What is a vegetarian diet?
Some people follow a “vegetarian” diet, but there’s no single vegetarian eating pattern. The vegan or total vegetarian diet includes only foods from plants: fruits, vegetables, legumes (dried beans and peas), grains, seeds and nuts. The Lacto vegetarian diet includes plant foods plus cheese and other dairy products. The ovo-Lactovegetarian (or lacto-ovovegetarians) diet also includes eggs. Semi-vegetarians don’t eat red meat but include chicken and fish with plant foods, dairy products and eggs.
The label vegetarian comes with many options:
- Fruitarian – includes only raw or dried nuts, seeds, and nuts in the diet.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian – allow dairy products, vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits and nuts, excluding animal flesh, seafood, and eggs.
- Macrobiotic diet – a vegan diet that progressively eliminates more and more foods. Allowing only brown rice and small amounts of water or herbal tea.
- Ovo-vegetarian (Semivegetarian) – a diet including eggs, vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts; excluding animal flesh, seafood, and dairy products.
- Partial vegetarian – includes seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts; limits certain meats, such as red meats.
- Pesco-vegetarian – excludes poultry while including seafood, eggs, dairy products, vegetables, grains, fruits, and nuts; limits red meats.
- Vegan (Strict vegetarian) – A diet that allows only food from plant sources: vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, seeds and nuts.
- Vegetarian – includes plant-food sources and eliminates some or all animal-derived foods.
Are vegetarian diets healthful?
Vegetarian diets if planned properly are jammed packed full of protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Food choices like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains and tofu are a plentiful source of proteins when combined appropriately. Vegetarian defines individuals who exclude animal flesh from their diets and many times other animal food products such as milk, cheese and eggs.
Most true vegetarian diets are low in or devoid of meat, poultry or fish and avoid slaughterhouse byproducts. They’re also usually lower than non-vegetarian diets in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes, diverticular disease, appendicitis, constipation, gallstones and some forms of cancer.
Vegetarian diets can be healthful and nutritionally sound if they’re carefully planned to include essential nutrients. However, a vegetarian diet can be unhealthy if it contains too many calories and/or saturated fat and not enough important nutrients. Read more Vegetarian Eats by Coach Conner
What are the nutrients to consider in a vegetarian diet?
- Protein: You don’t need to eat foods from animals to have enough protein in your diet. Plant proteins alone can provide enough of the essential and non-essential amino acids, as long as sources of dietary protein are varied and caloric intake is high enough to meet energy needs.
- Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, seeds and nuts all contain both essential and non-essential amino acids. You don’t need to consciously combine these foods (“complementary proteins”) within a given meal.
- Soy Protein has been shown to be equal to proteins of animal origin. It can be your sole protein source if you choose. Yet, the nutritional community considers soy a protein of low biological value which means how much nitrogen from protein can be digested, absorbed, and retained by the body. Given the choice you should opt out for fish, lean meat, and vegetables. Read more Smart Size Your Understanding of Soy by Coach Conner
- Iron: Vegetarians may have a greater risk of iron deficiency than nonvegetarians. The richest sources of iron are red meat, liver and egg yolk — all high in cholesterol. However, dried beans, spinach, enriched products, brewer’s yeast and dried fruits are all good plant sources of iron.
- Vitamin B-12: This comes naturally only from animal sources. Vegans need a reliable source of vitamin B-12. It can be found in some fortified (not enriched) breakfast cereals, fortified soy beverages, some brands of nutritional (brewer’s) yeast and other foods (check the labels), as well as vitamin supplements.
- Vitamin D: Vegans should have a reliable source of vitamin D. Vegans who don’t get much sunlight may need a supplement.
- Calcium: Studies show that vegetarians absorb and retain more calcium from foods than nonvegetarians do. Vegetable greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli, and some legumes and soybean products, are good sources of calcium from plants.
- Zinc: Zinc is needed for growth and development. Good plant sources include grains, nuts and legumes. Shellfish are an excellent source of zinc. Take care to select supplements containing no more than 15-18 mg zinc. Supplements containing 50 mg or more may lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol in some people.
