Meatless Mondays, Tofu Tuesdays, Soyrizo, and other meatless meals are gaining popularity. The vegetarian lifestyle has come a long way in the past two decades. I’ve come to know many people who are skeptical about eating vegetable-based entrees thinking that they either won’t be hearty enough or that they will lack flavor. Many families are trying meat-free meals to cut down on fats, grease, and calories but are they being nutrient-conscious? Here are the facts behind five popular myths about the vegetarian and vegan diet.
1. Vegetarians do not get enough protein in their diet.
Soy products, beans, whole grains, and legumes have plenty of protein for vegetarians to get their daily requirements. The difference between these sources of protein compared to a meat-eater’s consumption is the heme. Meat protein contains heme, an iron containing compound that helps transport and absorb protein much more efficiently in the body. Plant proteins contain non-heme compounds which make it more difficult for the body to absorb all of the protein in a meat-free meal. Typically, vegetarians must consume considerably more protein than a carnivorous diet because they are absorbing less. The good news is that combining non-heme foods with Vitamin C containing foods allows the body to absorb the protein better, which also allows the body to get its daily Vitamin C requirements.
Combining whole grains and legumes with Vitamin C rich vegetables such as broccoli, green peppers, collard greens, and sweet potatoes will create a “complete protein” meal that will also be high in Vitamin C and fiber.
2. Meat-free meals are bland and flavorless.
This may have been the case when soy products first took the stage, but meat-free products and meatless meals have taken a big leap! Adding spices to all of your meatless meals will not only bring in all the flavor you desire, but many of these spices contain antioxidant richness. Cinnamon, oregano, turmeric, cumin, rosemary, ginger, and red pepper flakes are among the top spices to create a flavorful dish as well as health promoting advantages such as anti-inflammatory markers. You can find vegetarian and vegan recipes here at berryripe.com or a variety of meatless recipes from Gardein.
3. Not getting enough dairy will make your bones weak.
This may not be the case with the typical vegetarian diet, but those who try the vegan diet may have some concerns. Dairy products contain vitamins D, calcium, and fat. There are plenty of dairy alternatives on the market that are fortified with these vitamins and minerals such as soy milks and cheeses. Almond milk may also be a good choice. While these products have a distinctly different flavor over the “real” thing, they aren’t all that bad, and when it comes to lowering your fat and cholesterol intake, it may be good to give it a try.
If you aren’t too keen on using soy cheese and milk products in every day dishes, try calcium rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, oranges, figs, and fortified whole grain breads and flours.
4. The vegetarian/vegan diet is not safe for children.
While there is much debate on whether a vegetable-based diet is “healthy” for children, the overall consensus is that, with all diets, it must be monitored. Just as a parent would not want their child only consuming chicken, without vegetables or whole grains, the same goes for the vegetarian family. Many vegetarian meals contain high amounts of fiber, which allows for that “full” feeling. The child may not be hungry to finish their entire meal, but because they need to consume all of the calories and nutrients within that meal, they must consume more. Children are active and growing and without consuming the proper calories and nutrients, they may begin to become lethargic, have weak bones, and grow at a slower pace.
A good plan is to first make sure the child is happy on a vegetarian diet and that he/she is enjoying the meal that is prepared. Next, you may want to split up the fiber-rich meals into smaller meals and snacks to make sure they are consuming enough calories throughout the day. Monitor their activity and how they are feeling and consult with your pediatrician if there are any concerns with weight, mood, and overall health.
5. All vegetarian dishes are healthy.
This is probably the biggest myth of all. If I consume a vegetarian burrito, packed with grilled vegetables, smothered with cheese and sauce is that really better than a lean steak and a healthy potato salad recipe for two? The vegetarian diet is all about preparation. As stated prior, you will need to consume more food than on a typical carnivorous diet as well as more balanced meals. Also, watch out for soy snacks, burgers, etc. These are all processed, and, as with any diet, processed foods can lead to weight gain and high levels of sodium and fat intake. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets should focus on whole grain, clean meals where you can knowingly name every ingredient that went in to the preparation of the dish.