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Vegetarian Diet

How to Get the Right Nutrition without Meat, Poultry or Seafood.

Vegetarian diets don’t have to consist of all tofu, all the time, because adequate nutrition can be derived from lots of foods that don’t include animal products.  A vegetarian is defined as “a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.” and bases their diet on these principles.  While animals are a great source of nutrition, including essential amino acids and protein, there are many other ways to get these crucial ingredients in your diet.  Vegetarians do, however, face the biggest possible dietary loss from a lack of protein, which is usually obtained by eating animal protein, and serves as a major source of energy.

Because they cannot include the Meat, Poultry and Fish group in their Food Pyramid, the Vegetarian Food Pyramid looks slightly different than the one most of us grew up seeing.  The base of the Vegetarian Food Pyramid is grains, rather than meats, and legumes and nuts, making it slightly different than the typical Food Pyramid.  The remaining levels of both food pyramids are the same, with fats and oils having the smallest recommended number of servings per day.  Five to twelve servings of whole grains, with one to three servings of legumes and soy are the base of a good vegetarian diet.  Add to that three to four servings of fruit, six to nine servings of vegetables, one to two servings of nuts and seeds, up to three servings of dairy and eggs, with a minimum daily amount of sweets and fats, and you have a wonderfully well rounded and healthy diet providing all the same essential nutrients as a diet with meat.

Vegetarian diets offer a myriad of benefits for those who commit to giving up animal proteins.  Vegetarian diets often feature lower levels of saturated fats and cholesterol, decreasing risk for diabetes and heart disease, while offering higher levels of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.  Because of these features, vegetarian diets can aid with weight loss, though it is important to remember the basis of vegetarian is vegetables.  Not junk.  Animal protein foods have to be replaced with the right types of nutrition, not French fries and cookies, to garner any of the dietary and weight loss benefits.  Being careful not to overload with fats like cheese, and using beans, lentils and rice to replace meat will all maintain proper nutrition and a healthy diet.   Without animal protein, a vegetarian must also make sure their diet includes enough Omega-3s, iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamins D and B-12 to meet daily requirements, and can often add a supplement to their daily routine.  These choices can help vegetarians and vegans live longer and healthier lives with lower body weight, better cholesterol levels and lower risk of diabetes.

If living a longer, healthier life sounds good to you, give vegetarianism a try.  Remember though, a different diet does not mean different rules.  Just like people who eat meat, vegetarians need to read labels and check the ingredients, salt, fat and vitamin content of the foods they choose.  Ensuring healthy eating is hard work no matter what your diet consists of, so take the vegetarian challenge and see how it can benefit you!

For more information, here’s a great source of tips for vegetarian dieting: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/tips-for-vegetarian.html.

A Balanced Diet Part V: Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs and Nuts

Is the name of this group enough to get you interested?  With so many choices out there for protein sources, it can be challenging to know what the best ones are.  Foods in this group include beef, pork, venison, chicken, duck, flounder, tuna, lima beans, pinto beans, shellfish, peanut butter, and almonds.  Wow.  Not only does this group contain a wide variety of choices, it provides a long list of healthy body benefits.

Nutrients pulled from the protein group range from, as expected, protein, which is also found in fats and carbohydrates and provides calories for energy, to iron, which carries oxygen to the blood.  The antioxidant Vitamin E, zinc that helps the immune system function and magnesium for building bones are all found in meat, poultry and fish.  Elements in each of the foods in this group are also the building blocks for muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, integral enzymes and hormones.  Omega-3 fatty acids are present in seafood, and 8 ounces of fish per week may help prevent heart disease.  The risk of potential heavy metal poisoning from consuming certain fish species frequently is greatly outweighed by the benefits of omega-3s.  Nuts and seeds are a high calorie food great for snacks.  They also aid in reducing the risk of heart disease, though it is important to limit sodium intake by eating unsalted nuts.

Making the right meat, poultry and fish choices is hard, so here are some tips for getting the best you can:  Cholesterol is only found in animal source foods, and fatty meats contains lots of low density lipids (LDL), or bad cholesterol.  LDL is a root cause of coronary heart disease risk, so choose lean meats and cut excess fat off before cooking.  Eliminate excess cooked fat by draining during cooking, limiting breading, and using low fat sauces and gravies.  Vary your lean meat choices, while mixing in fish at least twice per week.  Skip the egg yolks, take them out of hard boiled eggs, separate them from cooked eggs or purchase premade egg whites since yolks contain plenty of LDL as well.  Eating lots of fat usually leads to an excess consumption of calories, and that means extra time at the gym to maintain or lose weight.  Be sure to read labels, and know processed meats often contain excess sodium and more fat than raw foods.

After you’ve picked the right foods, you should consume between 5 and 6 ounce equivalents per day in the protein group, and the amount should be increased in proportion with activity.  One ounce of meat, poultry or fish, one egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, ½ ounce of nuts, ¼ cup cooked beans or ¼ cup cooked peas all count as one ounce equivalents.  When preparing raw protein group foods, be sure to separate raw food from what is already cooked.  Thawing meats, poultry and seafood should occur quickly, in a microwave or by submerging in cool water.  After thawing raw meat or poultry, it should not be washed, but any and all cooking utensils, cutting boards and pans should be cleaned with hot, soapy water between each food item it touches.  A great way to avoid consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry and eggs, which can carry salmonella, E. coli and other nasty food borne illnesses, is to use a meat thermometer.  After cooking, protein group foods should be chilled or frozen promptly.

Vegetarians can get enough protein from non-meat, poultry or seafood choices in this group, but vegetarian diet will be addressed entirely in its own segment.  For more information on the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Nuts and Seeds Group, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/protein-foods.html.  Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s segment, A Balanced Diet Part VI: Milk, Yogurt and Cheese!