What meal plans are recommended?
Any type of vegetarian diet should include a wide variety of foods and enough calories to meet your energy needs.
- Keep your intake of sweets and fatty foods to a minimum. These foods are low nutrients and high in calories.
- Choose whole or unrefined grain products when possible, or use fortified or enriched cereal products.
- Use a variety of fruits and vegetables, including foods that are good sources of vitamins A and C.
- If you use milk or dairy products, choose fat-free/nonfat and low-fat varieties.
- Eggs are high in cholesterol (213 mg per yolk), so monitor your use of them. Limit your cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg per day.
Vegetarian Food Preparation
How you eat your vegetables is just as important as how much you consume. Munching on steamed veggies is better for your heart than consuming them raw. Temperature (heat) makes compounds in the vegetables bind more easily with acids in your intestines, which helps prevent cholesterol from forming. Yet if you have metabolic syndrome, trouble losing weight and are trying to eat a low-glycemic diet the only factors to consider are how the carbohydrate food was processed and prepared for consumption. How food is prepared has a significant influence on its glycemic indexing and load. Eat foods as close to their original state as possible.
Various factors affect the GLYCEMIC INDEX (GI) and LOAD of a food:
- Degree of processing
- How gelatinized the starch
- Level of fiber
- Amount of fat
Bottom line, raw food has a lower glycemic index than its cooked counterpart.
When you get into the preparation phase of a food, these hard compact starches (as in potatoes) expand when they are heated. At this point, starches are easy to digest and can be absorbed by the starch digesting enzymes of your small intestines as easily as dessert.
Note: Too many additives, high temperatures and over cooking your food can transform a low-glycemic carbohydrate into a high-glycemic carbohydrate.
- Suffer less from obesity
- Less obesity and type II diabetes
- Lower blood pressure
- Less coronary heart disease
- Fewer digestion disorders
- Lower risk of certain diet related cancers
- Less diverticular disease
- Less appendicitis
- Less constipation
- Less gallstones
- Plant based foods offer less energy for their bulk
- Plant based foods are typically incomplete in amino acids compared to meat, eggs, and dairy
- Vegetarians tend to have vitamin deficiency i.e. D, iron, B12, zinc,
- Vegetarian diets have been observed to have lower bone mineral density over time
Vegetarian Food Pyramid Recommendations
Balance of a Healthy Vegetarian Diet
Use the Vegetarian Food Pyramid to maintain a healthy balanced diet by eating foods from all the food groups. Each of these vegetarian food groups provides some, but not all, of the nutrients you may need. No one food group is more nutritiously important than another for a balanced diet. Vegans must pay attention to their vitamin levels by consuming fortified foods. Supplements are not sufficient and must be prescribed by a register dietician or doctor.
A healthy vegetarian diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, starchy foods, moderate amounts of alternatives to meat and fish, and moderate amounts of dairy produce or alternatives, and small amounts of foods that contain sugar, fat, and salt.
The following suggestions need not be strictly adhered to on a daily bases.
Fruits and Vegetables (ratio of 1:3) one serving of fruit to three servings of vegetables (starchy or non-starchy)
4 to 5 serving sizes daily
Plant sources for protein can provide all the protein required by vegetarians and vegans provided a variety of plant foods are consumed.
Fresh, frozen, juiced, canned or dried fruit and vegetables. Look for products with no sugar, salt or fat added.
Alternatives to Meat and Fish
2 to 3 servings daily
Consume a variety of nuts, seeds, eggs and soy, and wheat proteins in the diet to ensure adequate intake of protein, vitamins, minerals and adequate amounts of amino acids.
Try Grain – Vegetarian source of eggs – Ideal for Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians
Foods containing Fat and Sugar
0 to 3 servings daily
Fat is necessary in the diet, yet eat these foods sparingly while looking out for low fat alternatives.Breads, Grains, Legumes, nuts, seeds, and Cereals
3 to 4 servings daily
Starchy foods are the basis of most vegetarian meals. Try to include whole meal or wholegrain versions (low sodium and salt). Avoid or minimize the use of fat.
