Nearly every day we’re reminded of how important good health is and how poor diet choices can affect us physically and mentally. Among the culprits often blamed is meat, specifically red meat. As a result, many are turning to meatless diets. In fact, a poll by the National Restaurant Association ranked vegan and vegetarian foods as a top trend for 2010.
“Vegetarians have a lower risk of heart disease, blood pressure, hypertension and cholesterol,” says Sonja Stolfa, a registered dietician with Saint Francis Health System. “They also have lower cancer rates due to their lower intake of fat and higher intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
Stolfa explains the key to making the switch is to be aware of food and its preparation and to have a varied diet – replacing meat with junk food defeats the point.
Suzanne Forsberg, a registered dietician with St. John Healthy Lifestyles, encourages her patients to make sure nutrients are replaced properly and to understand that becoming a vegan or vegetarian is a lifestyle choice that may not be for everyone.
“What’s good for one person isn’t always good for another because we can’t assure that all bodies will respond the same way,” says Forsberg.
“You have to consider a person’s disease state. If you’re anemic, you may need to have red meat, while for someone with high cholesterol, they may need to replace their protein with beans. You have to strike a healthy balance – as Hippocrates said, ‘Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.’”
If you haven’t heard of it yet, the Meatless Monday movement is gaining notoriety for its call to action to forego eating meat at least once a week. Why? The initiative hopes to reduce the nation’s meat consumption by 15 percent to improve health and reduce carbon footprints.
The health benefits of Meatless Monday include a more balanced diet if one chooses to replace meat with alternatives like beans or peas that offer higher intakes of fiber, protein, folate, zinc, iron and magnesium with lower intakes of saturated fat.
Some research suggests that a higher consumption of red and processed meat may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, while foods rich in polyunsaturated fat (vegetable oils, nuts, seeds) can reduce the risk of heart disease by 19 percent.
“Americans generally eat too much protein. We know for good health we need to concentrate on a plant-based diet, and if you elect to have meat, target lean meats,” says Fran Olsen Sharp, a registered dietician with the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center.
“We also need to have more of our proteins from plant-based foods, and having meatless meals at least once a week frequently increases the variety of foods a person consumes. Meat in the diet is like everything else – it’s all about portion control.”
Sharp emphasizes a balanced diet with consideration of lifestyles.
“Meat can fit into a healthy diet, and no meat can fit into a healthy diet,” she says. “Just because someone is a vegetarian does not mean they are consuming a healthier diet. We must have balance no matter the choice. It is not only the quality of foods we eat with the proper amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fiber, and fats – we must get active and move.”
There are delicious vegan versions of your favorite foods available at local supermarkets and online. If you’re not ready to commit entirely to a vegan diet, consider adding a few of these alternatives in your everyday menu, and look for great recipes to try at home.
• Instead of regular milk, experiment and try soy, oat or rice milk. There’s also pouring and whipped soy cream to use on desserts and soy milk shakes in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and banana.
• If you have a passion for baking, use a tablespoon of soy flour in place of each egg the next time you make a cake. For breakfast, try scrambled tofu instead of scrambled eggs.
• A variety of vegan burgers, sausages and cheeses are available.
• For the sweet tooth, brands such as Organica and Plamil provide a range of delicious chocolate alternatives.
To learn more and find tasty recipes, visit www.vegansociety.com.
• A lacto-ovo vegetarian does not eat meat, fish or fowl but does consume dairy and egg products.
• Ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, fish, fowl or dairy products but will consume egg products.
• A lacto vegetarian does not eat meat, fish, fowl or eggs but does consume dairy products.
• A vegan does not eat any animal products including meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy or honey. Most vegans do not utilize any animal byproducts, such as silk, leather or wool.