Vegetarianism is "in", in case you were wondering. Demographic
survey data reported in 1995 stated that 50% of college-age women and
32% of college-age men say vegetarianism is hip, cool, in
(1). Additionally, over 12 million adult Americans consider
themselves vegetarians. Trend followers aside, people have been vegetarian
for centuries and for a variety of reasons. The decision to follow a vegetarian
way of eating can be made for religious, cultural, ethical, health and
economic reasons, to name a few. And, a healthy, balanced plant-based
diet is possible whether you choose to avoid all animal products (a vegan
diet); avoid poultry, meat & fish while still consuming eggs and dairy
products (a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet); or something in between the two.
Hill of Beans: Vegetarian diet research
Medical research and observation data suggest that there are positive
health benefits to following a vegetarian diet. Incidence of several chronic
diseases and conditions (like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure,
diabetes and some cancers) is reduced in populations following a vegetarian
diet. This may be related to the beneficial vitamin, mineral, antioxidant,
phytochemical and fiber content of plant-based eating. Reduced risk of
colon cancer is associated with diets high in fiber, fruits and vegetables.
Folic acid, a B-vitamin in orange juice, leafy greens and whole grains,
can help lower blood homocysteine levels, a substance associated with
risk of atherosclerosis. Antioxidant nutrients, like Vitamins C &
A found in citrus fruits and leafy greens, and phytochemicals (beneficial
plant chemicals like lycopene in tomatoes) are being closely watched for
their possible disease fighting capabilities. A well-planned plant-based
diet is often low in total and saturated fat, a key ingredient in a heart
healthy lifestyle. The evidence is mounting that choosing a vegetarian
diet has a multitude of health benefits.
Bean There, Done That: Be in-the-know before you become a vegetarian
Like any lifestyle decision, following a vegetarian diet requires some
special consideration to make sure your decision has healthy results.
In days of old, vegetarians were instructed to match up protein sources
at every meal to get the right mix for the puzzle of needed amino acids
(building blocks of protein). Now we realize that it need not be such
an effort; our bodies are pretty efficient at completing the puzzle on
their own, given a variety of proteins any time in the day and enough
overall fuel. Good sources of vegetarian protein include legumes (like
beans, split peas, lentils, soy products), eggs, cheese, yogurt, milk.
Nuts, grains and vegetables also contain protein. Even strength-training
or endurance athletes, who might require a bit more protein than nonathletes,
can meet their protein needs with a vegetarian diet with careful planning
and sufficient fuel intake. Athletes and nonathletes, vegetarian or not,
who do not meet their daily fuel requirements will have their dietary
protein intake sacrificed by the body for use as fuel instead of its intended
use as an important body building block.
For more on vegetarian nutrition for athletes, see www.vrg.org/nutshell/athletes.htm
The mineral iron is an essential part of our blood's oxygen carrying system.
There are two types of iron, heme and nonheme. Vegetarian diets only contain
nonheme iron, the less well-absorbed form of the two. So, paying careful
attention to iron sources is part of assuring a well-balanced vegetarian
diet. Vegetarian sources of iron include legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas,
lentils for example), fortified cereals, whole grains and dried fruits.
Dark green leafy vegetables also contain iron, but it is complexed with
fibrous-type plant substances making it less available than some other
plant iron sources. Nonheme iron absorption can be helped along with the
addition of a Vitamin C source at the same meal, like tomato sauce or
citrus fruit. Coffee and tea inhibit iron absorption; wait for after after-dinner
(at least an hour) for that cup of tea. Interestingly enough, the medical
literature reports that vegetarians and omnivores are equally likely to
be iron deficient. There goes that myth!
For more on iron in a vegan diet see: www.vrg.org/nutrition/iron.htm
Vitamin B-12 is needed by the body to help cells divide properly. Lack
of B-12 can lead to anemia and nerve damage. Vitamin B-12 is found in
all animal foods, including dairy products and eggs. So, lacto-ovo vegetarians
have good sources of Vitamin B-12 in their baseline diets. Vegans however,
because they consume no animal products, must rely on a supplemental form
of B-12. Look for fortified cereals, fortified soymilk and fortified nutritional
yeast. Some folks market plant sources of B-12 in sea vegetables and tempeh,
but these sources are metabolically inactive and should not be considered
as a useful dietary source.
Calcium & Vitamin D:
Calcium and Vitamin D are important nutrients for building and maintaining
bone health throughout our lives. Lacto-ovo vegetarians can find good
sources of calcium and Vitamin D in dairy products, like milk, yogurt
and cheese. Vegans need to carefully check labels for fortified plant
sources such as calcium-fortified soymilk, calcium-fortified tofu, Vitamin
D and calcium-fortified breakfast cereals and calcium-fortified orange
juice. Dark green leafies like kale and collard greens, almonds and blackstrap
molasses contain calcium, too. Vitamin D can come from a nondietary source,
the sun. We need about fifteen minutes of unprotected strong sun exposure
a day to get sufficient Vitamin D. Those of us living in the northern
latitudes (or those is smoggy cities) should not consider sun exposure
a good source of Vitamin D except in the warmer months. Bone health can
also be fostered with weight-bearing and resistance training in the vegetarian
and nonvegetarian alike. So, take a walk during that fifteen minutes you
are in the sun and do double duty!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
Much has been written on the benefits of omega-3 fats like EPA (eicosapentaenoic
acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) found in deep, cold-water fish and
some eggs. These fats may play a role in heart disease risk, among other
benefits being researched. Vegetarians can obtain the precursor to these
fats, linolenic acid, in plant sources such as flaxseed, walnuts, canola
oil and some soy products like edamame and tofu. The body does convert
the plant linolenic acid to DHA and EPA, but the amounts are not as concentrated
as those from fish.