Milk and Dairy Products
2 servings daily
A complex food source supplying the body with carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. If dairy is not part of your diet choose fortified soya, rice or oat drinks or foods that can deliver adequate amounts of calcium.
Vegetarian Dietary Guidelines
Choose whole, unrefined foods often and minimize the intake of highly sweetened, fatty, salty heavily refined foods.
Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables.
If following a minimal 1200 calorie meal plan (weight loss diet), take a high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement. Weight loss diets restrict caloric intake and may not provide all the required nutrition your body needs.
Choose a variety of foods, including whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, and if eaten, dairy products and eggs.
Vegans should include a regular source of vitamin B-12 in their diets along with vitamin D if sun exposure is limited.
If animal foods such as dairy are eaten then select a low-fat version for milk, yogurt, cheese eggs and other products.
Do not restrict fat in children younger than 2years of age. For Older children, include some foods higher in unsaturated fats i.e. eggs, nuts, seeds, avocado, and vegetable based oils.
For optimum diet and nutrition, the AMERICAN DIETETIC ASSOCIATION advises all vegetarians/vegans to consult a registered dietitian or nutritional professional, especially during periods of growth, breast-feeding, pregnancy, or recovery from illness.
Food Combining Ideas
Grains + Legumes = Complete Protein (balance of amino acids)
Protein, and their component parts, amino acids, are required or essential dietary nutrients to sustain life. Protein was the first substance to be recognized as a vital part of living tissue. The name comes from the Greek word meaning “of first importance”. Second to water, protein makes up the largest percentage of material in the human body-around 45%. Protein is important in building and repairing, and maintaining tissue.
The requirement for protein is actually a requirement for amino acids. Amino acids serve as the building blocks of skeletal and muscle protein. There are 20 amino acids important to human nutrition. Nine of them are essential. Which means we cannot make them or cannot make them in amounts required by the body, and must be obtained in the foods we eat. Your body can make 12 nonessential amino acids that are also part of the building blocks of protein. So basically, while are body has the capacity to synthesize certain amino acids (nonessential or dispensable amino acids) others must be obtained from the diet (essential or indispensable amino acids). Our actual need or requirement is not for proteins but rather it is for the nine essential amino acids which our bodies have lost the ability to synthesize during the evolutionary process, which are then used with the other 12 amino acids to create proteins. Examples of grains/legumes combinations include:
- Peanut butter sandwich with whole grain bread
- Hummus and 100% whole wheat pita bread
- Bean Burrito
- Enriched whole wheat pasta with low-fat cheese
- High fiber fortified cereal and low-fat milk
The vegetarian must plan to provide adequate nutrition from protein, carbohydrate, and fat and should choose a wide variety of wholesome fortified foods. If you are serious about consuming a vegetarian diet keep a pantry full of the following items to assure you maintain a healthy balanced and nutritious meal plan. For a more complete list of food sources visit SHOPPING FOR YOUR GLYCEMIC DIET. When choosing any product read the Fact Panel on the back of all foods purchased. Look for foods with high-fiber, low-sodium, no more than 3 grams of fat (27 fat calories) per 100 calories, no Trans fat, and a low-sugar content.
Herbs – Basil, chives, oregano, mint, rosemary, parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic and ginger.
Spices – Paprika, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, chili pepper, turmeric, mustard seeds.
Flavorings – Soy sauce (low sodium version), lemon or lime juice, Himalayan or sesame salt, miso (low sodium version, tahini, horse radish, wholegrain mustard.
Breads – Wholegrain – high fiber bread, rye bread, millet, oats, quinoa, and amaranth.
Brown Foods – Brown rice, whole-wheat and multi-grain pasta.
Legumes – Peanuts, all beans, garbanzo beans (chick peas), split peas, all varieties of lentils, soy based products, tempeh, quorn, natto, and edamame.
Nuts – Cashews, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and soy nuts.
Seeds – Sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and sunflower seeds.
Muesli – Choose low-fat and low sugar.
