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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.