Countless studies have proven the benefits of a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, sparking the growing popularity of vegetarian cuisine. However, to fully realize the benefits long term you need to do a bit more than simply cutting out meat!
A well planned plant-based diet is packed with disease preventing nutrients – processed and packaged vegetarian junk-foods generally are not. We reveal how to stay healthy, create balanced meals and avoid the common mistakes health conscious vegetarian consumers make.
1. Focusing on Meat Replacement
Simply swapping the meat out of your diet and replacing it with a processed substitute will not deliver the health benefits of vegetarian living. Some food producers are out to make profit, not look after your health. They add flavour enhancers, sugars, fillers and flours to get you to buy their latest fake-meat produce. It’s important that you know the quality of the meat substitutes that you purchase and consider the ingredients.
You may see the use of deceptive labelling, like the word ‘natural’. The packaging may include images of fresh fruit, farms and smiling families to try and convey a healthy pedigree. It is vital that you check the labels carefully and lookout for added sugars, additives and chemicals (Are any of these chemicals potentially as damaging to your health than meat is? That is the question. That is why research is so important.).
Move away from just trying to replace meat and instead find textures and flavours that are satisfying without needing to look or feel exactly like a chicken, pork, fish or beef. Leftover ingredients, specifically potatoes, beans and vegetables, can be easily re-combined with ground-flax and formed into a huge variety of ground “faux-meat”, burgers and pattis to be grilled at home (lots of veggie patty recipes online). Experiment with what works for you, in terms of flavors and spices. Maybe you like it extra hot and spicy or maybe a peanut sauce is just what you need to add that ‘scrumptious’ element back. (Here’s a great recipe for vegan tacos where the “meat” is made from lentils and walnuts)
2. Not enough variety – Variety is the Spice of Life
When food is satisfying it is much easier to stay on a health conscious path. However, if you feel bored, let down or generally dissatisfied with your food, temptation can rapidly pull you down a slippery slope. Laziness is another sure fire way to lose that healthy vegetarian-glamour and trade it for a greasy too-much-take-out look!
Find time to experiment with new foods, flavours, cooking methods, recipes and places to keep your taste buds excited about your eating choices. Adding herbs and spices is an excellent way to make things look and taste really different and at the same time add some health promoting phytochemicals into your dishes. Eating a variety of fresh produce, beans, grains, healthy fats, etc is also key to not having nutrient/vitamin deficiencies (a vegetarian multivitamin with B12 and iron is a great option too).
Learn healthy ways to add deliciousness and excitement to your food. For example, coconut cream, made with natural sweetness, tastes amazing. Taking the time to find out what works for YOU is key – listen to your body and senses.
3. Lack of Planning and Preparation
Planning for meals and snacks gives you time to think in advance about what you might like in a calm and collected way. Waiting until you are starving hungry is never the best way to make an informed decision about what to eat.
Learning to cook, by yourself or with others, is key to healthy eating. It’s unavoidable when it comes to embracing a plant-based, whole food diet. Make sure you have some quick solutions to hand at home, for example frozen homemade meals, homemade soup or tahini for a delicious hummus that can quickly and tastefully satisfy you.
Food processing takes fresh food and adds bleached grains, sugars, preservatives and other chemicals to increase the shelf life. You can cut out the chemicals and the cost, by carrying fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts as snacks or even meals. It might sound difficult at first but having some fresh fruit and a jar of homemade sugar-free date and chocolate sauce means you will look forward to your fruity indulgence. Figure our what snacks and meals will keep you away from temptation.
4. Too Few Protein Sources
Vegetarians need to eat a variety of nuts, seeds, sprouts, legumes, peas and beans with a good selection of different fruits and vegetables to ensure enough protein. There are veggie based protein powders and supplements available out there, based on protein rich foods like soy, hemp and peas. Look for the brands with the most natural ingredient lists.
Eating a wide variety of protein sources will ensure you get the essential amino acids and other nutrients you need. Scientists used to believe that a vegetarian diet did not include enough essential amino acids (protein building blocks). However, recent scientific research has definitively concluded that:
“a vegetarian diet can easily meet human dietary protein requirements as long as energy needs are met and a variety of foods are eaten”…”the consumption of plant proteins rather than animal proteins by vegetarians may contribute to their reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease”. (Australian Journal of Medicine, 2013).
5. Lack of Research When it Comes to Nutrition
Don’t assume being vegetarian is by default healthy, because it isn’t. Refined sugar and refined wheat are both vegetarian and they are by far some of the worst things you could be including in your diet. Being a conscious consumer is vital to steering clear of products which adopt a healthy brand image yet contain lots of unhealthy ingredients.
The widespread use of pesticides has impacted our fruit and vegetables (reducing nutrient density) and our own health. Many people are choosing to grow their own, go organic or even find wild sources of nutrition whilst out exploring nature, like dandelion leaves.
Superfoods and juicing – both of which are excellent easy ways to add more nutrients to your day. Empower your choices and make well planned and nutritionally sound decisions about your diet by learning more about nutrition. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a vast array of health promoting bio-active compounds and fiber and the more you add to your diet the better. You simply cannot eat too many greens!
Bottomline: Do your research and education yourself about eating a balanced, healthy plant-based diet.
Get in Balance
The American Dietetic Association clearly state that “appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases”.
Health and vitality is about creating a balance of toxins and nutrients. The food you eat, the air you breathe and even the thoughts you think will either bring toxins into your body or help your body get rid of them. Give yourself the chance to thrive and get in balance with a well-planned and delicious plant-based nutritious diet.