Low-fat fortified milk products – Smart milk, skim milk, and 1% and 2% milk, fat free milk and yogurt with added fiber and Kiefer.
Cheeses – Ricotta, low-fat cottage cheese with fiber, curd, feta, all low-fat cheeses like Swiss, cheddar, provolone, gorgonzola, and other favorites.
Eggs – All whites 100% liquid egg whites, fat free or vegetarian eggs, organic or free range eggs. Brown or white shells. Reminder 2 egg whites to 1 yellow (due to saturated fat).
Fruit – Wild, organic or berries frozen or fresh, all fruit, limiting the tropical variety.
Vegetables – all veggies and starchy veggies which are considered an excellent form of resistant starch (a second form of fiber).
Meat is not necessary for ensuring optimal athletic performance. This point has been researched and notably demonstrated by the many elite athletes who are vegetarians. The focus should boarder on a balanced diet with high levels of complex carbohydrates and a de-emphasis on fat. While most vegetarian diets easily meet this requirement, some nutrient problems may occur with pure vegan diets due to the sole consumption of plant based foods which include the possibility of inadequate supplies of protein, vitamin B12 and D, riboflavin, iron, zinc, calcium, and calories needed to sustain athletes who require large muscle mass, because many of these nutrients are found in animal based food products. Yet the influx of new vegetarian products and fortified foods, such as soy milks, meat substitutes, and breakfast cereals, can add substantially to the vegetarian diet increasing the necessary vitamins and minerals need for elite levels of performance. The athlete who wants to follow a vegetarian regime should combine foods to assure adequate amounts of protein of high biological values. The vitamin B12 requirement can typically be satisfied with modest amounts of low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, vegetarian eggs, fortified soy products, or brewer’s yeast. Iron rich foods should be consumed with high levels of vitamin C foods (not supplements) and low consumption of foods containing caffeine to ensure a maximal rate of absorption. Some vegetarian restrict food choices to the point of nutrient deficiency. The diet of vegetarians should be evaluated for calories and diversity.
The biggest concern for the vegetarian athlete is how much protein of high biological value is actually being consumed. If the athlete is consuming a variety of plant bases foods it is possible to sustain adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids but it requires due diligence and monitoring due to inferior biological value. If the athlete is receptive to the consumption of dairy and egg products than the consumption of essential amino acids gets allot easier. The most important recommendation for the vegetarian athlete is to consume adequate calories to meet your energy need, and ensure that you are eating a wide variety of high quality foods that will fuel your body with all of the essential nutrients necessary to get peak performance.
Note: Soy protein products provide the athlete with inferior biological needs compared to meat, poultry or fish
Weight Loss Guidelines for Vegetarians
The same eating practices are necessary when deciding to loss weight. A non-meat diet does not necessarily represent a fat proof eating plan. The same rules apply, for optimal weight management or loss, consider the following guidelines:
Check the fact panel (food label) on all packaged products or convenience foods.
Don’t over indulge in non-meat foods like dairy products, cheese and eggs. These particular foods can contain more fat than many meat products. For instance, eggs are the perfect protein of which other proteins are compared yet the egg yolk is high in cholesterol (213mg per yolk) while your total daily cholesterol intake should be no more than 300mg per day. Look for vegetarian – less fat eggs, low-fat or 2% cheeses, and try to appreciate skim, 1% like Smart Milk, or 2% dairy products to keep your fat/cholesterol intake under control.
Watch your sugar intake by limiting your consumption of soft drinks, drink reduced sugar juice drinks or better yet substitute juice for real fruit or simple drink distilled water. Avoid snacks including the fat-free or sugar alcohol variety. It really doesn’t matter if it is health home-made granola, organic carrot muffins, or nutritional soy-coconut bars; sugar is sugar and fat is fattening whether made from honey, unrefined sugar, molasses, or brown sugar.
Develop sensible cooking skills and bake, boil, broil, roast or grill. Limit frying altogether. Of course if you must fry use a low-fat olive oil or canola spray. Just one sprits is all you need.