important vitamins and minerals. Among these include iron, vitamin D and milk. Sources for each of these are as follows:
- Whole or enriched grains
- Dried fruits
- Fortified cereals
- Green leafy veggies
- Vitamin D fortified foods (cow’s milk, soy or rice milk, orange juice, ready-to-eat cereals)
- Skin exposed to sunlight
- Whole-grain products
- Wheat germ
- Fortified cereals
No Meat Meal Ideas
You may find it challenging to find vegetarian meals that please the family, especially dinner. If you have a spouse or kids who dig meat, the problem may be exacerbated! Here are the meals I most easily “sneak in” in our nightly menu, all with the Neely family seal of approval.
Though some of these dishes may require a little more prep time, they also keep longer in the refrigerator if there happen to be leftovers.
Pizza – If you substitute a hearty vegetable like portabella mushrooms in place of chicken or pepperoni, the family will hardly notice the difference. Experiment with pesto pizzas and a variety of different vegetables and cheeses.
Stir Fries – My favorite is a tofu Szechuan stir fry from Eating Well, though I usual substitute snow peas or sugar snap peas in place of green beans. This is super easy and quick to make, too. You could also try a curry flavored stir fry with coconut milk. One of Luke’s favorite dishes is “cool salmon” – and you could substitute tofu for salmon if you don’t eat fish.
Pasta – Try something simple like my healthy veggie pasta that’s quick to make and pleases the palette.
Tacos – These tofu and black bean tacos from Whole Foods are delicious and my little guy Luke loved them. I highly recommend a pica de gallo to top them off, or even some slaw.
Veggie burgers – I have made veggie burgers with black beans, black eyed peas, and legumes. I recently tried these lentil walnut burgers from Whole Foods and they were great! Veggie burgers made from scratch taste ten-fold better than the packaged products in the freezer section. And they freeze easily to eat another night.
Soups – Healthy vegetarian soups can be the perfect meal for cold, winter days. And they are easier than you think! Check out my recipe for a quick and simple spinach soup that I created from leftovers in the fridge.