L'Eggo My Legume: the "how-to" of vegetarian eating
It's plain fact that a well-planned vegetarian diet can be quite healthy.
The decision to be a vegetarian might be made easily by some. The hard
part is doing it right.
You may choose to go cold turkey (or tofurkey, really) to begin your
vegetarian lifestyle OR to move step-by-step towards your goal. Here are
some ideas to help you on your way:
- Substitute plant proteins for animal proteins in food dishes that
you already enjoy:
- Soy alternatives are available as copycats to burgers, hotdogs,
ground hamburger, sausage, cheese, pepperoni and a host of others.
Try making tacos with soy crumble, a pizza with soy pepperoni or
sausage, spaghetti sauce with soy "meat"balls. Try different
brands for a wider taste of what is available.
- Try adding beans. A formerly all-meat chili is an easy start.
Check out vegetarian baked beans to go with that vegetarian hotdog.
Toss some chickpeas or cannelini beans into your marinara sauce
for great plant protein.
- Try a stir-fry with tofu or tempeh, both soy products, instead
of chicken, beef or shrimp. Many grocery stores carry marinated
tofu and tempeh in the refrigerator section to make preparation
even easier. You can even make a sautéed cutlet from one
of these products for vegetarian cutlet parmesan.
- Explore cooking from different cultures:
- Most Eastern cultures have many wonderful vegetarian dishes. Be adventuresome
and try a new restaurant. You may find some new favorites.
- Aim for variety:
- Try to enjoy many different foods rather than get stuck in a rut
of the same two of three dishes; you don't want to miss out on the
great taste and varied nutrition of other foods.
- Choose fruits and vegetables of many different colors, including
green and orange. Get some Vitamin C from tropical fruits, citrus,
melon and berries.
- Look for a variety of grains, cereals, crackers and breads concentrating
on whole grains (like whole wheat, oats, brown rice and the like).
- Rotate different source of protein (see below).
- Count your calcium:
- Cow's milk, yogurt and cheese all contain calcium. Aim for low
fat versions most often.
- Fortified soy milk, yogurt and cheeses are widely available. Be
sure to check for calcium and Vitamin D fortification on the label.
- Calcium-fortified juices and cereals are becoming more widely
available. Check the label to compare amounts to the 300-400mg/serving
in most dairy or fortified soy versions.
- Other plant sources of calcium include leafy greens and almonds,
but in lesser amounts than those foods listed above.
- Protein Pointers:
- Consume a variety of protein sources over the day and day-to-day.
There is no need to "match" proteins sources based on
their protein building block (amino acid) content at each meal as
we previously believed; our bodies can put together the puzzle of
amino acids over the whole day.
- Legumes, like beans, split peas, peanuts and lentils, are a great
plant source of protein and minerals (like iron) plus fiber. Soybeans,
kidney beans, chick peas, tofu, tempeh, soy "meat" alternatives,
black beans, dal, peanutbutter, hummus, lentils and a host of other
legumes are good choices. Add legumes slowly to your diet to help
your digestive tract to adapt to them over time without bloating;
overzealous consumption of legumes will wreak havoc on a digestive
system not yet used to them. Tofu, lentils and split peas are better
tolerated than most other beans.
- Eggs and dairy foods contain protein as well. Don't count on your
glass of milk or cup of yogurt for iron, though; they are poor sources
of that mineral. Read the section here on iron nutrition to make
sure you cover your bases.
- Cooking ideas:
- Eating on campus
Whether you'd like to try out the idea of a plant-based meal or are already
following a vegetarian lifestyle, vegetarian foods are readily available
on campus at each meal. All major dining halls have a rotating menu of
vegetarian entrees. Check out weekly menus @ www.bc.edu/dining
for such items as vegan enchiladas, tofu & broccoli stir-fry with
peanut sauce, black beans and rice or tempeh parmesan.
In addition to the rotating menu, look for these standard items:
In Grab'n'Go refrigerators: two brands of calcium-fortified soy milk,
two flavors of soy smoothies, sushi, packaged hummus, and assorted yogurts
On salad bars: cubed tofu; a rotation of legumes such as kidney beans,
chickpeas, lentil salad; a rotation of cheeses including low-fat cottage
cheese; hard cooked eggs and a variety of vegetables.
On the grill: Veggie burgers, vegetarian stir-fry sub, tofu stir-fry,
grilled cheese. You may ask to have your order cooked on an induction
burner if you are concerned about your food being prepared on the same
grill as animal proteins.
Sandwiches: eggplant sub, cheese sandwiches, falafel with tahini on pita,
peanutbutter, assorted wrapper sandwiches like the Phi Beta Kappa Wrapper
(Greek salad) or tempeh fajita wrapper. Make your own sandwich at your
seat by grabbing some pita and filling it with salad or hummus.
Soups: A variety of vegetarian soups are served like Black Bean, Vegetarian
Cream of Broccoli and Vegetarian Garden Vegetable.
Whole grains: In addition to regular pasta, cereals, breads and bakery
products, watch menus for brown rice, whole grain breads and bagels, and
whole grain cereals.
1.Food Management "At Large" March 1995,