Did you know that this month is National Vegan Month? For those of us who choose to be vegan or vegetarian, there are a lot of things we need to know to ensure we are getting the proper nutrients and vitamins into our diet. Women’s Health Associates wants to make you that our patients are fully aware of the importance of balance when it comes to having an alternative diet. Check out this article thanks to Harvard Medical School on how to manage and get ready to go vegan or vegetarian!
If you’re thinking about going vegetarian or vegan but are worried about making a big change in how you eat, know that there are many different layers to this way of eating. “There are options within a vegetarian diet if a woman wants to get her feet wet,” Dr. McManus says. The most common approaches are these:
- Semi-vegetarian.You still eat animal products, but more selectively. Many semi-vegetarians eat chicken and fish but not red meat.
- Pescatarian. You avoid meat and poultry but still eat fish and seafood.
- Lacto-ovo vegetarian. You skip all meat, fish, and poultry but include dairy and eggs in your diet.
- Vegan. This solely plant-based diet is the strictest form of vegetarianism. You eat no animal products at all—not even eggs or dairy products.
Watch your nutrition
Vegetarian and vegan diets can be healthy, but they can lack certain nutrients. You may have to use a little creativity to ensure you get enough protein, calcium, iron, and vitamin B12.
You can find many of these nutrients in eggs and dairy if you’re vegetarian, and from plant sources if you’re vegan. But you may need an added boost. “Because vitamin B12 is found only in animal sources, if you’re a vegan you might consider taking a supplement,” McManus says. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in both fish and flaxseeds, but your body doesn’t absorb the plant-based form as readily as the omega-3s from seafood. Plant-based supplements are available if your diet needs more of these heart-healthy fats.
Keep in mind that going vegetarian doesn’t give you carte blanche to eat whatever you want—especially if you’re trying to control your weight. Go heavy on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but limit foods high in saturated fat, such as ice cream, whole milk, and cheese. And watch how much you eat at each meal. “People who are trying to lose weight can certainly do it on a vegetarian diet, but they have to limit portions,” McManus says.
When you eat out in restaurants, ask the chef to substitute beans for the meat in an entree. You can also stick with the salad bar or order a few vegetable-based appetizers and sides instead of an entree. McManus, who is vegetarian, uses this technique herself. She also visits ethnic restaurants. Indian, Thai, and Chinese cuisines all feature an abundance of vegetarian options.
The transition to a greener diet doesn’t have to be difficult. McManus recommends starting by increasing the number of vegetables on your plate at each meal. “Fill half the plate with vegetables—cooked, raw, or in a salad,” she suggests. Then incorporate an all-vegetarian meal once or twice a week. If you like it, keep adding vegetarian—or vegan—meals until you’re fully immersed in the diet. To keep your food choices diverse without fish, poultry, and red meat, play around with different vegetables and grains, and spice up your meals with seasonings. “I think sometimes people say, ‘Vegetables are so boring,'” McManus says. “Well, they don’t need to be. There are so many cuisines with great spices to choose from.”
Vegetarian and vegan diets: Where to find the nutrients you need
|Nutrient||Examples of plant-based food sources|
|Calcium||Vegetarians: Low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt, cheeseVegetarians and vegans: Fortified soy milk or rice milk, fortified orange juice, tofu with added calcium, broccoli, beans, leafy green vegetables, almonds, almond butter, sesame seeds, soybeans|
|Iron||Vegetarians: Eggs, enriched breads and pastaVegetarians and vegans: Soy nuts, tofu, kale, spinach, beans, peanut butter|
|Protein||Vegetarians: Eggs, milk and other dairy productsVegetarians and vegans: Lentils, beans, quinoa, oatmeal, nuts|
|Vitamin B12||Vegetarians: Eggs, milk and other dairy productsVegetarians and vegans: Fortified soy milk or orange juice, fortified cereals|
Always remember that if you are thinking about changing to a new type of diet to consider talking to a nutritionist! Its the safest way to make sure you are providing your body with all its needs.