There is a lot of focus these days on the role nutrition plays in maintaining good health. It is no surprise that if you decide to adopt a plant-based diet, you are often plagued with the question of eating healthy as a vegetarian.
You see, your family and friends are concerned that you won’t be able to get sufficient nutrients if you stop eating meat. And no wonder……because many people are still of the misconception that vegetarians eat only vegetables. They are not aware that vegetarians eat a wide variety of foods.
I have been at the end of that stick many times and have had to use my “I am not a rabbit” protest on numerous occasions. The protest at most of those occasions were light-hearted but there were occasions when I must admit I was not a happy camper.
One such occasion was on a flight in the days when they served meals in economy class. I requested a vegetarian meal and what I got was what amounts to a head of cauliflower……..raw. Needless to say I ate nothing on that flight because….I am not a rabbit. (Do rabbits eat cauliflower?……..hmmm)
Another time I was at an anniversary celebration in a prominent hotel. The servers came out with their lovely menu which included three different types of meat. What did I get?……A tin of mixed vegetables.
Bottom line….I waited until I got home to have some dinner.
Fortunately, the world is more enlightened when it comes to vegetarian meal preparation so it is less likely that you will meet up on these situations nowadays.
For those of you who still wonder if you can eat healthy as a vegetarian the answer is
absolutely, 100% yes.
What is healthy eating?
Healthy eating means consuming a variety of foods from all food groups which will give you the nutrients you need in order for you to feel good and to maintain your health.
It calls for balance in your diet. Vegetables alone is not a balanced diet, neither is grains alone or meat alone a balanced diet.
Let us examine the original recommendations given to us by the United States Department of Agriculture.
According to the USDA Food Pyramid a healthy diet consists of
- 6 – 11 servings from the Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group
- 3 – 5 servings from the Vegetable Group
- 2 – 4 servings from the Fruit Group
- 2 – 3 servings from the Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Group
- 2 – 3 servings from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Egg and Nuts Group
- Use sparingly from the Fats, Oils and Sweets Group
If you follow this guide daily, you will be eating a healthy, balanced diet.
Can someone who is a lacto-ovo vegetarian eat healthy?
Lets examine the pyramid again.
As a lacto-ovo vegetarian, what would you have to eliminate from this recommendation?
You got it. Only meat, poultry and fish.
All the areas of the pyramid are still well supplied including the area where you removed the meat. There are still options in that area…..Dry Beans, Eggs and Nuts.
There is absolutely no deficiency in nutrition in this diet. You can eat healthy balanced meals as a vegetarian.
What about Vegans?
Good news. Vegans can also eat healthy nutritious diets.
Omit the eggs and add more beans, seeds and nuts. Substitute the Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Group with fortified Dairy Substitutes. One of my favorites is Almond milk.
There you have it. Healthy, balanced diet.
You may come across differences in the recommendations of some food pyramids but the general principle remains the same. We see such an example as we examine the pyramid below. This is a vegetarian food pyramid from Loma Linda University. We will recognize that there are minor differences but the overall principle remains the same.
Grains still make up the greater portion of the diet but as might be expected, the vegetable consumption increases to 6 – 9 servings per day. Vegetarians will normally consume more leafy vegetables as well as root vegetables in their diet than non-vegetarians.
Wow! All these options. You don’t have to eat only vegetables. There is a wide variety of food choices that you can and should eat from every day to provide the necessary nutrition that will allow you to maintain good health.
One last thing…..
Although this is not diet, I want to mention this quickly and I am so glad Loma Linda University included it in their chart. If you want optimal health, diet alone will not do it. You need sunlight, you need water and you need daily exercise.
So let’s go. Run out into the sunlight. Eat up, drink up, jump up and enjoy a wonderful, abundant, healthy life.