As health coaches, one of the most-common fears we hear from our new clients is that we are going to make them stop eating meat. In reality, this decision is as unique to the individual as their political or religious beliefs. It’s not something that can be determined (in the absence of a medical condition) by an outsider. So I feel like the first thing I need to say is that while a “good vegetarian/vegan” (not a junk food vegetarian/vegan) diet is a very healthy choice, it will not work for everyone. There are so many theories out there that are designed to help people determine if they should eat meat or not. They are based on everything from blood type to family heritage. I wouldn’t say that I would stand by any of them solo, but I think that most of them play some part in our varied tolerances of different foods. Trial and error coupled with mindful eating will help to clue us in as to what works best for you, the individual. So the key is, with any diet (I use the term “diet” as a collective whole of what one is eating, not as a restrictive plan with guidelines and calorie counting.), if someone is going to try eating vegetarian/vegan, they should do so with a solid understanding of how to get the most out of the foods they are consuming. To further clarify that point, they should put their focus on the nutrients they can get out of the foods they’re eating versus focusing on what they are not able to eat (as determined by a vegetarian/vegan diet). Then, once they have eaten a clean version of their new diet for several months and maximized all opportunities to reap the most health benefits from it, only then can they compare it to their previous diet.
Here’s a brief Q & A based on questions from our clients and readers:
- How do vegetarians/vegans get their protein? It used to be that we were told to eat certain things in combination in order to get optimal protein as a vegetarian. For instance, when I started eating a vegetarian diet (in 1989), we were supposed to eat beans and rice together. What science points to today is more about variety. Trying to get a little of everything is going to serve you better than a lot of just a few things. You might be surprised at how many different sources of protein are out there for vegetarians/vegans. I eat a lot of quinoa (considered a complete protein), eggs, nuts, nut-butters, seeds, tofu, beans and lentils. Buckwheat is also a good source of protein. I also eat a fair amount of yogurt. To get up close and personal, because I know someone will ask, I hop back and forth between Organic Plain and Greek Plain. Still worried about getting enough protein? This is a great post, Why Are Americans So Concerned About Protein, by our dear friend, Lisa Leake that might help clarify. Lisa’s not a vegetarian, but she puts the protein question into perspective. Still not convinced? Watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. It’s based on The China Study, a book that is a relatively hard read, but fascinating info…. so I recommend the movie. : ) And if you just can’t fathom going meatless, a good option for most people (not to mention the planet) is to do an 90/10 diet. 90% vegetarian and 10% animal proteins (local, organic, free-range, of course).
- But I’m a meat-lover. How do I make vegetables taste good? Grow your own veggies (even those with a black thumb and apartment dwellers can grow delicious fresh veggies with a soil-free, weed-free Tower Garden) or buy local, fresh veggies from a farmer/farmer’s market. Store-bought produce works, too, but you will find that the taste of the fresh local stuff is best. Also, don’t overcook veggies because you can cook both the flavor and nutrients away. The great news is the more veggies you eat, the more your taste buds will develop a liking towards them. You will even begin to crave them! Give it time. I can’t tell you how many veggies I now like that 10 years ago I would have never considered. And don’t forget, you can always dip fresh veggies in guacamole or hummus. Personally, we spunky chicks will use just about anything as a vehicle to consume more guac!
- Is it going to be harder and take more time to create a tasty, well-balanced vegetarian/vegan meal? Eating “any” healthy diet will be more time-consuming than a convenience diet. You’ll need to get a bit cozy with your kitchen but a little prep goes a long way. Cook up some quinoa for the week while you hard-boil a few eggs and wash and slice some veggies at the same time. Doing a few prep sessions a week in the kitchen will eliminate (or at least minimize) the need to stand in the kitchen prepping constantly. Oh, and we love a good protein shake (whole food and plant based protein) or a smoothie chock full of fresh or frozen produce (and other superfoods like hemp hearts, maca, chia, and even cocao)! Shakes/smoothies are a great way to get tons of nutrients and even some spinach/kale into your diet. Talk about fast food!
Overall, for anyone considering a vegetarian/vegan diet, our advice is to make sure you get variety. Focus on vegetables, but don’t forget to add some nuts, grains, beans, lentils, seeds and fruits. We do not believe in counting/tracking or obsessing over creating a perfectly balanced meal. But, we do like to make sure we’re consuming a good variety of vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, protein and fiber for most meals. It’s hard to go wrong if you just keep those things in mind. Here are a some great recipe sites and blogs that might be helpful, too. http://www.vegetariantimes.com/, http://www.vegsource.com/, http://ohsheglows.com/, http://www.greenkitchenstories.com//, http://naturallyella.com/, and http://cookieandkate.com/recipes/.