Should You Be a Vegetarian?
More and more people are choosing to go vegetarian for health reasons, which brings us our topic of the day: Vegetarian diets and nutritional needs.
Most traditional “healthy” diets typically include animal products, which are nutrient dense and readily available year round. I think you will agree it is much easier to eat a juicy steak for your protein needs than it is to eat two pounds of collard greens or spinach.
Unfortunately, for dedicated vegetarians, meat is not an option. Personal philosophy has health, environmental, or ethical objections that prevent them from eating meat. Bread, pasta, and rice are the staples of vegetarian diets. They also often eat soy-based meat alternatives such as soy bacon or soy turkey.
Trained nutritionists warn against the anti-nutrients and acids found in conventional grains that can make vegetarians nutritionally deficient. They also warn against soy because it is higher in phytoestrogens (plant based estrogens) than most other food sources, which has caused soy to be linked to a variety of health problems.
Is there any middle ground on this? Can vegetarians get enough nourishment from diet of traditional, real, unprocessed foods without contradicting their values? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, it is easier than it may seem.
Let’s start first with the basic types of vegetarians.
- Flexitarian (Semi-vegetarian) – new term coined to describe people whose diet is primarily vegetarian, but choose to eat meat occasionally.
- Pescetarian – avoid all meat except fish. This is a diet that is becoming more and more popular for health reasons, or is used as a step toward full vegetarian.
- Vegetarian (Lacto-ovo-vegetarian) – Vegetarians who do not eat animal flesh of any kind, but eat eggs (ovo) and dairy (lacto) products.
- Vegetarian (Lacto-vegetarian) – Do not meat or eggs, but will eat dairy products.
Below are some tips that can help depending on the type of vegetarian:
Buy Pastured Dairy and Eggs – In order to get the greatest nutritional value, it is important to buy the raw dairy products from pastured cows that are grass-fed. Eggs should be purchased locally from farmers who raise cage-free chickens that are fed a natural diet. This ensures that you are eating the healthiest forms of these foods as well as advocating for the humane treatment farm of animals through your support of ethical farmers.
Ferment Your Food – Your first reaction to this idea may be negative, but you may be surprised as foods that are either fermented or made from an ingredient that has gone through the fermenting process, such as sourdough bread, pickles and kimchi, yogurt and kefir, and kombucha tea.
All of the above are super-rich in nutrients and make foods easier to digest and assimilate. The fermentation process adds healthy bacteria and/or probiotics into your system. We do not recommend soy products ever – unless they are fermented as found in tempeh and soy sauce. Fermentation greatly reduces the phytic acid content of soy.
Eat Nuts, Grains, and Seeds – These should be eaten regularly for nourishment in any vegetarian diet, but they should be prepared properly. All contain enzyme inhibitors that protect them from premature sprouting that makes them difficult to digest and access to the nutrients difficult.
Nuts, grains and seeds also contain anti-nutrients that interfere with mineral absorption. The simple act of soaking or sprouting nuts and seeds eliminates the problem. Whole grains should be soaked before cooking or grinding.
Make Eating Veggies Easier – Find easy ways to get veggies and all their wonderful nutrients into your body quickly and easily, for example – green smoothies. This is not your traditional way of eating veggies, but wise eating habits do not have to come from the distant past. The green smoothie has been going strong for several years now.
In case green smoothies are new to you, let me explain. They are a blended drink made from leafy greens, other vegetables and a little fruit for sweetener. They can be delicious, especially when you experiment with different combinations and find those that suit your personal palate. As the old TV commercial says, “Try it! You’ll like it!”
In Summary – With a few simple changes, you can ensure that your vegetarian diet is high in nutrient value even without meat.