Beyond Veggies: Eating A Healthy and Balanced Vegetarian (Or Vegan) Diet
We have recipes and tips to make your meat-free meals magnificent.
Vegetarian or Vegan?
Vegetarianism has existed for thousands of years in many cultures, for religious, ethical, and economic reasons. Today, with more food choices available than ever, many people have opted to become vegetarians or vegans. What's the difference between the two?
- A vegetarian diet excludes all forms of meat, poultry, and fish, but does include some animal-produced fare such as dairy products and eggs.
- A vegan diet excludes all meat and all animal products: vegans do not eat eggs, dairy, or honey.
Variety and the Vegetarian
As with any diet, the key to a healthy vegetarian or vegan diet is to eat a wide variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, plenty of leafy greens, whole grain products, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Combining prepared foods such as canned beans, veggie burgers, or pasta can significantly cut down on the time and effort needed to prepare the evening meal. All of these dishes can be made in 30 minutes or less.
Turn any recipe into a veggie one by replacing the meat with a vegetarian alternative. Looking for a new stir-fry? Convert a chicken or beef stir fry to vegetarian by substituting tofu or seitan for the meat. Love your father's famous chili? Use textured vegetable protein (TVP) for the ground beef.
Since there's no perfect food--one that's fully balanced with all the nutrients the body needs to maintain good health--the next best thing is to eat a rich variety of foods. A meatless diet can certainly provide these nutrients. Here are recipes to help vegetarians get enough protein, iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12.
Tofu, tempeh, beans and peas, seeds and nuts, as well as mycoprotein (a protein derived from mushrooms) are some of the foods highest in protein. Pasta and whole wheat breads are also good sources. Essential for cellular growth and repair, proteins play a crucial role in virtually all biological processes in the body. Plant-based sources of protein are lower in saturated fats--and often lower in total fat--than animal protein.
Broccoli, some green leafy vegetables (collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, and bok choy), and almonds and brazil nuts are good sources of calcium. Tofu made with calcium sulfate is also a good source, as are dried figs. Calcium is essential to bone health.
Good sources of iron are spinach and turnip greens, whole grains (including whole wheat bread), black-eyed peas, lentils, peas, and some dried fruits (dried apricots, prunes, and raisins). Eating iron-rich foods with foods containing vitamin C can increase iron absorption: a few slices of tomato with your spinach salad can make a difference. Cooking your food in cast iron pans can also add iron to your diet. Iron is needed by the body for the formation of blood.
White beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas, as well as wheat germ and pumpkin seeds are all good plant sources of zinc. Zinc helps the immune system function properly, and is estimated to be in thousands of proteins in the human body.
Eggs and dairy products are good sources of vitamin B12. Fermented soy products, seaweeds, and algae such as spirulina have all been cited as containing significant B12. However, the B12 present in plant foods may not be in a form usable to humans, and so these foods should not be relied upon as safe sources. For this reason, many vegan foods are supplemented with B12. This vitamin helps maintain healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. It is also needed to help make DNA, the genetic material in all cells.