Should You Be a Vegetarian?

VeggiesThere is a lot of talk, curiosity and interest around plant-based diets these days. While eating meat is certainly not a complete no-no for good nutrition, increasing your fruit and vegetable intake is never a bad thing. Reducing meat consumption, even one day a week, can have a significant positive impact on your health and the environment. Plus, it helps us focus on getting more fruits and veggies in our diet and opens our eyes to all the vegetarian options out there that can give us the benefits and nutrition we usually get from meat. One protein-source alternative is plant protein brands, such as gardein, which provide all the protein of meat with less fat, less calories and no cholesterol. This helps reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Plant proteins are also lighter on the environment. You can also get protein from other non-meat options such as ancient grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet and kamut. 

In addition to replacing traditional proteins with plant-based ones, we can also do the same with refined carbs. Craving pasta today? Swap spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles for regular pasta for an easy, gluten-free and vegan option that is also a great source of dietary fiber and vitamins B and C. Top your veggie noodles with any of your favorite pasta sauces for all the taste and less of the carbs of refined-pasta.

Other plant-based foods with a high level of nutrients include:

  • Fermented foods: Foods such as coconut yogurt, Kimchi and pickles, provide us with probiotics that can boost the healthy bacteria in our gut, helping with better digestion, increased energy and improved brain and skin health. 
  • Sprouted breads: These have less gluten, are richer in antioxidants and higher in protein than traditional bread products. 
  • "Beauty" berries: Goji berries and Acai are thought of as the fountain of youth. They are high in atioxidants, amino acids and omega fatty acids, a combo which helps slow the aging process by boosting immune and metabolic function. 
  • Seaweed: You can get your daily dose of iron (something we get from meat) from seaweed. It's popping up in more and more forms these days, such as noodles, chips and crackers.
  • Coconut: Rich in vitamins and minerals, including magnesium (which helps with energy and endurance), lauric acid (which has immune boosting properties) and medium chain fatty acids (which have been shown to help fight obesity), coconut is a nutrient powerhouse that comes in many different forms. Coconut water is a great hydrator and is rich in potassium and low in sodium. For baking, swapping traditional flour for coconut flour adds fiber and lowers the glycemic index. 

You don't have to become a full-time vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of eating plant-based foods, but focusing on tasty alternatives to meat and varying the colors on your plate, can help us get all the nutrients natural foods have to offer. 

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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