In this third installment focusing on nutrition in honor of National Nutrition Month, we are focusing on vegetarianism and vegan eating styles. Gone are the days of little incense smelling shops filled with flax flour, almond milk and miso and herald in the day of huge supermarkets that cater to vegetarians and vegans. I spoke with Registered Dietician, Brandi Thompson of ABCDEatRight.com about these types of eating. She shares the benefits of eating a plant-based diet but also cautions against becoming a vegetarian or vegan junk food junkie.
To begin, let us break down the terminology and define the differences between vegetarianism and veganism. First off, vegetarians come in several shades. There are lacto-vegetarians which means that they consume dairy products. There are also octo-vegetarians which describes a person who incorporates eggs into their diet. “Recently the new buzz word is “flexitarian,”” says Thomspon, “this type of eating is mostly plant-based with the occasional consumption of meat. 75% of their diet comes from plants.” Vegans on the other hand consume no animal by-products: flesh or otherwise, including honey.
Vegetarians and vegans have to be aware that they are getting a well-balanced diet. Lacto and ovo-vegetarians do not have to concern themselves so much with getting protein as those that do not eat meat at all. While greens can pack a protein punch, they pale in comparison to nuts, seeds, and beans. If a person is not consuming any animal products, they are urged to take a B12 supplement since B12 is found in animal products. A B12 supplement for children dissolves under their tongue.
Speaking of children, I asked Thompson about vegetarian and vegan children which include infants. Once again, she repeated a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables and protein either in the form of eggs, dairy, beans, nuts, or seeds must be dished out with diligence. Soy milks, almond milks, and rice milks tend to be fortified with calcium; be sure to check the label for this. As you may recall from the last blog entry, a body’s calcium stores begin in infancy and end around twenty years of age so it’s critical to make sure their bodies are getting enough calcium.
Thompson cautions again and again about people with these lifestyles (and as we will see in the next article on weight loss), that balance be incorporated into their eating habits. “You can be an obese vegetarian” she told me. “There are a lot of processed foods in vegetarian form; hot dogs, sausages, cereals.” Thompson advises, no matter what diet you follow, that eating whole fruits and vegetables, aka the ones you wash and cut up, are the highest quality nutrients and phytochemicals you can provide your body with.
With a steady rise of “Meatless Mondays,” “localvore-ism,” health food chains making headway into suburban and urban areas many people are beginning to consider or actually transition to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. When I asked Brandi about transitioning one’s diet she said, “Determine what your motivation is. Is it for health reasons? Giving up saturated fats [found in animal products]? Is it environmental? Does your motivation come from not wanting to consume animals?” Once you have a clear idea of what your motivation is, you can stick with your program. “There are books on becoming vegetarian or vegan, you can check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics or consult an R.D,” she laughs. Some patients Thompson has treated have as their motivation, or hidden motivation, weight loss. “Borderline eating disorders that are covered up by calling oneself a vegetarian.”
The most difficult part of being a vegetarian or a vegan according to Thomspon, R.D. is really the social aspect of it. She recalls an anecdote, telling me about her husband going out to lunch with a “bunch of the guys.” While they all ordered sandwiches he ordered a salad. He was “razzed” or teased by his coworkers, but he retorted confidently that he had become a vegetarian, “..for his health.” The other difficulty I myself have heard from many is the laborious nature of these diets since they are so intensely plant-and-fruit-based. There is definitely a lot of washing, peeling, cutting, and chopping, but in the end it brings a mindfulness to your food which reminds us of the articles I wrote on over-eating.
The benefits of following these types of diets, including “flexitarianism” is that they are more of a plant-based diet. “The focus is to get the nation to a more plant-based diet which is rich in fiber, phytochemicals, and nutrients.” By incorporating more fiber and getting the nutrients your body needs, one feels satiated. It is common for a person to feel better without saturated fats flowing through their systems. Generally a caloric restriction occurs because the fiber fills the stomach and a person eats less. Weight loss can be attributed to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle and a reduction in chronic illnesses.
For more information, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and subscribe to Brandi Thompson’s newsletter at www.abcdeatright.com. You can also follow her on Twitter @abcdeatright1. Keep learning and sharing what you learn and eventually Americans can reverse our reputation for being some of the sickest on the globe to the most vibrant and healthy.
Have you become a vegetarian or vegan? Were you ever one of these eating types? Are you a vegan or vegetarian parent? How do you feed your kids, what are their favorite meals? How do you entertain? When you go out, are you able to find vegetarian options readily available? Please share your experiences and be part of the story on the blog or on the JumpSport Fitness Trampoline Facebook page or follow JumpSport on Twitter @FitTrampoline.
Until then, my challenge to you is to go to the library and choose a vegetarian or vegan cookbook. Find a salad, a soup, a main course, a desert, and a snack that is of your liking and go make it! If you have kids, ask them to help. If that’s a bit too much, make it a “Meatless Monday!”
Forks over Knives this Week!
Heidi Aspen Lauckhardt-Rhoades
Writer and Social Media Correspondent
Professional Fitness Instructor
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