Not long ago I hosted a dinner party. There was turkey, roasted potatoes, sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli and carrots, and a big salad. But that wasn’t all.
As a good host I always attempt to accommodate all of my dinner guests. My cousin came, and I was told he was vegetarian. I didn’t want him to only eat veggies, potatoes, and salad; I wanted him to enjoy his meal, too, so I decided to make a lentil loaf. Packed with lentils, walnuts, ground flaxseed, oats, vegetables, and an array of spices, it is loaded with nutrients!
During the dinner I asked my cousin why he chose to eat a vegetarian diet. It is a topic I understand quite well. I tried vegetarianism for about two years; however, it did not seem to benefit my health. I lacked energy and lost too much weight.
A blood test also revealed nutrient deficiencies and absorption issues were also concerns—something that’s common for many vegetarians. Which begs the question: is there a right way to be a vegetarian? In a sense, there is, but more on that in a moment…
Are You Thinking About Giving Up Meat?
What was my cousin’s reason for his diet change? He does not agree with factory-farmed meat and animal products. Also, eating meat treated in inhumane conditions does not sit well with him.
I agree completely. You ingest antibiotics, growth hormones, and steroids, which certainly impact your body in a harmful way. You also consume the negative energy from slaughtered animals. That is why I only consume organic and free-range meat. I get it straight from the farmer, and I speak to them about their farming practices.
Having said that, vegetarianism is a change that goes further than simply cutting out meat.
Vegetarianism: More Than Cutting Out Meat
When it comes to my cousin’s vegetarian diet, he only removed meat from his regular diet of highly processed foods, which included breads, dairy, and snack foods. The elimination of meat from your diet is not a recipe for better health. You get health benefits when you replace the meat with the nutrients your body is missing—and that’s what’s key to doing vegetarianism the right way.
To replace meat with other healthy foods that offer the nutrients your body may be missing, try following these three tips.
Tip #1: Choose Nutrient-Dense Foods
Vegetarianism can really be a transition to better health for some people, especially after a regular intake of potato chips and fast food burgers for many years. The addition of more fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods is often what the doctor ordered. Dark green, leafy vegetables are important for a healthy diet; spinach, kale, collard greens, and Swiss chard are excellent choices.
You can also learn about nutrient-dense vegetables that you have never experienced. New vegetables I’d suggest adding to your plate (and ones that I added to mine when I made the change to vegetarianism) are kohlrabi, leeks, dandelion greens, and okra.
Tip #2: Supplement Right
Nutrient deficiencies may be a concern for a vegetarian, especially when it comes to vitamin B12, calcium, iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Without animal-based sources, such as meat, poultry, and eggs, vitamin B12 deficiencies are especially common. It is best to consult a nutritionist about proper vitamin B12 supplementation. Ground flaxseed is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Spinach and chard are considered good sources of calcium, iron, and zinc. Stress, poor digestion, and hypothyroidism are possible causes of nutrient deficiencies.
However, a nutrient deficiency isn’t always caused by a change in your diet. It is important to remember that these deficiencies could be caused by a pre-existing issue with nutrient absorption, and intolerances to gluten, wheat, or lactose may also be the cause. Before giving up on vegetarianism, talk to your doctor or a holistic nutritionist to see if these are possibilities for you. A daily supplement may be all you need.
Tip #3: Limit Soy Intake
I asked my cousin about his protein intake. Protein is an important aspect to a person’s diet. From a vegetarian perspective, it should be obtained from various plant-based sources. Whey protein and soy products (tofu) were his main choices. But these protein sources are not the best selections within a vegetarian diet—or any diet for that matter.
My cousin suffers from anxiety attacks and obesity. Soy is known to stress thyroid function; anxiety, mood swings, and difficulty losing weight are the health concerns that may result.
Likewise, whey protein is a protein found in milk and many people may have a hidden intolerance to it. Fatigue, headaches, and digestive issues are common symptoms of a whey intolerance. But not all whey protein is alike. You want to look for options that are grass-fed, organic (without hormones), unpasteurized, and minimally processed and without isolates.
Is Vegetarianism Right for You?
Vegetarianism is not right for everyone. The key is to listen to your body. Eating less meat can be beneficial to your body, and it will certainly reduce the incidence of heart disease. However, on the other hand, deficiencies may also lead to fatigue and a lack of energy.
If you are thinking of trying vegetarianism, consult a nutritional practitioner. It is best to have a plan when making changes to your diet, and they can help guide you in the healthiest direction that’s specific to your body’s needs.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Haas, E., et al., Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine (New York: Ten Speed Press, 2006), 360–361, 374.
“Getting adequate nutrition,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/vegetarian-diet/art-20046446?pg=2, last accessed January 12, 2015.
Kirkpatrick, K., “5 Risky Diet Mistakes Vegetarians Make – And How You Can Avoid Them,” Huffington Post web site, May 8, 2013; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-kirkpatrick-ms-rd-ld/vegetarian-diet-mistakes_b_3226388.html.
Mercola, J., “Doctor Warns: Eat Soy and You’ll Look 5 Years Older,” Mercola.com web site, December 8, 2011; http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/12/08/the-dirty-little-secret-hidden-in-much-of-your-health-food.aspx.
“What is whey protein? What are the benefits of whey protein?” Medical News Today web site; http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371.php, last updated October 24, 2014.